Gardens of the Italian Lakes by Steven Desmond with photographs by Marianne Majerus.


The gardens of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore in the north of Italy are among the most dramatic and beautiful one could visit. With this new book to hand the visitor’s experience will be all the more enjoyable.

Villa Carlotta on Lake Como 

Thanks to today’s transport systems getting there is easy and, while there, moving from one garden to another is part of the pleasure of the experience. We have been to both lakes to visit gardens and might have enjoyed them even more had we had this book to hand before we travelled.  There are several excellent books on Italian gardens but none, that I know of, dealing purely with the lakes. For both lakes we travelled from Dublin to Milan and were transported onward by bus. On Maggiore we stayed in Streasa and on Como in Bellagio. From these bases travel around the lakes was by ferries which in both areas were convenient, frequent and gave one great views of the magnificent scenery.

Villa Melzi across the lake from Villa Carlotta

The garden highlights on Lake Maggiore are Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Villa San Remidio and Villa Taranto which we visited along with the lesser Alpinia and the Botanic Gardens of the Brissago Islands while the feature visits of Lake Como were Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta, Villa del Balbianello, Villa Serbelloni, Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero all within immediate and easy reach from Bellagio. This book lists a few other gardens which I might describe as lesser gardens – ones I would most certainly wish to visit if I had further time but on a limited timescale, as I was, I had to select and prioritise and feel reassured from reading this guide that my choices were well made.

Villa Balbianello on a promontory on Lake Como, one of the great delights of the lakes  

Having visited the lakes and most of the gardens before reading this book puts me in a good position to judge it and, quite simply, I can say that I am sorry I didn’t have it to hand before I went on my holidays. It is the single best book on the area that I have come across and combines clear, informed and informative text with outstanding photography. The author, Steven Desmond, is a gardener, writer and lecturer who has led garden tours to the lakes over many years while Marianne Majerus, the photographer, is simply the best and any book with her photographs is guaranteed to be a treat to the eyes. Nine gardens are described for Lake Maggiore and seven for Como, certainly a comprehensive listing and more than sufficient for the average holiday.

Villa Monastero, typical of many of the gardens on the lake, fitted into a narrow strip on the lake shore and with fabulous views. 

I recommend this book without hesitation and with great enthusiasm as I likewise recommend both areas for your holidays – with the proviso that you make use of this book so you get the best from your time and enjoy it to the fullest.

Gardens of the Italian Lakes, Steven Desmond, photographs by Marianne Majerus, Frances Lincoln, London, 2016, Hardback, 224 pages, £20 ISBN: 978-0-7112-3630-1

Paddy Tobin.

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