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At This Lake Como Villa, You Can Rent the Renaissance

Designer Jacques Garcia has turned the 16th-century Villa Durini into the ultimate private Lake Como getaway.


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If you’re going to do a week in Lake Como, you might as well go all the way. The Villa Durini, one of the largest and most historically rich properties in the region, is a palace you can call your own—at least for a few nights. It’s in pristine shape, having been recently renovated by Jacques Garcia, one of France’s most sought-after interior architects, whose clients include the Hôtel Costes and the Louvre. Of the Villa Durini, Garcia says, “These 16th-century villas bordering the lake are myths. There are very few, and even fewer in such good condition.”

The house and its four acres of gardens are steps away from the town of Ossuccio and have the Alps as a dramatic backdrop. Behind the elegant façade is a nearly 6,500-square-foot living space on three floors, including a grand hall with Baroque frescoes, a piano hall with a Steinway concert grand, an indoor pool with a vaulted ceiling, and a formal dining room (there’s also a pergola for more casual outdoor meals).

Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio built the palazzo in the late 16th century on the lake’s western shore. Another cardinal, Angelo Maria Durini, acquired the home in 1787 and expanded it to its present size, filling it with pieces from his impressive art collection (now gone). He extended the lush gardens and dotted them with statues, fountains, and walkways. Though Cardinal Durini was a man of the church, he hardly lived the life of an ascetic. Instead he hosted a never-ending stream of high-society parties, concerts, and literary salons.

But time took its toll on the Villa Durini—known as Villa Balbiano before the most recent redesign—particularly the 20th century, when furniture disappeared and the frescoes were buried under layers of paint. In 2012, Garcia was commissioned by the owners, longstanding clients of his who live in Paris, to fix it up. He hired Italian artists to meticulously uncover the frescoes in almost every room, a task that took four years.

The flooring had been another victim of time. Garcia was lucky to find a large quantity of local colored stone, which he put in the main hall. He brought in museum-quality art and furnishings and used haute couture fabrics such as a red Veraseta silk for bedding. “The 16th century was all about color,” he says, “so we let loose with vivid hues and combinations.” For the bathrooms, he sourced rare and exquisite marbles. The renovation introduced modern touches too: Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, water pressure for a proper shower, and a professional kitchen in Arclinea stainless steel.

Of course, with a full staff on site there’s no need to cook—or do anything, for that matter. This is a home that invites far niente (an Italian phrase to describe lazy days). You can easily lose yourself on a lounge chair beside the pool with a Bellini and a view of the lake. Restless guests can take cooking courses with a chef from the Michelin-starred Da Vittorio, watercolor classes with Florentine artist Fiona Corsini di San Giuliano, private excursions to churches, or a tour of the legendary Riva 1920 boatbuilding workshop. You can waterski, heli-ski in St. Moritz, or fly farther afield on a day trip to Venice. “This house is like a fantasy,” says Garcia. “The marvelous garden, the morning mist on the lake. It’s a dream.” Price on request; 44-20-7788-7815;


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