Cinema’s love affair with the lakes of Italy began long ago. It was 1925 when a young Alfred Hitchcock set several scenes of his second film The Pleasure Garden in the luxury hotel Villa d’Este in Cernobbio and the area around Isola Comacina (Lake Como). The Sixties saw the rise in the fortunes of another stretch of water, this time in the province of Trento, which was transformed into “Hollywood on Garda” by Walter Bertolazzi, a businessman unexpectedly turned producer, who established Bertolazzi Film on the lake, a natural set, and became famous for pirate films. While the galleons and barrels of rum may have been set aside over the years, the enchantment of the lake remains unchanged.Print itinerary
Less famous but equally appealing is Lake Orta, located between the provinces of Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and one of the first to be used as a set, although it passed for exotic India in the little-known film Jvna, la perla del Gange (1914)! Jvna, daughter of a rich man, is struck by a mysterious illness. Her father promises great reward to the fakir Kikraja who swears he can cure her. However, no remedy seems to work and eventually the girl is saved by the bravery of an audacious count she falls in love with. The setting for these events was Villa Crespi, today a luxury hotel with an award-winning restaurant, an Eastern looking building commissioned in 1879 by the industrialist Cristoforo Benigno Crespi who was enchanted by the architecture of Baghdad where he would go to buy cotton. In the Thirties, the villa became a luxury hotel, welcoming guests who included poets, industrialists and heads of state like King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy.
At the height of Bertolazzi Film’s greatest notoriety in the mid-Seventies, an English production came to Lake Garda to shoot scenes for The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, based on Rumer Godden’s novel Villa Fiorita. The writer herself placed her characters on the lake where the chosen location was Villa Fiordaliso in Gardone Riviera on the Brescia shore. However, the entrance to the Neoclassical residence is actually the back entrance of the Castello Scaligero in Torri del Benaco, on the opposite side of the lake. Even before Bertolazzi’s time, Garda was the setting of choice for a maestro, Luchino Visconti. In 1954, he shot Senso here, immortalizing the Visconteo Bridgein Borghetto di Valeggio sul Mincio, in Basso Lago on the Verona side. As the Germans are eternal lovers of these waters, with many choosing to holiday here, it was a given that they would base a production on the lake sooner or later. The TV drama, Love on Lake Garda (Eine Liebe am Gardasee), was produced by Bavaria Film in 2006 for ZDF (Germany’s state broadcaster) and broadcast in Italy by Rai 2 some years later. The twenty episodes of the series are set on Lake Garda in the villages of Garda, where the central location is a hotel, and Lazise.
Visconti chose lake waters again in 1960, this time Lake Como (which he knew well) for Rocco and his brothers: the shoreline of Bellagio stars as the backdrop for Nadia and Simone’s Sunday outing where they stop to admire the Hotel Grande Bretagne. Lake Como, beloved by actor George Clooney who owns a home on its shore, also featured in one of his films, Ocean’s Twelve. Clooney’s Villa Oleandra made an appearance as did another prestigious building, Villa Erba in Cernobbio, often used for important conferences and conventions, which appeared as the home of the thief Night Fox. Clooney’s friend, actress Jennifer Aniston stars with Adam Sandler in Murder Mystery, shot mostly in the city in the summer of 2018. In addition to Villa Erba above, the Netflix-branded film used State Road 340, which links the villages of Argegno, Torriggia, Laglio, Carate Urio, and Moltrasio, for a crazy car chase in Ferraris. The long scene ends with a car crashing into a statue, built for the occasion, by the Tempio Voltiano, on the shore overlooked by the historic centre of Como. Inside the walls of the city, the main characters head off in search of clues in via Giovio and Piazza Medaglie d’Oro where an open-air market was built for the shoot.