The villa, one of the most famous on the lake, was built around 1690 for the then president of the Lombard Senate, Giorgio Clerici. In the 1800s, the Sommariva family added a funerary chapel and enriched the villa with a prestigious collection of art. In 1844, the property was sold to Princess Marianne of Nassau, who gave it to her daughter Charlotte of Prussia on the occasion of her marriage to Prince George of Saxe-Meiningen.
Today, Villa Carlotta is owned by the Italian government, which has entrusted its management to a designated body. Inside the villa is a museum, open to the public, where the exhibits include sulptures by Antonio Canova and Berthel Thorvaldsen, paintings by Francesco Hayez (the Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet), furniture by Giuseppe Maggiolini and fragments of the neoclassical frescoes painted by Andrea Appiani for the Royal Palace of Milan.
The gardens are magnificent, attracting crowds of visitors with the stunning spring blooms of rhododendrons and azaleas. Part of the garden, with overlapping terraces connected by 'pincer' staircases, is arranged in the typical Italianate style, while another section was designed by Princess Charlotte herself.