A bit of history

A large family home under the Italian sun, that is what the Dutch family was looking for at the beginning of this century on Lake Maggiore. They had already spent many unforgettable holidays on the Italian lakes. As early as the 1960s, the family’s grandparents used the caravan to spend weeks at the campsite on Lake Maggiore. All the children loved coming and later introduced their own families to the enchanting atmosphere of the towns of Stresa, Verbania, Cannobio and the surrounding mountains.

The rebirth of Casa Pallanza

During a boat trip in 2018 along the romantic shores of Pallanza, a large villa caught the eye. Hidden behind an ancient magnolia tree, surrounded by a spacious garden and situated on a quiet road, this was a hidden gem. A pearl that still needs to be polished. In the eyes of the Dutch family, this was perfect: a villa from 1860 with a guesthouse, a garden right on the water and its own harbour. This would be enough to accommodate an entire family with supporters, relatives and friends. And not unimportant: to rent out to privileged lovers of Italian life and water sports.

The renovation was tackled on a grand scale by the architectural duo from Verbania, Mauro and Federica Bissattini. They gave the villa and guesthouse a modern touch, while retaining the authentic style elements. The garden with its camellias, palms, fig tree, giant pine and the giant Magnolia as a natural parasol, remained as it was: practical with plenty of room to play and enjoy the sun.

In order to be able to receive large groups and families, the layout was taken into account: a five-meter long terrace table for ‘la grande familia’, seven spacious bedrooms with private bathroom and many lounge areas in sunny and shady places. Especially sports and games should not be missing. A volleyball net, soccer goals, table tennis, table football; everything for young and old to enjoy. The billiard room containing the billiard table of the old owner, a billiard champion from the 1950s, was restored to its original condition. Casa Pallanza was born again.

No need to be bored The old town of Pallanza is also worth a visit. It still breathes the atmosphere of how it used to be. Surrounded by beautiful old villas with nearby the luxurious Bell Epoque five star hotel Majestic, the historical botanical garden Villa Taranto, villa Giulia (old headquarters of Mussolini), the church of the Renaissance Madonna di Campagna with the 11th century bell tower, the enchanting Villa San Remigio, and directly opposite the house the private island of the Borromeo family, Isolino di San Giovanni.

In addition to the atmospheric culture, nature is overwhelming. With the Val Grande National Park, the old towns and the lakes nearby, the holiday is complete. Nobody will be bored at Lake Maggiore.

Pallanza in earlier times

The town of Pallanza was founded in Roman times and was for centuries the scene of many conflicts and changes of authority, due to its strategic position half way up the lake. In more modern times the Piedmontese shore of Lake Maggiore was discovered by the Italian upper classes only after Italy’s independence from Austrian domination (1859). In the second half of the 19th century the development of the railways and the growth of steamer services made the lake an increasingly attractive holiday destination.

Summer villas of increasingly impressive size were built all along the shore from Arona to Cannobio, often by aristocrats from northern Europe. English, German and Russian visitors were attracted by the mild climate and the romantic atmosphere made famous by the tradition of the Grand Tour. At the same time, a number of magnificent villas were built in Pallanza, those on the lake shore particularly beautiful by virtue of their privileged situation.

In this period, ‘modern’ botanical gardens were being laid out in northern Italy. Exotic plants brought to Europe from the East by travellers and English gardeners –  azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, camphor trees and magnolias – enlivened the geometric layout of the formal Italian gardens with  an explosion of colour.

Casa Pallanza

A small villa was originally sited where Casa Pallanza stands. The oldest parts of the villa and guesthouse date from 1870. The two buildings did not belong together then. The villa was built by an Italian aristocrat. At the beginning of the 20th century the villa was bought by a wealthy Italian family from Varese; a famous Italian billiard champion. They expanded the villa and bought the neighbor’s house to turn it into a guesthouse. In the 1960’s the villa was renovated. Over 50 years later, a Dutch family bought the property and restaurated the villa, guesthouse, harbour and garden according to modern standards.

Interesting buildings

Casa Pallanza is surrounded by historical buildings and gardens:

Villa Rusconi-Clerici

A beautifully preserved late 19th century house with rich neo-baroque decorations and an English-style garden. In the garden there is an old lemon house with various species of citrus trees. The garden now includes a pavilion for receptions and weddings. The camellias came, almost certainly, from the Rovelli nursery, one of the best known Italian growers of acidophilous plants at that time.

Villa Giulia

It was built back in 1847 by Cavalier Ferdinando Branca. He was the famous creator of Fernet Branca Italian Liquor. The villa has a majestic facade facing the lake. It has loggias and columns on each floor and a rounded terrace on the very top. It has been built in Liberty style and it has a wonderful English garden in front of it. In 1932 it has been converted in a Casino and Club but luckily in 1987 Villa Giulia has been acquired by town hall of Pallanza and it has been converted in a cultural venue hosting exhibitions, events, music and local products tasting.

Villa Taranto

The Giardini di Villa Taranto were designed by Captain Neil McEacharn, who bought them in 1931 from the Marquise di Sant’Elia. He wanted to reconstruct a piece of his beloved Scotland by creating an exemplary English garden that would reconcile two fundamental requirements: beauty and botany. The name was chosen to honour the memory of one of his ancestors, Marshal McDonald, who was named Duke of Taranto by Napoleon. The work lasted 9 years, during which time an innovative irrigation system was built which enabled water to be brought directly from the lake. Fountains, terraced gardens, a winter garden, marshes and pools for water lilies and lotus flowers were also constructed. The Giardini di Villa Taranto extend across an area of around 16 hectares in which there are around 1,000 non-native plants and 20,000 varieties and species of particular botantic value.

Villa San Remigio

The Villa, dating from the early 20th century, was built to symbolise the great love between marquis Silvio della Valle di Casanova, a poet and musician, and Irish painter Sofia Browne. Villa San Remigio rises on the hill of Castagnola, between the 17th-century church of the same name and the gardens of Villa Taranto. The Villa has Lombard Baroque style façades and characteristic balconies supported by a rock tunnel with a colonnade used as a winter garden. The Park is home to majestic trees, terraces, staircases and ancient sculptures. It also includes a medieval vegetable garden, an orchard, the Garden of the Hours, the Garden of Joy, the Garden of Memories and the Garden of Sighs.

The island

In front of Casa Pallanza, about 30 meters from the coast, is the island ‘Isolino di San Giovanni’. The first mentions of Isolino di San Giovanni are found in the documents of Emperor Otto III at the end of the 10th century – then it was called Isola di Sant’Angelo. On the island there was a castle and a chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael, which probably gave the name to the entire island. Later, the chapel was destroyed, and the name of the island was changed to San Giovanni after the name of the chapel with the font of John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista).

In the middle of the 12th century, the island became the property of the Counts of Barbavar – this is stated in the documents of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. And at the end of the 16th century, the local noble Borromeo family decided to establish a College of Varnavites on Izolino di San Giovanni. They managed to buy the island in 1632, at the same time a villa was built here and a garden was laid out. The Palazzo Borromeo and the surrounding park acquired their present appearance after the reconstruction of the mid-19th century. Perhaps its most famous resident was the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who lived here from 1927 to 1952. Today, Isolino di San Giovanni and Palazzo Borromeo are privately owned and closed to the public.

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