Bellagio – The Pearl of Lake Como

One of the exciting aspects of writing a novel is when it involves travel. I visited Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como in the summer of 2022 to research the location for The Italian Garden, and fell in love with the glorious scenery and the warmth of the Italian people.

It’s impossible not to be enchanted by Bellagio with its lakefront of bobbing boats, a backdrop of blue mountains, steep medieval stone staircases and terracotta-roofed houses with rhododendron filled gardens.

Lake Como is in the north of Italy in the region of Lombardy. The town of Bellagio, often called the Pearl of the Lake, is situated at the inverted Y of Lake Como like the prow of a ship with views towards the Alps.

Popular today with tourists, the first person to leave a record of his stays was Pliny the Younger. He is reputed to have owned two villas on the lake where he enjoyed writing, fishing and hunting.

The Romans had previously used Bellagio as a garrison town where troops overwintered at the foot of the present Villa Serbelloni, sheltered from the north winds.

In the 13th century, Bellagio became part of the Duchy of Milan under the Visconti family. The town was responsible for the surveillance of the lake and the Magistrate oversaw two boats, each armed with twenty oarsmen and sixty soldiers that patrolled the waters against piracy and smugglers.

During the 16th century, the Spanish became the rulers of Lombardy and their domination lasted for two hundred years. The fiefdom of Bellagio was purchased by the Sfondrati family in 1535 who remained in control of the area until 1788. When the last count died without an heir, the rights to the area were taken over by the Serbelloni family. Their luxurious lakeside home became an hotel in 1872, now known as the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni with 200 rooms.

Bellagio’s location was ideal for water transport and trade and various small industries flourished there, notably the breeding of silk worms and the production of silk. Silk worms eat only mulberry leaves and there are still some mulberry trees to be seen around the lake.

From Napoleonic times to the present day, tourism became of considerable importance to the town. The Bellagio Hotel was opened in 1825, converted from an old inn. Several other elegant hotels opened during the 19th century. The three major hotels introduced electric lighting to the town. During the Belle Époque Bellagio had three theatres.

Many artists and writers have spent time in Bellagio, including Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert and, more recently, film stars such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino, Robert de Niro and George Clooney.

Visiting the location of a story that I’m writing is inspiring because I always find details to include in my book that I’d never have known about, if I’d remained at my desk. One of the things I experienced at first hand was how very quickly the beauty of the sunshine and the sparkling blue water of the lake can change. I watched in amazement as billowing clouds of mist and rain rolled across the water in a matter of minutes and obliterated the sun.

You will have to read The Italian Garden if you want to find out how I included that experience in one of the scenes!

Read here to find out more about my inspiration for The Italian Garden.

The Italian Garden, is the second of three books set in Italy with a WWI widow as the heroine. Each book is a standalone story.

Lake Como, 1919.
The garden of Villa Marchese was once a sight to behold. Now, overgrown and unloved, the flowers that once bloomed are nothing but a reminder of the tragic events of Flora Marchese’s death.

When horticulturist Violet Honeywell is commissioned to restore the once exquisite garden, she immediately accepts and sets off from London on a life-changing adventure in Italy.

Violet is enchanted by the Italian way of life, and under the beguiling warmth of the Bellagio sun, she falls in love with a man who can never truly be hers – Flora’s grandson.

But when a discovery at the Lake uncovers buried truths that have haunted the family for decades, Violet starts to delve deeper into the dark secrets of their past, and she quickly begins to realise that not everything in the Marchese family is what it seems . . .

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