Villa Monastero dates back to the 13th century and was probably built during a period when residents of Isola Comacina flocked to Varenna to settle there. Originally, Villa Monastero was a monastery of Cistercians. In 1567 the doors of the monastery are closed by order of the Pope and the six remaining sisters are forced to retire.
The monastery thus ended up in a long series of private hands: industrialists, architects, notables and wealthy families who converted the original monastery into a beautiful villa.
Each owner builds and remodels according to taste and the spirit of the times, under the guidance of renowned architects, into what Villa Monastero has become today: an eclectic villa in Scandinavian style.
In 1890 the villa comes into the hands of Walter Kees, a German. He thoroughly renovated the villa and also started the construction of the botanical garden. It is also he who closes off the until then compulsory access road to the monastery church to the public. Of course you don’t want to be disturbed when you are raking and hoeing in your botanical garden.
Walter Kees has had the original house with horse stables, once a silk factory, thoroughly renovated into a beautiful porter’s house. He knocks out walls and builds a beautiful portico.
From the portico he allows himself to be driven by horse and carriage to his villa, which is about 200 meters away. Today the portico is a library and the entrance where you buy tickets…
A ticket to visit the villa and botanical garden costs ten euros per person. Although we only pay five euros today? From the portico, walk through the cobbled path into the garden…
The botanical winds its way for a kilometer like a ribbon along the eastern shore of Lake Como to Fiumelatte. The garden is narrow but it hasn’t always been that way. With the construction of the military access road to the Stelvio Pass, the botanical garden was reduced in size.
Today that same military access road is the Stradale, the main road around Lake Como. The concrete pillars and asphalt layers, accompanied by the noise of cars, disrupt the harmony in the garden in some places. You feel squeezed between a relatively busy highway and Lake Como. Looking left or right, it can make a big difference here in the botanical garden of Villa Monastero.
The fact that we can walk in the garden today is thanks to the De Marchi family, who made the garden, and also the villa, accessible to the public in 1940. Plant varieties from all over the world grow in the garden that thrive thanks to the mild climate around the lake como. All year round, exotic plants such as agaves, dracaenas, yuccas, palm trees, cypresses, oleanders and citrus trees in the flowerbeds, terraces and avenues.
Plant lovers can really indulge themselves here! Between all that green, monumental staircases and balustrades, statues, fountains, small temples and wells bringing structure and differences in height to the various themes in the garden.
The garden is of course beautiful, we don’t have to convince anyone of that. A real piece of nature where you can walk through and let yourself be carried away in the zeitgeist of Lake Como back then…
Yet the gardens of Villa Carlotta or Villa Balbianello appeal more to us. They seem a bit more tidy to us and are a bit more expansive. The sun is playing hide-and-seek with the clouds today and a botanical garden no longer blooms to its peak in September… We’ll be back again on a sunny spring day!
In 1970, the Province of Como becomes the owner of the domain. In 2009 the keys go to the Province of Lecco. Villa Monastero has been a museum and conference center since 2003, hosting a variety of events. Of course you can also book an exclusive wedding party.
A doorman asks for our covid-safe-pass and welcomes us to the museum. The museum has fourteen rooms that, with decoration and original furniture, provide an insight into the time of that time. Richly decorated rooms, a monumental staircase in marble and fine stucco. We are amazed at the Salla della musica, Camera padronale, Salla del Consiglio and the bathroom with a Pompeian-style bath. It must have been good life here…
In the portico we look over our shoulder one more time. It is only now that we really notice how long the garden continues. We’ve had an exclusive walk along the shores of Lake Como!