Berlusconi buys Campari villa 'to save heritage'

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The Independent Online

Hounded from his normal summer retreat in Sardinia by too many guests and prying journalists, Silvio Berlusconi has bought himself some peace and quiet in the form of a historic mansion on the banks of Lake Maggiore.

Italian newspapers confirmed yesterday that the paperwork was almost completed for the Italian Prime Minister's purchase of the 30-room neo-classical Villa Correnti in Lesa, on the beautiful northern Italian lake for an undisclosed sum. Known locally as Villa Campari because it was once owned by the Garavoglia family of the pink aperitif fame, the new property has ample potential for landing a helicopter on the lakeside, making it both discreet and easily accessible for politics and diplomacy.

Mr Berlusconi was said to be attracted to the mansion, with its manicured lawns, gravelled pathways and azalea bushes because of its rich history, which he wanted to save from foreign hands. It was built by Cesare Correnti, an Italian senator and hero of Italian unification, and bears a plaque on its main entrance to the "rare and powerful genius who on 4 October 1888 closed a life dedicated to the nation".

"If I hadn't bought it, the Arabs would have done," Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying. "They are buying everything now with their investment funds."

Saving the national heritage from foreigners was not his only motive however. Things, it seems, have become a little too hectic for a peaceful holiday at his villa on the Costa Smeralda, despite its secret underground entrances. "I would have gone to the Villa Certosa," the Prime Minister told friends, according to La Stampa. "But with all the people I have invited this year there might be a queue at the gate."

The media swarm to Sardinia every August in search of pictures of Italy's richest man and any guests at the sumptuous Villa Certosa with its amazing cactus garden, amphitheatre and remote-controlled waterfall. This year, having given the photographers what they wanted – pictures of him and his wife hand-in-hand to help stem rumours of divorce – Mr Berlusconi turned his gaze, before clinching the deal on Lake Maggiore, to his main residence in Arcore near Milan. Work has begun there on a 3,000square-metre extension, to make room for a museum for his Mondadori publishing company, a library to house his art treasures, and a new villa for his children. It is in the Arcore villa, called San Martino, that Mr Berlusconi has built a marble family sepulchre.

With all the building work going on at San Martino, Mr Berlusconi will find it hard to think straight, and with the hilltop belvedere he uses for such purposes at his villa in Sardinia swarming with guests, another solution had to be found.

Last year he attempted to buy a villa on Lake Como, which would have seen him become George Clooney's neighbour, but – despite putting down a €4m (£3.2m) deposit – the deal fell through.

Other properties in the Berlusconi portfolio

Bermuda: A villa in the exclusive gated enclave Tucker's Town, where the Italian Prime Minister rubs shoulders with the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Antigua: Mr Berlusconi's own mansion is supplemented by six other homes on the island which have reportedly been set aside for his friends and family.

Villa Belvedere: Mr Berlusconi has always respected his wife's space, and Veronica Lario's home is only a few miles from his villa, San Martino, outside Milan. It was here that she brought up their three children.

Sardinia: Guests welcomed by Mr Berlusconi to the Villa Certosa include Tony Blair, Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin.