It was built between 1808 and 1810 by Giocondo Albertolli upon commission of Francesco Melzi, Chancellor of the Kingdom of Italy and a great friend to Napoleon. The villa, among the best known on the lake, was realized in the neoclassical style of the first decades of the 18th century and originally used as a summer residence.
It is entirely surrounded by an enchanting garden in English style descending to the lake, in order to achieve the desired effect a large removal of soil was required.
Nothing you can expect in a patrician garden is missing: the kiosk, the chapel (by Vittorio Nesti, that houses the funeral monument of Francesco Melzi died in 1816), two Egyptian statues from the 14th and 13th centuries BC, the pond with water lilies, the tub with the statue of Cupid and another chapel with a Renaissance portal by Bramante.
The interior, mainly neoclassical, preserves valuable works of art, there are stucco walls decorated by Albertolli, paintings and sculptures by Canova and frescos by Giuseppe Bossi, one of the brightest neoclassical painters of Lombardy.
Guests of Villa Melzi were in the past Eugene Beauharnais, Franz I of Austria, Stendhal and Liszt, famous personalities from the world of culture and politics.
Current owners by inheritance are the Gallarati Scotti, and the Duke Tommaso, diplomat and scholar.
It extends on the promontory of Bellagio where, according to tradition, Plinio the Younger owned a villa called "Tragedy"; in the same place in the Middle Ages a castle was built, then pulled down by Galeazzo Visconti in the 14th century.
The original building dates from the late 15th century, when the domestic economy was based on fishing and the cultivation of vines and olives.
Built upon request by the Marquis Stanga, the villa was enlarged and rebuilt in the following century by the Sfondrati family.
The villa remained their property until 1788, when it was inherited by the very rich and powerful family Serbelloni.
It was them who enriched the vaulted halls with precious decorations and works of art from the 17th and 18th centuries, and designed the huge park, one of the most beautiful in Italy, with rare trees, rhododendrons, redwoods, beeches etc
During the years of the Risorgimento the house was abandoned and in the late 19th century converted into a hotel.
Since 1959 the villa has belonged to the Cultural Foundation Rockefeller of New York that organizes conferences and meetings.
Its park, considered as one of the most beautiful parks on the lake and in Italy, is rich in ancient trees, exotic and rare plants that pay especially in autumn a unique spectacle of colors. There are caves, sculptures, remains of medieval walls and, on the top of the promontory, the ruins of a Romanesque church dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle.