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Lake Como is the land of the elite, a magical land of fresh water and awe-inspiring mountain peaks. Nestled at the base of the Swiss Alps in Northern Italy, it is one of the most affluent regions in all of Europe, if not the world. The region has received more publicity in recent years due to George Clooney’s purchase of a villa on the lake, which my driver clearly pointed out on our way to the lakeside town of Bellagio. (Other renowned villa owners include Donatella Versace and Sir Richard Branson.) The region boasts a rich history of European aristocracy, and to this day it is still populated with counts and countesses tucked into their charming mountainside villas.
With such an opulent history, one might be surprised that there are actually only three five-star hotels peppering the perimeter of the lake. But upon visiting these three locations, it is obvious that everything is just as it should be in Lake Como.
Villa d’Este is the most famous and perhaps the most extravagant five-star resort in the region, partially due to a constant presence in the media for its celebrity clientele. (Villa d'Este also owns a number of other properties in the region, such as the historical four-star Palace Hotel, immersed in the heart of Como.) The resort is in Cernobbio, only a short drive from the city of Como and at the southern tip of the southwest arm of the lake. Built in 1568 as a summer residence for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, it remained in the Gallio family for over two centuries. In 1815, Villa d’Este became the property of Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales and wife of King George IV of England. Finally, after many sales, the estate was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873.
Famous couples that have chosen to honeymoon at Villa d’Este include Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor and Nick Hilton, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power and Linda Christian and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Not to be outdone, the elegant five-star Grand Hotel Tremezzo is celebrating its 100th anniversary on July 10. A short ferry ride from Bellagio across the lake, this resort is proudly surrounded by seven of the finest 18-hole golf courses in Italy, all within a 90-minute drive.
Tremezzo boasts a new full-service spa that features luxurious mud wraps, massage services, facials and the latest in ayurvedic treatments. This spot is also a true paradise for garden lovers, as it is surrounded by some of the finest botanic gardens in Italy, including the famed Villa Carlotta and Villa Melzi Gardens. Tremezzo and Villa d’Este also feature the lake’s only two floating swimming pools.
Interior of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy // (c) 2010
The countless villas around the lake are world-class; some have been transformed into exquisite museums with botanical gardens. A lake landmark is Villa Balbianello, one of the mystical locations that George Lucas featured in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” This has to be the most picture-perfect spot for a wedding, which happens all summer-long throughout the region. In Bellagio, simple civil ceremonies to the most extravagant weekend-long celebrations are held for most any kind of dream wedding imaginable.
Staying in picturesque Bellagio might be as close to living in a real life fairy tale that one can get. The quaint ancient town is known as the “pearl of the lake,” and with good reason. During an 11 a.m. private boat ride around the lake, I basked in the region’s signature dusk-like lighting, casting a soft translucent amber glow on everything. With the Alps looming high above us, our boat floating over pristine fresh water and having experienced first-rate hospitality, I think I might have found my own personal Shangri La.
Grand Hotel Tremezzowww.grandhoteltremezzo.com
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloniwww.villaserbelloni.com