LUXURY HOTELS: Villa d'Este,
Celebrity watering-hole favoured by the seriously well-heeled and the wannabes. Presidents, pop princesses, prime movers, oligarchs and 'just plain folk' all receive the same warm welcome here.
Despite its reputation as being one of the most desirable destinations in the world, the legendary hotel and resort is neither snooty or aloof. Staff don't talk down to you, nor up. All guests are equal - albeit some have fatter wallets. The hotel is famous for its friendliness, good nature, unequalled facilities and dedication to guests' comfort, pleasure and wellbeing. And they remember your name even if you haven't been there for several years.
No need for choreographed Wow factors here - the setting says it all. .
Poised and serene, the incomparable Villa d'Este - arguably the most beautiful hotel in the world, and easily one of the most romantic - reclines on the shores of the south-western arm of Lake Como on 25 hectares of exquisitely manicured parkland on the outskirts of the charming village of Cernobbio. It is only a hop, skip and a jump from the Swiss border, and is less than 45 minutes from Milan by car or train.
For centuries, Lake Como has been the playground of the titled, the talented, and the terribly rich. The main building on the Villa d' Este estate is an elegant renaissance villa built by architect Pellegrino Pellegrini in 1568 as a summer house for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio who named it Villa Garrovo. Its fame spread far and wide for its glorious gardens - a blend of baroque and romantic - and the beauty of its setting. Even the Sultan of Morocco came to see for himself its splendours.
Over the years the luxurious Villa hosted a procession of European aristocracy before it was bought by Caroline of Brunswick in 1814, who named it Villa d' Este. The exiled wife of England's George 1V, Caroline never became Queen. George turned her down, some say, at the doors of Westminster Abbey. In 1856 however, a beautiful trompe l'oeil pavilion was built adjacent to the Cardinal's palace and named 'Hotel de la Reine d' Angleterre' to honour the 'jilted' queen.
Over the years the Villa hosted a procession of European aristocracy before it was bought by Caroline of Brunswick in 1814, who named it Villa d' Este. The exiled wife of England's George 1V, Caroline never became Queen. George turned her down, some say, at the doors of Westminster Abbey. In 1856 however, a beautiful trompe l'oeil pavilion was built adjacent to the Cardinal's palace and named 'Hotel de la Reine d' Angleterre' to honour the 'jilted' queen.
In 1873, a handful of members of Milan's high society transformed the villa into a luxury hotel and celebrities from all over the world flocked to the shores of Lake Como, as they do to this day. The lake has always been a magnet for Hollywood heart throbs, and local resident and all round good guy, gorgeous George Clooney draws the greatest sighs as he pulses around the lake on his Harley. (He is honorary President of Italy's Harley Davidson club). A few years ago, he bought Villa Oleandra in the village of Laglio, but has occasionally been sighted at the Villa d' Este.
Whenever I visit, the luxury hotel I love to check that my favourite things are still in place: the superb XV1 century mosaic - symbol of the Villa d'Este; the cascades; the 500 year-old plane tree; the Queen's Pavilion; the floating pool in the lake, and the fabulous Veranda restaurant which has retractable glass screens enabling diners to enjoy dining inside-out, as it were. Or I might clamber up to the fortresses - mock fortifications built by a countess to amuse her husband, a young Napoleonic general. The views from up here are fabulous.
Or I might stroll through the botanic gardens, peruse the plantings in the chef's garden perhaps. Or shop. There are several boutiques - including a fabulous jewellery shop in the resort's enclave. Then again I might take a boat trip. I can choose a private boat, or take the short stroll down to the ferry landing in Cernobbio.
Boredom is not an option. There are 8 tennis courts, 1 squash court, a jogging track, sailing, canoeing and water skiing. There is golf nearby, and most importantly the amazing outdoor heated pool floating on the lake, as well as an indoor pool. After all this activity you might be in need of a massage, some hydrotherapy or an indulgent beauty treatment perhaps. All of these and much, much more are available in the Beauty Centre.
The Villa d' Este's Veranda restaurant is known far and wide for the sheer beauty of its setting, its famous retractable glass windows opening on to the garden and the lake, as it is for its cuisine.
Breakfast and lunch are relatively informal, but dinner requires that gentlemen wear jacket and tie. A more relaxed dining option is The Grill, where you can dine indoors, or in the shade of the old plane trees in the summer months.
There are 152 guest rooms located in both the Cardinal Building and the Queen's Pavilion. These include, double rooms, junior suites and suites, all have marble bathrooms, and many have balconies overlooking the lake. The interiors feature elegant, antique furniture reflecting the period style of the hotel and the most wonderful swagged draperies with opulent tassels.
The long gallery above the grand staircase that rises from the lobby is lined with enormous portraits of imposing personages who gaze sternly or indulgently down upon the onlooker, depending on your perception. Their demeanour certainly speaks volumes.
In the Canova Bar - which not surprisingly is named after a marble statue attributed to Canova - walls are lined with silk, as are the beautiful embossed chairs. After all, Como has been the European capital of the silk industry for centuries.
If all this sounds terribly formal to you, fear not.
The hotel is a fun, vibrant destination, filled with laughter, gossip, scandal, anecdote, and cinematic history. Photography was born here on Lake Como
when William Henry Fox Talbot visited in 1833 and recorded his images on paper; Alfred Hitchcock made his first film here in 1925, and one of the greatest film directors of all time, Luchino Visconti's childhood summer home, Villa Erba
, is right next door. And George's villa
is just a short ferry ride away.
of The Leading Hotels of the World.
Arriving at the resort by helicopter.
Most Indulgent Moments:
Sipping a cocktail on the terrace and enjoying the panoramic spectacle of the lake while watching the sun set, Alps glistening in the background.
Keeping a watchful eye for just 'who' might rock up to the Night Club, or drop in for a nightcap in the Canova Bar.
The Little Things:
I just love the blue and white floral paper packaging and the fragrance of the guest toiletries.
Heaps. Kid's Club in the summer season. Children's pool with its own private sandy beach and sundeck.
Boat rides, tennis and lots of space to roam with Mum and Dad.
: Gentlemen, a jacket and tie is required when dining in The Veranda Restaurant. Ladies, here is your chance to parade your finery. Just don't go slouching through the hotel in daggy duds and floppy footwear. Use the underground passage leading from the main building to access the Sporting Club and indoor swimming pool.
The Villa d'Este is closed from late November till March
Maggy Oehlbeck 10/2/13
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