Hollywood has had a long love affair with the villa. And it’s not just romance movies like Under the Tuscan Sun that revolve around villas. Nearly every genre, from action to comedy, has fallen under the spell of the European countryside. Many of these properties have histories just as interesting and dramatic as the movies they’re featured in, including some that have been used to hide mistresses and even a Mafia arsenal. From a minimalist house in Sweden to UNESCO world heritage sites in Italy, these villas have hosted spies, ballerinas, lovers, and even warriors from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Many of the villas can be rented, or now operate as hotels, so they could also be the backdrop to your next adventure.
Villa d’Este, Tivoli, Italy
Long before its cameos in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, Bruce Lee’s The Way of the Dragon, and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, the Villa d’Este was the palace of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. Designed by Pirro Ligorio, the palace and its spectacular Renaissance gardens were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
Villa Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy
Few locations can boast that they’ve hosted James Bond and Anakin Skywalker. Set on the Lavedo Peninsula in Lake Como, Villa Balbianello was built by Cardinal Durini in the late 18th century and was later the home of explorer Guido Monzino. The villa and its gardens were featured in Casino Royale and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
Villa Vignamaggio, Chianti, Italy
Settled by the Gherardini family—relatives of Mona Lisa Gherardini (yes, that Mona Lisa)—starting in the 14th century, Villa Vignamaggio is one of Tuscany’s oldest farming estates. Kenneth Branagh chose the location to serve as the backdrop to his 1993 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Villa Malaparte, Capri, Italy
Adalberto Libera’s dramatic modernist design for Villa Malaparte on the island of Capri was destined for the big screen. Overlooking the Gulf of Salerno from its cliffside perch, the villa is still a private residence, but architecture lovers can catch a glimpse by watching Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Contempt.
Villa Necchi Campiglio, Milan, Italy
It’s hard to steal a scene from Tilda Swinton, but Villa Necchi Campiglio came close. The opulent 1930s villa, which is located in the center of Milan, was the filming location of Luca Guadagnino’s 2010 film I Am Love. Designed by Piero Portaluppi, the villa was later remodeled in the 1950s by Tomaso Buzzi.
Villa Laura, Cortona, Italy
Villa Laura is a picturesque 17th-century property outside Cortona in Tuscany. Romance fans may know Villa Laura as Villa Bramasole, its name in the 2003 film Under the Tuscan Sun. The villa was completely remodeled in 2006 and now operates as a rental property.
Villa Malfitano Whitaker, Palermo, Italy
Built by Joseph Whitaker in the late 1880s, Villa Malfitano Whitaker was a hub of Sicilian high society during the Belle Époque. Today it is a museum displaying Whitaker’s collections of art and artifacts. In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola chose the villa as one of the filming locations for The Godfather III. And the villa has its own Mafia connection. In 2009, it was discovered that the Mafia was hiding an arsenal in a cave on the property with the help of the gardener.
Villa di Geggiano, Siena, Italy
Over the course of its history, Villa di Geggiano has gone from a country cottage to a grand villa. The property, which is also home to gardens, a theater, and a working vineyard, was named a Monumento Nazionale. Filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci chose the villa for his 1996 movie Stealing Beauty, starring Liv Tyler.
Villa Arvedi, Verona, Italy
Located outside of Verona, Villa Arvedi was originally built in 1437 as a palace-fortress. The Allegri family took over the property in the 17th century and worked with architect Giovanni Battista Bianchi to expand and renovate the villa. The home has been owned by the Arvedi family since 1824, and it appeared in the 2010 Amanda Seyfried movie Letters to Juliet.
Villa Lante, Lazio, Italy
Built above the town of Bagnaia, Villa Lante is home to what is considered to be one of the the best examples of a Mannerist garden. The gardens were designed by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola for Cardinal Gianfrancesco Gambara during the 16th century and feature terraces, parterres, fountains, and grottoes. The lush spot was featured in the 1999 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Terrence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life.
Palazzo Malcovati, Ischia, Italy
Dickie Greenleaf’s retreat in the fictional town of Mongibello is actually on the volcanic island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. His villa in the 1999 adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley is Palazzo Malcovati, which was originally built as a defense tower in the 16th century.
Villa della Regina, Turin, Piedmont, Italy
The Villa della Regina was built in the 17th century by the Savoy family and served as their summer residence until the 19th century. The villa, along with the other residences of the Royal House of Savoy, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The property served as the hideout spot in the 1969 version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine.
Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati, Italy
While many of Italy’s grand villas have been passed on to private foundations or the state, Villa Aldobrandini is still home to the Aldobrandini family, which has owned the property since 1598. The baroque villa, which appeared in 2016’s Zoolander 2 and 1998’s Dangerous Beauty, is perched above the town of Frascati and is known for its exceptional gardens and water theater.
Villa di Maiano, Maiano, Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Set outside of Florence, Villa di Maiano was originally built in 1400 and has been owned by a number of noble Italian families. The villa’s Red Room was used by James Ivory in his 1985 film A Room with a View, and the property was also a filming location for Franco Zeffirelli’s 1999 movie Tea with Mussolini.
Villa Oleandra, Lake Como, Italy
The production team of Ocean’s 12 didn’t have to look too hard for a Italian villa to shoot in, since star George Clooney happened to own an 18th-century property in Lagio, right on the water of Lake Como. The actor purchased the villa from the Heinz family in 2001 and hosts many of his A-list friends there, including John Krasinski and Emily Blunt and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Villa Albergoni, Lombardy, Italy
Originally a fortress, Villa Albergoni was converted into a residence in the 17th century. More recently, the home hit the big screen in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name.Set decorator Violante Visconti di Modrone created the home’s decor for the film, which was nominated for four Academy Awards and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The villa was put up for sale in 2018, and is listed for $1.89 million.
Villa Fossette, Le Lavandou, France
When in need of a Côte d’Azur location for Otto Preminger’s 1958 adaptation of her novel Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan turned to her friends Pierre and Hélène Lazareff. (Pierre founded the newspaper France-Soir, and together they founded Elle magazine.) The couple owned Villa Fossette in Le Lavandou, a seaside town in southwest France. The villa and the surrounding beaches became the background for the film, which starred Jean Seberg, David Niven, and Deborah Kerr.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
When building her villa on the French Riviera, Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild sought proposals from the leading architects in France. She ultimately commissioned Jacques Marcel Auburtin to design the property, which took seven years to complete. The magnificent rose-colored villa was filled with the baroness’s collections of art, antique furniture, and rare porcelain, and later appeared in the films Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Never Say Never Again.
Castel Henriette, Sevres, France
Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard designed Castel Henriette in 1899. While it was completed in 1900, it had to be modified in 1903 because its lookout tower was in danger of collapsing. It served as a filming location for several movies in the 1960s, including What’s New Pussycat. The villa was demolished in 1969, despite a campaign to save it.
Villa Leopolda, Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
King Leopold II of Belgium originally built the villa and gifted it to his mistress, Blanche Zélia Joséphine Delacroix. American architect Ogden Codman bought it in the 1920s and transformed it into a massive estate. In 1948, it was featured in the classic ballet film The Red Shoes. It is currently owned by Lily Safra, and Forbes ranks it as the second most expensive home in the world.
Schloss Leopoldskron and Schloss Frohnburg, Salzburg, Austria
Two Salzburg homes were used to create Villa Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. (The real Villa Trapp in nearby Aigen is now a hotel.) Schloss Leopoldskron’s lakeside terrace was featured in the film, and the villa’s elegant Venetian room was re-created on a Hollywood soundstage. Schloss Frohnburg served as the exterior of the home.
Villa Överby, Stockholm, Sweden
John Robert Nilsson Architects completed this minimalist villa in 2009. Set on a rocky hilltop, it was the perfect isolated residence for the character of Martin Vanger in the 2011 adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.