Villa Serbelloni – alias the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center

Villa Serbelloni is built on the crest of a hill overlooking the idyllic promontory of Bellagio and the breathtaking Golden Triangle of Lake Como. It was built in 1605 for Marchesino Stanga and later modified by the Sfondrati family in the 16th century. The Dukes of Serbelloni took up residence in the late 18th century and, although they maintained the villa more or less as it was, they extended the superb gardens.

As with many of the grand villas around the lake, the Villa Serbelloni has had many distinguished guests over the years, e.g. Leonardo da Vinci, the Emporor Maximillian I, Silvio Pellico, Queen Victoria, Manzoni and Parini.

Since 1959 the Villa Serbelloni has been home to the Rockfeller Foundation. The property was bequeathed to the Foundation by Princess Ella Walker, the American wife of the Prince Thurn und Taxis, upon her death and is now used as a conference centre offering highly competitive residency programs. The Rockefeller Foundation provides four week long integrated projects for scholars, artists, writers, musicians, scientists, policymakers and development professionals from around the world. The essence of the program is the synergy obtained by the interaction between people coming from diverse backgrounds.

Architecturally, the villa has undergone a number of transformations during its existence and is therefore rather eclectic. In the Middle Ages it was reworked as a castle; a fortress with a large square tower was built around 1375; a luxurious palace in the 16th century, with a church and convent added in the 17th century. The inside of the building, which is not open to casual visitors due to the Rockefeller Foundation programs, is decorated in the style of the 17th and 18th centuries.

As with many of the grand villas on the shores of Lake Como, Villa Serbelloni is most revered for its gardens. It feels like the whole hill is covered in a magnificent array of vegetation; orange, lemon, pear, fig, olive and pomegranate trees; pine trees, cedars, conifers, firs, oaks, holm trees, palms, grapevines, myrtles, jasmine, roses, rhododendrons, oleanders, yews, geometrically trimmed box hedges and glorious flower beds – you name it! The villa is basically situated in the middle of a huge, mature park occupying a large part of the headland, and with pathways that extend for around 18 kilometres. The views of the lake are quite extraordinary. From the vantage point of the Villa Serbelloni gardens you can clearly see the upside down “Y” shape of the lake.

You can admire the gardens of Villa Serbelloni from April to October by joining a guided tour that lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes starting at 11.00 and 15.30. For more information on these tours call +39 031 951555/031 950204.

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