Villa D’Este & Lake Como
The Most Romantic Places In Italy
Like famous English poet Shelley, Sue Wallace is seduced by the beauty of Lake Como and the charms of the stunning Villa d’Este, but she still has her eyes peeled for the debonair Mr Clooney who calls the area home.
A sleek red Lamborghini with darkened windows flashes by as we arrive in a taxi at the beautiful Villa d’Este on the banks of Italy’s stunning Lake Como, near the village of Cernobbio.
Our taxi driver, Bruno, tells us there’s always someone famous arriving here, one of the most celebrated addresses in the northern Italian Lake District and among the most celebrated hotels in the world.
“They keep coming back – there’s just something about this place,” says Bruno, who has lived near Como, the famous Italian silk capital, for many years.
“You never know who you might see, keep an eye out for George Clooney as well, he lives around here and often rides his motor bike around.”
As for those earlier arrivals – only their luggage remains – a mountain of Louis Vuitton bags and Christian Louboutin shoe boxes that confirm they are definitely well-heeled.
There’s a great sense of history as you enter the magnificent Villa that dates back to 1568 when it was built as a summer residence for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio.
It has a long list of owners and was the home of many members of Europe’s aristocracy until 1815 when it became the property of Caroline Brunswick, Princess of Wales and the wife of King George IV of England.
Finally, after many resales, it was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873.
Extensive renovations provide state-of-the-art facilities and every comfort has been added over the years, cleverly combined with European chic and stylish charm.
Don’t expect cutting edge trendy designs – it’s all about a sense of place.
Wander along the long passages that lead to sitting rooms filled with antiques, glittering chandeliers, priceless paintings and sumptuous fabrics to soak up the history and romance.
Home for the night is a sumptuous junior suite with a rich red and gold silk décor and highly polished period furniture.
A marble bathroom with scented Villa d’Este products features a large spa bath, perfect for contemplating just who may have jumped into bed here over the years.
A small balcony overlooks the magnificent gardens and beautiful Lake Como that is busy with a constant parade of speed boats, ferries and water taxis.
There are 152 guest rooms and suites in the Cardinal Building and the Queen’s Pavilion and each one is different in size and decor.
Two magnificent renovated 19th century villas on the edge of the lake are also available.
Villa Malakoff and Villa Cima come with full hotel service.
Step through the doors onto the terrace and the view escalates to the top of my “to die for” list.
Villa d’Este stands serenely overlooking the blue-green waters of Italy’s most popular lake that is besieged by Italians and tourists every summer. Surrounded by mountains and hills, it is the country’s third largest lake and home to many stunning villas of the rich and famous.
Dining is definitely a culinary adventure here and there’s plenty of choice.
The informal Grill restaurant showcases regional cuisine and in summer you can dine in the garden under the century-old plane trees.
Lakeside drinks and canapés are also served under chestnut trees amid the scent of jasmine flowers – that will make you swoon.
Executive chef Michele Zambanini cooks up a storm at the “oh so chic” Veranda Restaurant where traditional Italian cuisine stars.
If the weather is fine – hey presto – the restaurant windows disappear into the ground.
In the evening – frock up ladies and gentlemen, a jacket and tie are required which all adds to the sense of occasion.
For breakfast and lunch smart casual dress is required and if you can’t drag yourself out of bed, buzz room service.
Il Platano features delicious cuisine served in a casual yet cosy atmosphere.
Feel like a drink while you are soaking up those views? Bar Canova is open all day with beverages and light snacks available.
And if you want to kick up your heels and dance the night away head to Club d’ Este.
Staff are discreet – but taxi drivers aren’t!
It seems George Clooney does occasionally pop in for a coffee maybe when he tires of giving his own machine a workout.
The Villa’s guest books features the signatures of the who’s who of European royalty, A-listers and movie stars.
I’m told Kylie Minogue, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Elton John have all enjoyed the famous villa hospitality at some stage.
On the historical side, Winston Churchill was a regular and loved to paint in the grounds.
The first photo of Edward VIII, who abdicated from the throne of England, was taken with Wallis Simpson at the Villa.
It has also been the setting of many movies – Alfred Hitchcock was on vacation when he made his first movie The Pleasure Garden at the Villa.
Last Days of Mussolini, starring Rod Steiger and The Other Man with Liam Neeson, Antonio Banderas and Laura Linney were also shot here.
The famous swimming pool that appears to float on top of the lake attracts a crowd during the summer months.
There’s also an indoor pool where I’m told Arnold Schwarzenegger loved to splash around with his children when the weather changed.
Green finger envy will set in as you wander through the beautiful gardens where queens, kings, cardinals, empresses, aristocrats and heads of state have sat in the shade.
Taking centre stage is a 500 year old plane tree and the 16th century Mosaic with its Nympheum.
There are a series of mock fortresses and towers that were built by the adoring wife of Napoleonic General Count Domenico Pino who thought he might suffer from war nostalgia and boredom.
Manicured parklands are dotted with pink and white flowerbeds, water urns, Roman statues and tall evergreens and everything looks immaculate.
It’s a gardener’s dream with topiary hedges, azaleas, camellias, oleanders, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, roses and jasmine bushes.
There’s also an impressive vegetable and herb garden with produce that ends up on the menu.
The spa offers indulgent treatments based on Zen philosophy that soothes your body and soul.
For those who are keen to keep fit there’s a jogging track and tennis and squash courts.
Keen on golf? A golf simulator and putting green will keep you busy and there are many exclusive courses nearby.
Take to the lake for sailing, windsurfing, canoeing or people spotting.
A Special Moment
There’s nothing quite like sipping a cocktail or glass of bubbles on the terrace overlooking the shores of arguably the most romantic lake in the world.
Wait for the sun to sink with the alps glowing in the background and you will appreciate the lake in all its glory. No wonder Shelley wrote Lake Como exceeded nearly everything he held in beauty.
I don’t want to leave but it’s a painless process with a nice farewell from staff. You don’t have to be a celebrity or movie star to enjoy the Villa experience – staff are friendly and the reception is warm – no matter how many credit cards you have.
P.S. Sadly Clooney was a no show – damn that coffee machine.
Lake Como is a 50-minute train ride from Milan. Como San Giovanni is a major railway station, connecting Northern and Southern European rail lines. There are hourly connections to Milan train station.
Rail Europe simplifies train travel in Europe. Purchase a Europass and book reservations before you leave Australia, raileurope.com.au
The villa has its own heli-pad for private helicopter transfers and a limousine service can be organised.
One of the most popular day trips is to Bellagio, considered the “pearl of the lake”. It’s an historic town with century-old buildings, cobbled stone laneways and quaint shops. You can catch a ferry from Cernobia, close to the Villa.