The lake is well known for the attractive villas that have been built there since Roman times, when Pliny the Younger built the Comedia and the Tragedia resorts. Many villas on the lake shores have admirable gardens that benefit from the mild climate induced by the stabilising presence of 22.5 km³ of lake water and are fit to host tropical plants.
Villa Carlotta was built for the Milanese Marquis Giorgio Clerici in 1690 and occupies a site of over 70,000 m2 (753,474 sq ft) at Tremezzo, facing the Bellagio peninsula. An Italian garden, with steps, fountains, and sculptures, was laid out at the same time. The villa was later sold to powerful banker and Napoleonic politician Giovanni Battista Sommariva. Stendhal was his guest in 1818, and his visit is recalled at the start of La Chartreuse de Parme. In 1843 it was purchased by Princess Marianne of Nassau as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta, after whom the villa is now named. The latter, together with her husband Georg II of Saxen-Meiningen, laid out the woodland landscape park in Romantic style. The villa today includes a museum of agricultural implements as well as important works of sculpture by Sommariva’s friend Antonio Canova and by Luigi Acquisti.
Villa d'Este, in Cernobbio, was built in 1568 by Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, a native of the town. In 1816–17 the villa was home to Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Prince of Wales and shortly to become Queen Consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom. The landscaped gardens in the English style are a product of this period. Later in the century it was turned into a luxury hotel. Today the Villa d’Este is known for attracting celebrity guests.
Villa del Balbianello, famous for its elaborate terraced gardens, lies on a promontory of the western shore of the lake near Isola Comacina. Built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery, it was the final home of the explorer Guido Monzino and today houses a museum devoted to his work.
Villa Melzi d'Eril in Bellagio was built in neo-classical style by architect Giocondo Albertolli in 1808–10 as the summer residence of Duke Francesco Melzi d'Eril, who was vice-president of the Napoleonic Italian Republic. The park includes an orangery, a private chapel, fine statues, and a Japanese garden, and is planted, as often on lake Como, with huge rhododendrons. 19th-century guests at the Villa included Stendhal and Franz Liszt.
Villa Serbelloni, also in Bellagio, hosts the Rockfeller Foundation Bellagio Center, a 50-acre (200,000 m2) international conference center set up and managed by the Rockefeller Foundation since 1959, which also operates a "scholar-in-residence" program for scholars from around the world. This is believed to have been the site of Pliny the Younger’s villa "Tragedia". Its well-known park was created at the end of the 18th century by Alessandro Serbelloni.