The Villas of Belgirate
How to get
By train: Belgirate station is on the Milan-Domodossola line.
Belgirate lies in a beautiful situation on the promontory separating the Borromean Gulf from the southern part of Lake Maggiore. Throughout the 19th century the town attracted a number of famous people: figures of the Risorgimento, statesmen and poets, who built the superb villas with their gardens now seen alongside the townhouses of the local bourgeoisie.
Villa Fontana: this is one of the oldest mansion houses in Belgirate, built by the historic Beretta family in the 18th century and purchased in 1892 by the famous Milan publisher Emilio Treves, who renamed the house “Villa Maria” in honour of his daughter. It became the setting for meetings between many illustrious people, including Arturo Graf, Giovanni Verga, Guido Gozzano, Arrigo Boito, Gabriele D'Annunzio and Leonardo Bistolfi. The Villa has splendid English-style gardens with a majestic marine palm, beautiful magnolias, camphor trees and huge monkey puzzles.
Villa Carlotta: a 19th century mansion house originally belonging to the Beretta family, Villa Carlotta was acquired in 1952 by Giuseppe Mugnai, who transformed it into the prestigious hotel it is today, a venue for major congresses and conferences. Mugnai was an enthusiastic amateur flower grower, and in the 60s succeeded in breeding a white, red and orange dahlia, the “Dahlia B.B.”, which he dedicated to Brigitte Bardot, a guest in the hotel.
Villa Bonghi: the Villa was built between 1858 and 1861 by Ruggero Bonghi, a well-known Neapolitan political and literary figure who had fallen in love with the places and atmosphere of lake Maggiore. The property, which has changed hands a number of times, now has a somewhat severe appearance, quite different from the “rather bizarre” 19th century villa described by the historian De Vit.
Other fine villas are Villa Cairoli, which numbered Giuseppe Garibaldi among its guests; Villa Conelli, of impressive size and style with a huge Italian-style garden extending towards the hillside; Villa Dal Pozzo D’Annone, one of the finest and most prestigious houses on the lake; Villa Fontana-Fedeli, popularly called “the castle” due to its manor house style; and Villa Principessa Mathilde, the lakeside residence of Napoleon’s niece.