Villa Lucertola is steeped in a rich and romantic history - from Victorian touring parties through to the present day. This history has, for the most part, been lovingly passed down by each successive owner to the present, so that we now have an extraordinarily detailed and charming record of the villa's guests, laughs, loves, triumphs, tearaways, frivolities and feasts.
Laying the foundations
The villa was built by four Englishmen in 1898 on an otherwise isolated peninsula.
At that time, the only road from Como to Bellagio was an ancient mule track, so all building materials, furniture etc had to be carried over the water from the opposite shore. Today, the old mule track (the Strada Regia) has now been restored from the Villa (by the Ponte del Diabolo) to Como and makes an excellent walk into Lezzeno, perhaps as a pre-lunch sharpener.
Lake Como was chosen because, at that time, it was relatively easily reached from London: via steamer to Calais, train to Lugano, then on by road to the western shore of the lake to towns such as Cadenabbia and Menaggio. The decision to build the villa on an isolated, barren promontory on the eastern shore between Bellagio and Lezzeno would have raised more eyebrows - the eastern shore was considered very unfashionable by the many other English residents of the lake - presumably due to the difficulties of access! But the four's foresight has been vindicated and the villa enjoy glorious sunset evenings while the "fashionable" western shore is long shrouded in shade!
The house was christened "Lucertola" for the lizards that still bask in the sun.
The first 30 years
The four Englishmen and their families came annually to enjoy languid summers on the lake: reading, swimming, rowing, painting - and kept a wonderful record of each day's activities in a diary that covers the first 30 years of life at the villa. Some days have single sentence summaries, some are illustrated with beautiful water coloured sketches, while others narrate in exquisite detail anecdotes of disasters, adventures, loves - and backgammon.
Many guests have spent hours pouring over this history in the copy of the diary in the villa's library. Some tales have become apocryphal - not least the account from 1910 of the then Chancellor, Lloyd George, waking to hear bells peal in Cadenabbia at the time of King Edward VII's death. A telegram arrived shortly after summoning him back to London for the funeral.
The friends tracked their stays at the villa scrupulously until the build up to the Second World War made summer travel tricky. They owned the villa through a trust structure called a tontine, whereby the last surviving member took full ownership. On his death, the villa passed to his son, but it was sold in the 1970s underwent significant restoration and modernisation
Since then it has passed through various owners all of whom fell deeply in love with the villa's wild romance.
Legend has it that a Brazilian woman who had to sell the villa in the 1970s was so distraught to be leaving, she threw a diamond lizard ring off the peninsula. Hours of snorkelling have yet to yield much luck on that front, but there's no harm in trying.
Fifteen years ago, long after the villa had passed into family folklore, a grandson of one of the four original owners found the villa was for sale and thus began another chapter, now including great- and great-great-grandchildren, who continue to enjoy this family home.
Guests of the villa are all encouraged to add their own chapters to this charming history.