The unparalleled landscape of Lake Como is utterly inspiring – just ask the scores of authors, painters, composers and cinematographers who have brought its deep blue waters, its wooded hills and its elegant villas to life in their art. Winston Churchill, bracing from an election loss and weary from years of world war, sought solace in his oils and easel, painting nostalgic lakeside scenes in 1945. Franz Liszt, Hungarian composer and his era’s heartthrob, came to Villa Melzi in the 1830s and transposed his passion for the setting (and his mistress!) in Dante’s Symphony. 19th-century poet Longfellow has probably the most memorable lines penned about the lake in his poem entitled Cadenabbia:
“I ask myself, Is this a dream?We think a vacation at Palazzo del Vice Re should start before you even leave the house. The best way to do that is to seek inspiration in the books and movies that put the lush landscape, the laid-back way of life and the lively locals at center stage. We have put together a handy list of 5 movies and 5 books to get you in the mood for Lake Como – with a variety of styles and moods to suit you all.
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?”
Cinematic Lake Como
A Month By The Lake (1995)
It’s April 1937 – a month brilliant with blooms and blissfully ignorant of the coming horrors of World War II. In this delightfully funny film, a motley crew of characters comes together on lovely Lake Como, all primed for flirtation – much like the season’s busy birds and bees! The charming lady of a certain age, Miss Bentley, is played by a compelling Vanessa Redgrave. Her would-be paramour Major Wilshaw gets all of his cheek and charm from Edward Fox’s brilliant performance. Clearly the two belong together, but their inherent British reticence and two charming young things get in the way. Uma Thurman plays the American ingenue, nanny to a visiting family of prominence, that turns the Major’s head; Alessandro Gassman lays his Italian charms on thick as the randy Vittorio, desperate to convince the decidedly older Miss Bentley that his desire is real. We won’t spoil the ending, suffice it to say – Lake Como is for Lovers!
The Luzhin Defence (2000)
In this romantic thriller based on a novel by Nabakov, John Turturro plays a shambling, unworldly chess Grand Master who comes to Villa Erba to play the match of his life. Chess has always been somewhat of a refuge for the man born in difficult circumstances – and has enabled him to shut out the real world as a result. His safe, insular world is turned upside down when he meets Emily Watson’s Natalia, a daughter of privilege who has recently been promised to a prominent Count. Natalia is charmed by the genius of Luzhin and his total lack of pretension, much to the dismay of her overbearing mother. Add to the mix the chess player’s former mentor and current tormentor, Valentinov, who sets about brilliantly exploiting Luzhin’s psychological weaknesses. You will be on the edge of your seat throughout this masterfully shot film and mesmerized by Turturro’s amazing performance.
Rocco and his brothers (1960)
Luchino Visconti, the accomplished film director known best for his Sicilian saga The Leopard, spent many of his summers on Lake Como in the family home, Villa Erba near Como. He cites the afternoons spent frolicking in the villa gardens as some of the happiest days of his childhood. Later in life, when his health was failing, he retreated to this lakeside idyll to heal, and to finish his masterpiece Ludwig about the enigmatic and extravagant Bavarian king. His 1960 film Rocco and his Brothers tells the tragic story of a poor family from the South of Italy who seek a better life in the thriving industrial economy of Milan. A brutal love triangle between two of the brothers and the former prostitute Nadia bring the drama of this black and white classic to a fever pitch. Although most of the film is not set on Lake Como, the scenes in Bellagio between Rocco, played by a smoldering Alain Delon, and Annie Girardot’s beautiful Nadia, are the film’s happiest…
Bobby Deerfield (1977)
In this classic Sydney Pollack film, the titular formula 1 racing champion is played by a gorgeous young Al Pacino. After a spectacular crash during one of his races on the European circuit, Bobby makes a pilgrimage into the Alps to visit the pilot who almost died in the crash at a remote Swiss clinic. There, he meets the beautiful and enigmatic Lillian played by the tragically lovely Marthe Keller and the two embark on a bittersweet romance at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (legend has it the romance continued off screen!). This brilliant melodrama brings you along on a literal and figurative journey as the protagonists struggle to face their own mortality – don’t forget the tissues!!
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Another brilliant heist movie by the team that gave us Ocean’s Eleven and the next installment in this series is even more ambitious than the last. For the audience, these fairly formulaic films are less about whether the team gets away with their audacious plans, and more about how much fun they have doing it! One of the new characters introduced to the film is Vincent Cassel, who plays the dashing Frenchman and rival thief known as the Night Fox. It is his overwhelming ego that puts the Twelve in jeopardy – the Night Fox vowed revenge when Albert Finney’s character LeMarque claimed the world’s greatest thief was Danny Ocean and NOT the Night Fox. Maybe as an excuse to get the cast to star George Clooney’s Lake Como Villa, some pivotal scenes are shot here – including the scene at Night Fox’s lakeside mansion (once again, Villa Erba!) where Danny Ocean and his rival give some of the film’s best dialogue.
Literary Lake Como
I Promessi Sposi, or The Betrothed (1827)
This is probably Italy’s most famous novel and definitely a masterpiece of world literature – on par with Hugo’s Les Misérables and Tolstoy’s War and Peace (and similarly long!). The book is set in 17th-century Italy during the Spanish occupation, the same era in which we believe the Palazzo del Vice Re originated. Renzo and Lucia, a young peasant couple from Lake Como, want nothing more than to be married, but the vicious Spaniard Don Rodrigo has decided he wants the lovely Lucia for himself. The trials and tribulations of the star-crossed lovers are pure melodrama, set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War and the battles, bread lines and bubonic plague that came with it. Although the love story dominates, this novel presents readers with themes like justice, faith, power and truth and compels us to confront our own humanity.
Lake Como (2009)
Set in a fictional version of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Lake Como was written by the Serbian author Srđjan Valjarević. His protagonist is somewhat of an anti-hero, one who applied for the esteemed writer’s residency on a whim and does not seem to be giving this coveted opportunity its due diligence. The reader follows the writer as he stumbles through his expat life, drinking copiously at bars, watching football, chatting up local ladies and accomplishing precious little in the way of writing. The book excels in its humorous descriptions of his fellow scholars and its musings on identity, art and human endeavor. In the end, we are as surprised as the protagonist at how much he has learned and how much he has changed – and maybe we have too!
An Italian Home: Settling by Lake Como (2018)
When the recession in Britain started to get to them, award-winning stage designer and artist Paul Wright and his family decided to move from England to Moltrasio on Lake Como and start a new life. Neither of the two had job prospects or a word of Italian, but they didn’t let little things like that stop them! Paul brings the Lake Como world brilliantly to life and makes you hungry and thirsty for the delicious food and wine you will enjoy here. We know you will love this delightful memoir and the other two books in the series “An Italian Village” and “Cats Do Eat Spaghetti”. They offer an insightful look at how the couple faired in their first years on the lake. Living as a Local is the goal for Paul and Nicola – and what we hope to give every one of our guests here at Palazzo del Vice Re!
The Man in the Green Hat (1986)
Manning Coles (actually the writing duo Adelaide Manning and Cyril Coles) created the character Tommy Hambledon – a fictional spy master from the British Foreign Office who started life moonlighting as a spy during World War I. In this novel, our hero Tommy is called to Lake Como to figure out what happened to the titular green-hatted man, a British diplomat who disappeared on a walk in the hills above Lake Como. There is more to this case than meets the eye – everything from small-time Mafiosi to rumors of treasure hidden in the hills by Mussolini as he tried to flee the partisans at the end of World War II. Channeling James Bond and filled with historical flashbacks to the war, this book is a good primer on postwar Italy!
Gardens of Delight (2006)
Fans of romance novels will know Erica James, a star of this popular genre since her debut in 1996 and the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year for the novel set on Lake Como “Gardens of Delight”. It’s no wonder James writes so persuasively about Lake Como, she divides her time between her home in Suffolk (UK) and the Italian Lakes. Readers would be wise not to dismiss the romance novel as pure escapist chick lit – Erica James is no pushover and Garden of Delights has some surprising plot twists and very compelling characters. The premise of the book is a group of unrelated Brits who embark on a group tour of the gardens around Lake Como. Some are garden enthusiasts, like the neglected wife Helen and the elderly Mac, but others are decidedly not, like Mac’s nephew Conrad and Helen’s wicked stepdaughter Savannah. There’s also Lucy, who dares to take the trip in the hopes of finding her estranged father, and Orlando, who is either “just” her roommate or maybe something more. This novel will have you excited to see Lake Como’s gardens, and maybe finding some romance of your own!