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Villa Monastero – The Ultimate Guide

Villa Monastero Gardens - Lake Como Experiences©

Villa Monastero: a paradise of eclecticism on Lake Como 

An eclectic piece of architecture, with a northern touch and more than eight centuries of history: Villa Monastero is a place where the rigor of neoclassicism meets a variety of different styles and art movements, giving life to one of the most interesting and culturally dense villas of  Lake Como and all Italy.

Villa Monastero is located in the village of Varenna, in the Province of Lecco, on Lake Como’s eastern shore. It’s a place able to satiate the appetite of the most demanding beauty seekers, teleporting history and art lovers through the centuries and the eras, thanks to its rich history and an overlapping of different styles and features.

Enter a world of majesty and originality: welcome to Villa Monastero.

Villa Monastero: eight centuries of wonders

With Villa Monastero, Lake Como can boast one of Italy’s villas with the longest and richest history, thanks to centuries of transformations, additions and refurbishments.

At the end of the 12th century, a Cistercian’s women’s monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in the original site of Villa Monastero: the nuns were displaced from the Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only island, after multiples attacks and invasions from local warlords.

After some centuries of relative peace, Villa Monastero was purchased by the nobleman Paolo Mornico, whose family renovated the villa, creating two symmetrical arcades on the façade, and transforming a rural farmhouse into the current guesthouse.

Villa Monastero was further renovated by the new owner Pietro Genazzi, starting from 1862, and followed by subsequent decorations, in perfect eclectic style, performed by the new owner of Villa Monastero, the German industrialist Walter Erich Jacob Kees.

Together with the villa, Kees also expanded its gardens, and incorporated in the Villa the oratory of Santa Maria in Monastero and the old gatehouse.

During the First World War, Villa Monastero followed the fate of other properties  then owned by German landlords, (for example Villa Carlotta), being confiscated and subsequently entrusted by the Opera Nazionale dei Combattenti. In 1925, Villa Monastero was purchased by the Milanese naturalist Marco De Marchi, who in 1936 donated it to the Italian State. The villa became a museum and a center for hydrogeological studies, while in 1953 a conference center was created, hosted prestigious speakers such as the Nobel Prize Enrico Fermi.

Villa Monastero is nowadays a house-museum of incomparable artistic importance, as well as a renowned botanical center and international conference hub: more than 60 Nobel Prizes who visited Italy found in Lake Como’s most eclectic mansion their perfect intellectual retreat.

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Villa Monastero, tips and activities for Lake Como’s most eclectic mansion

Visit the Casa Museo: Villa Monastero’s sacred and solemn chest, jealously preserving endless treasures and mementos of almost eight centuries of history. Casa Museo is a compendium of eras and customs, one of Lake Como’s and Italy’s brightest instances of eclecticism with no compromises.

Casa Museo is articulated in 14 different rooms, furnished and decorated according to the eclectic taste of the second half of the 19th century: they contain ancient vestiges, testimonies of the monastic life, as well as a fifteen-century fresco, and fine  furniture crafted in the Venetian workshops of Michelangelo Guggenheim. But the list of treasures doesn’t end here: rare tapestries, Bohemian glass pieces of manufacturing, sculptures, paintings and porcelains: Villa Monastero’s art collection is a true pearl of wealth and splendor.

But there’s more to it: Villa Monastero is the meeting point between art and science, between reason and emotion: witnessing such a harmony of opposites is the collection of scientific instruments by Professor Giovanni Polvani, utilized for groundbreaking studies about electrodynamics, optics and mechanics.

A perfect hymn to humans’ quest for beauty, in all their activities and endeavors.

Visit Villa Monastero’s botanical garden: this little corner of paradise faces the oriental branch of Lake Como, and it offers one of Italy’s most admirable collection of plants. Villa Monastero’s botanical garden is structured in terraces, allowing a development in diverse areas with unique features, like different framings from the same movie.

The common thread of Villa Monastero’s outdoor spaces are the typical elements of Lake Como’s traditional gardens: rows of cypresses, evergreen hedges, and the imposing cedars from Lebanon.

However, Villa Monastero’s eclectic soul appears in all its splendor through the fronds of its exotic plants: African and American palms, agaves, yuccas, dracene, citrus trees and oleanders, as well as some botanical rarities such as Erythea armata, Erythea edulis, d the precious collection of citrus plants, roses and wisterias.

Did you know? Varenna boasts a one-of-a-kind microclimate, with clear Mediterranean features despite its northern latitude. A true panacea for its off-season visitors…and for the exotic plants of Villa Monastero’s garden!

The final touch of beauty is given by the architectural treasures spread all around Villa Monastero’s garden: statues, little temples, and fountains join the vegetable species of Villa Monastero in a symphony you won’t hear anywhere but on Lake Como.

Bonus tip: indulge in a soul-lifting visit to the beautiful hamlet of Varenna 

Villa Monastero itself would be worth a journey from another continent or hemisphere. But the lovely Varenna, praised and loved by artists, journalists, travel bloggers and (most importantly) the locals, is something else.

Its main square, Piazza S.Giorgio is a little concentration of Italian vibes, with the churches of S.Giorgio and S.Giovanni Battista, fully preserved despite their almost millennial age. After strolling around its quaint little alleys, take the short (20 mins) hike up to the Vezio castle, a medieval fortress dominating Varenna and offering a view on Lake Como that is so wide and triumphal, it will surely paralyze you for a few seconds.

LCE tip: Varenna’s hotels and restaurants are some of the finest of all Lake Como. A romantic dinner at Osteria Quatro Pass or Ristorante La Vista is a must, but if a totally otherworldly experience is what you’re looking for, you should consider spending some nights at Lake Como Experiences’ favourite hotels:  Villa Cipressi and Royal Victoria. 

Varenna - Lake Como Experiences©

Villa Monastero: more info & contacts

How to get to Villa Monastero 

Villa Monastero is located in the very center of Varenna, one of Lake Como’s and Italy’s most popular destinations, at a few steps from its railway station, bus stops and car parkings. Reaching it will be quick and easy, thanks to the wide array of public transportations and routes for a scenic drive.

How to get to Villa Monastero by train 

Traveling to enchanting villages of Lake Como via train is a rare thing, as the majority of them doesn’t have a railway station. However, Varenna is different, and not just because of its supreme beauty.

As a matter of fact, the village can boast a small but efficient railway station, directly connected to Milano Centrale with the train bound to Varenna-Esino. The direct train usually leaves once per hour, at a price of €6,80 for a one-way ticket. We suggest checking discounts, trip hours and much more here!

LCE Tip: the closest airports to Lake Como are some of Italy busiest, Milan Malpensa and Linate. Lake Como Experiences has prepared a guide dedicated to how to easily get to Lake Como and move around it, with multiple travel options and tips: check it out here!

How to get to Villa Monastero by ferry boat 

With no doubt, one of the most classical activities on Lake Como. Sailing its iridescent waters gives its visitors a sense of peace and serenity, as well as a unique, fascinating view on its timeless landscapes.

From Como’s harbor (the Imbarcadero), catch the first ferry boat heading to Colico and, after a 2 hours trip, get off in Varenna. The price of a ticket is €11,60, which increases to €16.20 for a rapid boat.

A recommended alternative is to combine Varenna with a ferry trip to Menaggio, Bellagio or other localities just across the lake. From and to these destinations, it is also possible to catch ferry boats equipped to transport cars (tariffs range from €8.60 to €14.40).

As always, have a look at the official website for all the details.

LCE Tip: a boat tour to Villa Monastero, Varenna and other Lake Como’s localities is surely the best way to experience the true dolce vita. From the prestigious Riva classic boat to a more discrete Venetian Limousine, Lake Como Experiences has multiple options for you!

How to get to Villa Monastero by car

A drive to Villa Monastero will reward you with incomparable views and a little taste of adventure.

From Milan, take the freeway A9/E35 and, after 9 km (5.6 miles),  get out at the exit SS35 dei Giovi, merging onto the highway A36. From there you will find the exit for Via Nazionale dei Giovi/SP44,  leading up to the highway SS 36 del Lago di Como e dello Spluga/SS36.

This portion of the road will bring you to Lake Como’s other capital, Lecco. Take now the SS72 until the exit of Varenna-Mandello-Abbadia Lariana et voilà: you’ll soon be in Varenna, with Villa Monastero in the very center of it.

Villa Monastero Gardens - Lake Como Experiences
Villa Monastero Gardens

Villa Monastero: more info & contacts

In addition to the above-mentioned activities and opportunities, Villa Monastero offers some limited accommodation possibilities (12 prestigious rooms for the conference center).

For specific inquiries or general information, we suggest visiting the official website, or to get in touch with the personnel of Villa Monastero:

Phone: +39 0341 295 450

E-mail: villa.monastero@provincia.lecco.it