Live like nobility in a regional Italian villa, even if only for an afternoon.
Italian villas are up for rent all over the country, yet many of Italy’s more opulent estates are nowadays open to the public. Usually, aristocratic families had at least a couple of residences to choose from—an elegant palazzo in town, a villa in the countryside for hunting or holidays. Today, these homes serve as living museums that offer a glimpse into the lives of yesteryear’s Italian nobility.
While on a summer trip to Lake Como, I was keen to escape the heat and the crowds at famous spots like Bellagio and Varenna; the expansive Villa Carlotta seemed like just the ticket, sitting in the smaller town of Tremezzo. The villa was finished in 1745, but the well-manicured botanic gardens surrounding the building date back to the 17th century, sprawled out over 20 acres. During the 18th century, it was purchased by Princess Marianne of the Netherlands as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta—hence its name today.
Up on a hill and right on the lake’s edge, the views look out over Bellagio on the opposite headland, boats passing by and mountains capping the facing peninsula. The villa, all high ceilings and marble floors, offers a cool respite from the sun, its paneled glass windows framing the tranquil waters like watercolor paintings. A winding network of paths and staircases carry visitors around an undulating scene of rhododendron, azaleas, and camellias, marble statues and bubbling fountains (be sure to visit the family of turtles living at the pond near the main entrance).
Is it enough charm to feel like a princess? For a day, maybe. Here are other stately villas to explore while you tour Italian wine country.
Fabulous villas to visit while touring Italian wine country
Villa del Balbianello, Lenno, Lombardy
When seeking a waterside break in Lombardy – say, after visiting Castello di Cigognola – Lake Como is home not just to Villa Carlotta, but also Villa del Balbianello. Occupying the edge of a small peninsula on the lake’s western side, it was originally a 13th century Franciscan monastery until it was purchased in the late 18th century and converted into a villa. Elevated out of the water, the stunning spot is also famous as a film set, having been featured in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, and the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
Villa Torrigiani, Capannori, Tuscany
This stately 16th century property is considered a prime example of Baroque architecture in the Tuscany region. Today, Villa Torrigiani is still owned by the descendants of Marquis Nicolao Santini, who bought the estate in 1636, and has its original furnishings on show. Both the gardens and villa are open to the public from March through to November.
Villa Emo, Fanzolo di Vedelago, Veneto
Villa Emo, a 16th century UNESCO-listed estate, is one of the region’s many Palladian properties designed by Andrea Palladio, a famous Italian architect influenced by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The façade of the three-story central building features four Doric columns, housing a number of frescoes by painter Battista Zelotti.
Winery visit: You can’t possibly pass by the chance to see the historical heart of Prosecco in Conegliano-Valdobbiadene territory—a UNESCO in the making. Both Bortolomiol and Col Vetoraz are less than an hour north of the villa.
Villa Durazzo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Liguria
Genoese aristocrats, the Durazzo family, built this property as their summer house in 1678, featuring a large terrace decorated with Ligurian risseu paving, a local mosaic technique that arranges river and beach pebbles into black-and-white designs. The café inside the gardens overlooks a tranquil seaside view.
Winery visit: About an hour’s drive south, passing by the Cinque Terre and other colorful seaside towns of Liguria, you’ll find Cantine Lunae winery and vineyards, considered one of the best producers of Vermentino.