Another day, another giro. Gianni took us this time along the Italian side of Lake Lugano. Our route wound through Varese, the site of the Cycling World Championships. As we drove through Comerio, Gianni pointed out a large establishment:“Whirlpool Europe.”
If Whirlpool doesn’t sound very exciting, Villa Cicogna Mozzoni in Bisuschio certainly was. Pulling into the parking area, we had just a few minutes to wait for the next tour.
Villa Cicogna is a fabulous residence that began in the 1400’s as a hunting lodge. During the first half of the 1500’s, the Mozzoni family enlarged and embellished the villa, creating an amazing estate described as “rural Renaissance.”
Traditional Italian gardens surround the grounds, replete with playful waters and brooding statues tucked into decorative nooks.
A delightful young woman was our tour guide, we being the only members of the tour. She took us through the entire home, explaining each room — its history and use. One room reflected the culture of the time: it was the women’s quarters which, while keeping the women safely out of sight from visitors, allowed them views down onto the courtyard to observe the comings and goings.
Our guide explained how the grandeur of the establishment had come about — transforming from hunting lodge to opulent mansion. It was during a serendipitous bear hunt that a dog belonging to the Mazzoni family saved the life of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milano, who had been staying at the hunting lodge as a guest of Mazzoni.
During one of the hunting expeditions, a pack of hunting dogs had tracked down a 250 lb. bear. The bear, defending itself, killed all the dogs but one. The ruckus of the attack attracted the Duke to the site of the slaughter.
There, the Duke came face-to-face with the enraged bear. The lone remaining dog, already wounded himself, lunged at the bear’s throat. Agostini Mozzoni, arrived at the scene and saw the bear only seconds away from snatching the Duke in its claws.
Mozzoni’s dog made its final attack, buying enough precious time for Mozzoni to kill the beast, thereby saving the life of the Duke. The courageous dog ultimately died of its wounds; Mozzoni buried it in the garden and erected a small monument in its honor.
In memory of these events, a terra cotta statue of the hero dog stands today in one of the bedrooms.
The thankful Duke granted Mozzoni an exemption from taxes as an expression of his gratitude for Mozzoni’s hospitality and loyalty. Because of this reprieve from taxes, Mozzoni was able to expand and embellish his hunting lodge. In 1580, Angela Mozzoni, the only descendant of the Mozzoni family, married Giampietro Cicogna; the villa remains in the Cicogna family to this day.
After our tour, we thanked our guide and explored the fabulous gardens and fountains that cover several levels of the property.
On an upper level we came upon a flight of stairs — 156 steps — lined with Cypress trees. A small brook flows down the middle of it, spilling into a fountain at the foot. It was a gorgeous view from the top.