To tumble into the opulence, the romance and old world magic that is Villa d’Este – Lake Como’s beloved grande dame.
Villa d’Este sets the standard for classic glamour and ornate, no-expenses-spared, elegance. Elaborate wall molding, beds crowned in lavish drapes and topiaried terraces set a calm, sophisticated tone. If you are after silver-service lakeside dining, impeccable decor and extraordinary hospitality that nods to a bygone era, this is the honeymoon for you.
Set the scene:
Guests are welcomed by a symmetrical, Italianate facade and a team offering discreet and flawless service (a 1:1 staff to guest ratio during high season). Soon after arrival, they are led along along decadent marble hallways and corridors, lined with luxurious yellow and blue carpets. These spill into sitting rooms brimming with antiques, Murano chandeliers, museum-worthy art and sumptuous fabrics.
Villa d’Este’s grounds are as exquisite as its rich interiors. A terrace seemingly tips into Lake Como and 10-hectares of statues mottled by the centuries, cypress trees and terracotta pots as well as a mosaic garden invite leisurely post breakfast strolls or romantic ambles before supper. In Springtime, yellow and purple pansies line the verges, wisteria covers walkways and blue hydrangea’s spill out from the windows of Restaurant Veranda.
The 152 rooms of Villa d’Este are divided between the Cardinal Building (125 rooms) and the Queen’s Pavilion (27 rooms), each with its own distinct style and regal colour palette. The reviewer stayed in a junior suite, dressed in rich reds and gold silks, then decorated with refined period furniture, velvet covered chairs with tassels, noble portrait oil paintings and an opulent chandelier. The luxurious and spacious marble bathrooms feature a large spa bath and are adorned with heavenly Villa d’Este lotions and bath products. Balconies offer a theatre seat for the magnificent Lake Como, framed by the hotel’s symmetrical, near-fictional gardens.
Food and drink:
Dining is nothing short of an adventure at Villa d’Este. Men are required to wear a jacket (and tie at restaurant Veranda) and ladies are offered a change to parade their finery – spruce waiters pouring glasses of Champagne in black tie really set the sartorial tone. They are classically trained, in tune with the surroundings, and as a result are always one step ahead of every diner. The more informal Grill Restaurant (by Villa d’Este standards), with views over the velvety green park, showcases the region’s fabled cuisine under the shade of centuries-old pines.
Executive chef Michele Zambanini cooks up a storm at the unapologetically opulent Veranda Restaurant, where traditional Italian cuisine is the star of the show. The roll call features risotto in cagnon with perch fillets (plucked from Lake Como), lightly-smoked beef tartare with artichokes and crumbly nutty Castelmagno cheese, homemade spaghetti with sweet shallots and perfectly pink mustard crusted lamb with leek confit and wild pepper foam. This wildly extravagant foodie theatre is rounded off with waiters firing up Crêpe Suzettes for the well-heeled crowds.
Like many things, Villa d’Este takes Aperitivo seriously. This is when couples can relish the lake views and its ever-changing shades over delectable canapés and cocktails served under chestnut trees. In honour of the hotel’s 150th season, Villa d’Este’s mixologist will be shaking up a new cocktail each month, drawing inspiration from some of the hotel’s legendary guests. 2022 also sees the hotel launching its very own gin from lemons, camomile and lake cane found around the hotel and Lake Como.
Few hotels can match Villa d’Este’s storied history or architectural extravagance. Designed by architect Pellegrino Pellegrini as a summer retreat for Cardinal Tolomeo, Villa d’Este lavishly entertained politicians and intellectuals before a tumultuous period of private ownership, featuring Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales, who bought the property as a refuge when she was banished by her husband, King George IV. Then finally, in 1873 it was transformed into a glamorous hotel visited by Grand Tourees or affluent Victorians.
Villa d’Este’s fabled guests include Alfred Hitchcock (who fell hard for Villa d’Este, spending every summer at the hotel and filming The Pleasure Garden in the hotel grounds) and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton sparked their affair in the hotel gardens and opulent rooms. More recently, Lady Gaga based herself in the lakefront Villa Cima while filming House of Gucci. But perhaps the most regular Hollywood guests are George and Amal Clooney – who like to nip over from their own Como Villa, once (casually) with Barack and Michelle Obama in tow.
Beyond the facilities, it is the attitude of the hotel management and staff that makes this hotel so family-friendly is. While Villa d’Este runs a kids programme over the summer months, it’s worth noting that they do limit the number of children on the property – an approach that ensures its fabled serenity and elegant spirit is preserved and enjoyed by all.
Indulging in personalised spa treatments at the Beauty Centre of Villa d’Este is a must. Located on the first floor of the Cardinal Building, it’s connected to the Sporting Club by an underground passage, recalling a scene from the DaVinci Code.
Decorated in green marble, with burnt orange sofas and soft lighting, the Beauty Spa is both refined and relaxing. Rediscovering psycho-physical balance is the number one priority for a team of physiotherapists and beauticians, trained to the nth degree, with sophisticated technology at their finger tips. Treatments include anti-oxidant and invigorating face and body treatments with pomegranate extracts – ideal for prepping holiday skin. For immediately brightened and plumped up skin, go for the pure and stabilised vitamin C treatment.
Villa d’Este is enveloped by nature within its gardens. The hotel efforts to improve and evolve while maintaining its standard of service and sophistication have resultsed in a lake pump system, which withdraws lake water to use for the air conditioning, and an electric power shift – with 5 electric car recharging points (2 for Teslas) and charging stations for electric boats. What’s more, the hotel’s Style Electric Yachting launched last year – a summer event spotlighting electric boats, while more broadly promoting sustainability and innovation on the lake.
Not far from Milan’s bustle (50 minutes by train, 40 minutes by car, or a mere 20 minute helicopter transfer (the helipad here is not just for show), Villa d’Este defines the very notion of prime location. The hotel is also wonderfully close to Como town, which can engulf full days of leisurely strolls, market trips and evening jaunts to the beautiful Teatro Sociale di Como, featuring iconic performances by some of Italy’s finest actors and opera singers.
Carrier (0161 492 1357, www.carrier.co.uk) offers 7 nights from £5,385 per person based on 2 adults sharing a Double Deluxe Lake View room. Price includes breakfast, return economy flights with British Airways from London Heathrow, return private transfers, welcome bottle of sparkling wine on arrival and Fast Track Voyager service at London Heathrow airport. Price based on departure 23 September 2022
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