Romans, Medici, Rockefellers and Lake Como!

The Two-Thousand Year Quest to Build The Perfect Italian Villa

Pictured above is Bellagio. For thousands of years it has been among the most desirable (and priciest) real estate in Italy. Most of the hill is currently owned by the Rockefeller family foundation and the small villa in the center is built on the site where the Roman general, Pliny the Elder, had his summer retreat. Born in nearby Verona, he retired here to write the Western world’s first natural history, as well as our first encyclopedia. In April of 79AD Vesuvius erupted and he hurried down to Naples to study the great natural phenomena. He arrived just in time to witness the sixth and final explosion and was buried in the lava.
During the Renaissance Popes, Cardinals and the great families of Milan, Florence and Venice arranged marriages alliances and bought and sold and fought over the great estates that were built here. There are still hundreds of Villas put up by these aristocrats and some are still owned by the same families for more than 500 years.

Castles and Concerts invites you to join us in Bellagio at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, a luxurious neoclassical villa which has been a Grand Hotel since 1873. It is pictured above on the water’s edge at the far left of the photo. It has much of the original paintings, sculptures and Belle Epoque fittings. However it has been lovingly and meticulously renovated into a five star masterpiece.

Passing the Time in Paradise — The Excursions

While on the lake, we plan to indulge ourselves much like the lucky few have done for centuries. Coffee on the terrace, a sumptuous breakfast, a choice of activities for the day, perhaps lunch at a neighboring villa, made more delightful by a small concert and the gorgeous views. Our hotel has all the amenities, including a spa, gym, pool and tennis. And we can find our way to other parts of the lake by an efficient, modern and comfortable ferry system. But the Italians are great at keeping the old machines working. One day we will charter one of the 1929 steam paddle- wheel ferries for our exclusive use. Other days we will break into small groups and visit some of the magnificent villas.
Pictured above is Villa Balbianello. A thousand years ago it was a monastery. In the 1700’s a cardinal made it into his summer home. The Visconti family owned it for a few centuries and in the twentieth century it was bought by Count Guido Monzino, one of Italy’s richest men, an explorer who went to both the North and South poles and was the first Italian to summit Mt Everest. Here he created a Geographical institute and amassed an amazing collection of art from all over the world. He died without heirs and left the whole thing as a gift to the Italian people. It’s seems to be an ideal movie location for bad guys and has been featured in many movies, including 007 and Star Wars.

Our hotel’s dock is pictured below. We’ll take a private boat, and land at Count Guido’s pier to visit the villa and have a grand lunch.

Other Great Places Around the Lake

Every day we’ll have the opportunity to boat around the lake to discover new places with the fantastic histories and back stories that have unfolded through the centuries. We’ll tour the gardens (pictured left) and take lunch at Villa d’Este. From the 1300’s, there was a convent here until in 1556 a Cardinal Tolomeo demolished the nunnery and laid out the current palace and gardens. Through the centuries it was owned by various noble families, and even a ballerina and one of Napoleon’s generals. A century later at a gala dinner in 1948, a wealthy manufacturer, Carlo Sacchi was murdered by his lover, Countess Pia Bellentani, who shot her lover in front of the guests with her husband’s pistol.

Below is the Villa Carlotta (1745). It got its name in 1847 when the wife of Prince Albert of Prussia gave the villa to their teenage daughter, Princess Carlotta, as a wedding present. Today it houses a beautiful collection of sculptures by Canova. We’ll take lunch just nearby where we can gaze back across the lake to Bellagio.

How about something completely different?

No nation on earth can match the exuberance of Italy’s embrace of the automobile as both an art form and an expression of personal identity. For generations one’s car has helped define a person’s values and social status and was an extension of their personality. And Milan has always been the center of Italy’s automobile industry and culture. And when a work of art gets older, you don’t throw it away; you care for it and keep loving it. Perhaps this is why there are at least 24 companies in Milan that specialize in renting classic Italian sports cars. They don’t lock them away in museums. Cars are meant to be driven, and the roads around Lake Como have some of the most breathtaking drives on the planet.
So one of our group days will be devoted to a road rally from Bellagio on Lake Como to Lugano in Switzerland. We will rent about a dozen convertibles for the week. Each of our five groups will have the cars for one day. Those who want to drive can volunteer and we’ll arrange the insurance. We’ll drive an hour and a half up into the Swiss Alps, have a great and leisurely lunch on Lake Lugano and return to Bellagio in time for cocktails and music.

An Extra Treat: Three Days in Verona Before Lake Como

Inside the Byblos Art Hotel
We set our sites on Verona as a pretrip destination. We knew that, two thousand years after it was built, the Roman Arena had been fitted with electricity and new seats and was still the center of public life. And we knew that Verona is where the most important Renaissance architect Palladio built several of his masterpieces. And, of course, Romeo and Juliet came from here.
The Byblos Art Hotel
Verona's Roman Arena still in use today
But we did not know that Verona is also home to one of the most unique properties in the world, The Byblos Art Hotel. After fifty years of passionate collecting, Dino Facchini, bought a Renaissance villa and spent five years renovating the interior to create a Museum/Hotel to display his huge collection of modern art.. Mr Facchini invited living artists to help design the individual rooms where the art would be displayed. The resulting Byblos Art Hotel has been awarded the “Best Luxury Hotel in the World” by Conde-Nast, the “Best Villa Resort in Italy” by World Luxury Hotel Awards and many other awards.

We have taken the villa for our exclusive use for three nights starting April 24, 2020. If you arrive in Milan any time on the 24th we will pick you up and transport you into this magical fantastical realm. This is one of the all time great party houses you will ever experience.
Palladio’s Villa de Rotonda, (1567) Jefferson’s inspiration for Monticello

Entertainments and More Details

There are many wonderful places to stay on Lake Como. It is one of the most beautiful places in Italy and has been a destination for over two thousand years. We picked Bellagio for two reasons. The little town of Bellagio is filled with wonderful restaurants, music clubs and shops that range from colorfully funky to extravagant haute couture. And the Grand Hotel Serbelloni is not only a lovely and gracious five star destination, but they love music. They have musicians playing every night and have been very excited that we will bring more music to their hotel.
And speaking of music, we owe a great thanks to Buz and Marianne Walters. They and the good people of the Eldorado Country Club introduced us to Deanne Bogart, the newest star to join our happy band of adventurers. Deanne is a multitalented singer and instrumentalist, performing on piano, guitar and saxophone. She’s performed and recorded with lots of big names and we can’t wait to have her share her talents with our musicians and guests.

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