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The History of Villa Helios, Lugano, Switzerland

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DSCN2646 - Lugano, 20 June 2014 - Resized

Lake Lugano, the city of Lugano, and San Salvatore, one of the many mountains in and around Lugano

I’ve been gone on holidays (thus the lack of posting – I DO know how to leave work behind… well, almost), and thought I’d write about a place I’ve come to know over the years:  My in-laws have a holiday flat with an amazing view over Lago di Lugano here in Switzerland, and we’ve come for a week nearly every year for the past 20 years.  The photo shows part of our view (I’d have to do a panorama shot as our view goes from Casserate to Caprino), and for as many years we’d looked down upon Villa Helios, watching her rot away like an abandoned old lady.  I don’t know her history; it may be one of the dozens of cases around Lugano in which there is an inheritance squabble, and the property is shut up until the cases are settled; if the parties pass away in the meantime and the issue of inheritance goes to a new generation that frankly doesn’t want to be saddled with a decaying mansion with pretensions of palace, it continues to sit. A few years ago we were pleased to see that at long last, renovation had begun.  And it continues still; the exterior is beginning to take shape, though as far as I can tell the inside has a long, long, long way to go.  I have heard through the grapevine that it is intended to become individual apartments, which will take some major work inside to divide up, wire, add plumbing and create separate entrances.

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The dome of Villa Helios

Precisely because we’ve looked out over the villa for more than 20 years, speculated, wondered, and asked questions of the passing hawks because no one else seemed to have any answers, my writer’s curiosity took over and began to form a novel; I work on it when we’re down there as a nice change of pace from my other novels and writing projects.

I do know that the villa was designed by architect Otto Maraini, who was born in Lugano on 8 November 1863, and died there 16 January 1944. Helios Villa in Castagnola was built in 1901-1902, including a series of walls and terraces that formed part of the lake shore. I came across a few historical photos at arteeidee – thank you for sharing these old magazine photos (“The modern building” monthly magazine of architecture and construction practice, August 1904)!  Check out that blog post for the older photos (click on them to enlarge); The photos I’ve added here are current shots. For the writers out there, find an interesting old building in your own area, research into its history, and create a story with the building as one of the characters and not merely a location.

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Villa Helios, as seen from the lake

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The terraced walls leading down toward the lake shore

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The front entrance of Villa Helios, under construction

About Trinity

A melancholic pragmatist with a wide streak of mischief and an active imagination that turns into novels.

23 responses »

  1. Hi Trinity,
    Found your post on the web about the Villa Helios. Just passed by the Villa yesterday saturday 16th 2015 and the view of it made me instantly curios. Renovation looks stunning, almost like a time warp to the Belle Epoque. Made some snapshots, but not sure how I can post them here. Would be interesting to know about who lived in the Villa over the years.
    But nearby Villa Favorita with surrounding gardens is even more interesting, lots of history and oldschool grandeur.
    Greetings from Lugano,Albert


    • Hello Albert! Perhaps one day someone in Lugano will get wise to the fact that people would be interested in knowing the history of old manors such as these and put together a museum! The last I heard, the Villa Favorita was going to be converted into luxury flats; I don’t know if the project has been completed yet or not. They used to have a small museum and park on that premises, but it closed.
      As far as posting your photos, I don’t know how that would work either, but I’d still be interested in seeing them – please give me a link if you post them online.
      Enjoy your time in Lugano!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Albert, were you ever able to post the images of Villa Helios? Would love to see them


    • elaine (Lugano) lamatrice

      ironically, I was trying to find my fathers ancestry, so I typed in his name Albert Lugano. I am the forth daughter to him and my mother Sue (both deceased in Ohio). but a local physician who visits Switzerland. told my parents about the beautiful lake Lugano. would like to see it for myself

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a small world, isn’t it? 🙂 Lago di Lugano (Lake Lugano) is definitely worth seeing! We’ll be there for a week again, in June, so it will be interesting to see how the renovations have progressed on Villa Helios.


  2. Georg Müller

    Dear Stephanie

    Please let me (and others interested in this fascinating villa) know, what the latest news are. It would be so great, if you can post some new pictures and share more information about the current project. Are there any appartments already for sale (hopped some of the many HNWI to buy the whole villa)? Is there a pool now? Many thanks in advance and have a nice week in Lugano. I have been two times in Castagnola (2005 and 2009) and felt a little in love with Villa Helios 🙂

    Best regards


    • Hello, Georg! We’ll be going down this coming weekend, as a matter of fact! 🙂 I’ll see what photos I can get of the villa; our balcony view is quiet steep down onto that property, and the last time I was there, there wasn’t much to see because of the privacy fence, but I’ll see what I can do – I’m curious too! 🙂


      • Georg Müller

        Thank you for your very quick response yesterday.
        Try your best! 🙂
        As I can see on google street view the wonderful old fence has been “made opaque” (but the pictures there are made about 18 month ago). By the way: The more famous Villa Favorita has been sold by baroness Carmen “Tita” Thyssen-Bornemisza at the beginning of 2015 to an italian cheese making family, named Invernizzi for ~ 65 Mio Euro. Already in 2010 some ground was sold for the “Archi di Luce” project. Enjoy your stay and the amazing view to Monte San Salvatore!
        I am looking forward to seeing the new photos. All the best.


      • I saw renovation on the Favorita last time we were down there; but it’s further along the lake from our house, so not really in sight unless we go out on the lake…


      • Hello Georg – we’re back from Lugano. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any decent photos this time; the privacy fence is solid, and we weren’t able to go out on the lake this time (I’ve been too sick recently to risk a windy jaunt out there…).
        I could see that the terraced gardens are mostly complete, and there is life in the house! One or two of the flats are now occupied; at night all of the windows were lit up with small corner lights, but it was clear they are not all yet occupied – they were either boarded up still, or had rather permanent-looking shutters pulled down. Work is progressing now mainly around the gate house, though likely interior work on the villa is still in progress.


  3. Pingback: Postcard from Lugano III | Stephanie Huesler

  4. Pingback: Villa Helios | History Undusted

  5. Hello Trinity/Stephanie

    Thank you for the news about Villa Helios. At least the illuminated dom (postcard III) looks beautiful 🙂 Wondering that I couldn’t find any news that the appartments/flats were on sale. (Back then when I saw the villa for the first time it was offered at Sotheby’s.) E.g. my good old hotel (Carlton Hotel Villa Moritz, not far away) was also converted into luxury appartments and they are/have been on sale for several millons. Maybe the company “Villa Helios S.A” occupies the Villa or part of it. Who knows. Hope you enjoyed the days in Lugano. Thanks for having a look at Villa Helios!

    Kind regards


  6. How is your novel my , inspired by Villa Helios, coming? I stumbled upon this old post of yours when my own curiosity of this mansion made me search for it on google. To add to your story, if I may, over Christmas we were in our family Place in Lugano. Our daily walk to town takes us past the grand house. One sunny day as we were walking down, a large, uniformed and very obviously armed, older man walked past us on his way up. We turned to watch as he magically opened the massive gate to the house. We caught a rare glimpse of the entrance, very much inhabited now. And quite clearly by someone mysterious and exciting who requires a personal armed security guard. Oh how we’d love to know about more who dwells inside!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The house has now been divided up into several luxury flats, either owned or rented. It’s not all that glamorous, I’m afraid, but its gardens and access from both above and below (from the lake) probably necessitate security…
      My novel gets worked on when I’m down there; when I’m at home, I’m working on my 6th novel. We’ll be down again in the summer, so it will come out of the files and get a workover.
      If you stand at the fence farthest from the gate (toward Gandria) and look up, you’ll see our family holiday flat’s balcony (the flat windows are just above the lower rooftop)! We oversaw the entire construction process from there.


  7. Hi Trinity,

    I just came across an old postcard that belonged to my partners mother it dates back to around late 1920’s – 1930’s. Her family originated from the Lake Como area and they often visited Lugano on holiday. It is a sepia picture of Villa Helios and on the back she has written what looks like ‘Madame Leofsi’s Villa at Lugano Italy’.

    If you would like me to send you a copy of both sides of the postcard please let me know.


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Marielle Williams

    Hi Trinity,

    I have tried to upload them without success. I can send them to you directly as an email attachment unless there is someone else who could explain how to do this.

    Best wishes,



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