Just behind the hill of the promontory into the lake, protected from the winds, is the building complex of Villa Serbelloni. The villa dominates the town's historic centre. It can be reached from Via Garibaldi. It was built in the fifteenth century in place of an old castle razed in 1375. Villa Serbelloni was later rebuilt several times. In 1788 it came into the possession of Alessandro Serbelloni (1745–1826) who enriched it with precious decorations and works of art of the 17th and 18th centuries. Today you can visit only the gardens. The trails, as well as the villa, lead to the remains of the 16th century Capuchin monastery and the Sfondrata, a residence built by the Sfondrati family indeed, overlooking the Lecco branch of the lake.
View of Bellagio. The building under the crown of the hill is Villa Serbelloni, believed to have been built on the site of Pliny the Younger's villa "Tragedy." His villa "Comedy" was down on the shore.
On the inside, elegant halls with vault and coffered ceilings follow one another accurately decorated in the style of the 17th and 18th centuries. All around, the park develops along most of the promontory of Bellagio with vast tracts of thick woods where the Serbelloni gardeners had traced paths which nowadays still lead the way amongst the small clearings and English style gardens.
As noted by Balbiani, rather than being a garden, it is a real "wood, opened by spacious and comfortable paths, and plants with all generations of high trunk trees”; amongst which, oak trees, conifers, fir trees, holm oaks, osmanti, myrtles and junipers, "… but above all trees, here situated is the pine tree, which, with its gnarled trunk acts as a screen against the storms”.
Occasionally, the vegetation thins out at panoramic points which overlook the two branches of the lake, offering a prospect from the slopes of the hill, where the rose bushes flower during the season with their varied colours. The roughness of the rocky plane along the winding path which goes up to the villa has not stopped the construction of terraces and flower beds with yews and boxes trimmed geometrically. Along the upper part of the park is a long row of cypress trees and some palm trees of considerable dimensions.
In 1905, the villa was transformed into a luxury hotel. In 1959 it became the property of the Rockefeller Foundation of New York at the bequest of the American-born Princess of Thurn and Taxis, who had bought it in 1930. Since 1960 the Bellagio Center in the villa has been home to international conferences housed in the former villa or in the grounds. In addition, outstanding scholars and artists are selected for one-month residencies year-round.
Quite different is the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on the water's edge. A luxurious neo-classical villa built in the 1850s for an aristocratic Milanese family became the nucleus of the (then-called) Grand Hotel Bellagio, opened in 1873. The hotel retains its original Belle Époque fittings.