VILLA D’ESTE / LAKE COMO: CENTURIES OF BEAUTY
I was fortunate to stay at Forbes 2009 Best Hotel in the world winner, Villa D’Este (House of the East) in Cernobbio, Italy on Beautiful Lake Como. We’ve written about many U.S. hotels – The Breakers, Palm Beach comes to mind immediately for comparison – but imagine walking into a hotel that’s origins 300 years before the United States was The United States? The best part is this one of a kind experience is easily within reach for travelers – only a 40-minute ride from the Milan Malpensa airport.
Originally a convent built in 1442, the property was converted into a private villa constructed from 1565-1570. The original date still adorns a mosaic on the lakefront patio. (INSERT PIC of Mosaic). In 1848 it was converted into a Luxury hotel, and although I imagine myriad upgrades have taken place in the ensuing centuries it feels like you have entered a time-warp as soon as the guards open the gate to the grounds.
The grounds encompass beautiful gardens, 6-tennis courts, indoor pool, a floating pool and cliff-side hiking trail that passes through ancient guard towers and burbling streams cascading into the lake. At the very top of the gardens is a spring feeding fresh cool water down a stair-step cascade of stone through the heart of the garden.
The building itself is maintained in immaculate detail with gorgeous accouterments featured throughout with stunning artwork adorning the walls. As you walk the central hall through lake breezes that zephyr through the ground floor doors left wide open – you feel transported to another time. The outside veranda features delicious breakfast every morning and live music to compliment your nightcap every evening.
The quaint town of Cernobbio is lovely with must stops at Harry’s Bar (famous for Aperol spritzes and gin martinis), Olde England (craft beer and a massive gin selection) and a meal at local favorite Trattoria del Vapore. We also trekked up the mountain for dinner at Il Gato Nero one evening (of Russel Crowe fame) and while the wine was excellent and the views breathtaking – the food disappointed our group. Come to find out it was sold to new owners recently. Still it is worth a happy hour taxi for a glass of wine and the views alone.
Unfortunately, we skipped the formal dinner (jacket and tie required) at The Veranda at Villa D’Este, but enjoyed a lakeside lunch at the poolside restaurant and an excellent dinner at The Grill – also located on the grounds – which featured outstanding northern Italian dishes and al fresco dining in the gardens.
The main activity is simply relaxing poolside enjoying the sights and sounds of Lake Como, but there are other must-do’s while you are in town. We chartered a beautiful venetian water taxi to give us a tour of the western branch of Como. Serenely gliding past Russel Crowe’s Villa, Richard Branson’s estate as well as many other beautiful villas and villages. We lunched just south of Bellagio in the Pergalato of Ristorante Alle Darsene do Loppia and toured the Vanderbilt Foundation Estate and the slightly tourist-trappy town of Bellagio where local silk products can be found at great prices (PIC of TIE).
Something else to consider: a sea-plane tour at the Aero Club Como. It provides great perspective on everything we had seen a day earlier. Fair warning – they fly mainly Cessna float planes and these 2 or 4 seaters can be strongly affected by the mountain winds, particularly about halfway between Como and Bellagio (we had one guest test the sickness bags). However, it's the oldest seaplane touring business in the world and the pilots are professional according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
On our final day, we had an excellent pizza at the Albergo Ristorante Giardino in Cernobbio and decided to revisit their dinner menu (they feature two full menus one for pizza and one for meals) which was also delicious. The stylish décor that features modern and street art sets the tone for an intimate al fresco dining experience (or inside if weather won’t cooperate).
Every evening ended on the veranda at Villa D’Este with a cigar and beverage. There is simply no better way to ready yourself for fitful sleep than the sounds of the waves lapping the centuries old dock, the warm breeze rustling the trees and the moonlight reflecting off of one of the most scenic lakes in the world. We’d encourage you to add this to your bucket list post-haste.
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