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Shell House Showcase: Villa Melzi, Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como and specifically its Centro Lago area has for centuries offered a beautiful, cool respite from city life for the rich and landed.


Villas have been built here since ancient times and the fashion developed particularly after the late Renaissance period. We stayed at Cadenabbia, an hour from Como, on the west side of the lake. A ten minute ferry takes you to the pretty hillside port of Bellagio where, to the south immediately below the lido is the Villa Melzi.


The Grotto at Villa Melzi is set within a neo-classical style garden and is early 19th century, with open belvedere visible across Lake Como. It is dry, neat, ornamental and with some lintel niches for plants. There is a small serpentine water feature the other side, and English style paths cut along the terrace parkland. There are busts of Emperor Ferdinand and his consort Maria Anna di Savoie. Liszt and Stendhal walked here.



Behind the house, below the lawned terrace, is a sequence of 8 arches in stone. Set within the middle three is a grotto with water features, rocaille and fish.


There is a nautilus set in a lion’s head and some shells are embedded in tufa rustication: cockles, oysters, clams and whelks. There are stalactite nodules. The colouring is dark pink generally and a pristine neatness abounds. Above this is a small ‘natural’ grotto feature covered with flowers. This looks over a small ‘museum’ of Etruscan and Napoleonic artefacts.

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