Years ago, I lived in a wonderful villa in Florence, a former Strozzi hunting lodge transformed into a classic 19th-century villa set amidst a tree-filled park. Back then, I never found myself attracted to the allure of Italy’s Lake District. Instead, my youthful springs meant Luxor, Mykonos, Crete and Marrakesh; not Lake Maggiore or Lake Como. But, I have always regretted never having spent time there, especially spring. Thus, when the opportunity arose to visit during the last two weeks of April, and a friend, an avid birder, indicated an interest in going, we were booked. Soon after, we were lulled nightly by the Alpine air and the sound of icy waves from surely the most unearthly of beautiful lakes. Here are some snaps of our morning at Villa Carlotta on Lake Como.
Before the Ente Villa Carlotta foundation acquired the villa in 1927, insuring Villa Carlotta’s future as a museum and botanical garden, it was owned by several prominent Italian families. In 1690, Milanese textile magnate Giorgio II Clerici began building a villa in Tremezzo that would reflect his family’s immense success. It was first known as Villa Clerici; later, Villa Sommariva before becoming Villa Carlotta.
Giorgio’s principal heir, his grandson, Antonio Giorgio, Baron of Sozzago & Marquis of Cavenago, would complete the construction of the impressive estate. In 1801, the Clerici family sold the villa to Gian Battista Sommariva, a lawyer, politician, and art collector. When the villa was sold, the Sommariva family retained access to the family chapel, where funeral monuments were entombed. In the mid-18th century, Princess Marianne of the Netherlandspaid 780,000 lira for the villa, more than ten times what it had sold for forty years previously. She bought it for her daughter, Carlotta, as a wedding present on her marriage to the ducal George II of Saxe-Meiningen. The Saxe-Meiningens did not make any substantial structural changes to the villa’s interior but sold the remains of the original art collection with the exception of some statues and paintings. They focused on enrichment of the garden, introducing a great variety of rare and exotic species. George II was a botany enthusiast. Carlotta died at age 23 in 1855. The villa remained in the Saxe-Meiningen family until around WW I. Later, it was deeded to the Italian state when the foundation was organized.