The beautiful alpine lakes of northern Italy have been popular with the rich, royal and famous for centuries. These palatial homes and gardens are well worth a visit not just for the planting but for the grand accompanying architecture. The mild kind climate allows them to grow a wide variety plants. Camellias in particular flourish thanks to the predominantly acid soil supporting a number of specialist nurseries.
Here is the stunning Italianate island garden of Isola Bella. The island is divided by the palace and is still used by the family for parties and events. Inside the palace there is plenty to see including the fascinating grotto comprising of several rooms and part of the family’s fine art collection. The garden comprises of levels constructed in elaborate stonework with equally complex planting. By boat, it looks like the decks of a ship. RHS Members enjoy free admission.
Isola Madre has an English influenced garden with an unused but open palace. Both are owned by the aristocratic Borromeo family who are among the most famous in Italy. Isola dei Pescatori is included on most boat trips, there are no gardens to visit but several restaurants for lunch.
Close to Pallanza in the province of Verbania is the Botanical Gardens of Villa Taranto (pictured), originally created by Scotsman Captain Neil Mc Eacharn. Considered by many as one of the world’s finest gardens, there are water features, borders, vistas, rare species, terraces and much more to see.
Lake Como is where George Clooney and Richard Branson have homes, not regrettably open to the public. Fortunately there are several spectacular Italian gardens to visit;
Villa Carlotta is an outstanding sloping garden overlooking the lake with an equally impressive villa housing a museum and has a beautifully located tea room for lunch.
The Italian equivalent of the National Trust, the FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano owns Villa del Balbianello. Originally built as a Cardinal’s residence, it passed through many owners. The last owner was adventurer and entrepreneur Guido Monzino. Today, it houses his collection of artefacts collected from his many travels. Not surprisingly it has been used by the film industry (Casino Royale) and is now also a popular wedding venue.
Bellagio is rightfully a tourist hot spot with many tempting places to eat and to people watch, be prepared for crowds and interesting driving. The historic town has narrow streets and alleys filled with tourist shops and attractive old buildings. Only a short walk away you can find the gardens of I Giardini Di Villa Melzi, the gardens overlook well worth a visit.
An added bonus of visiting these gardens is the arrival by boat, allowing you to both enjoy the many vistas as well as see the gardens from a distance.
Villa del Balbianello
I Giardini Di Villa Melzi