Italy’s Hidden Gems: Lake Como
Italy’s Legendary Lago
Long a haven for Versaces, Pirellis and other Italian royalty, along with high-profile men of the world like Sir Richard Branson and George aooney, the 56-square-mile, wishbone-shape jewel — just an hour’s drive from Milan — is one of Europe’s most singularly captivating destinations. Hat are our picks for the best places to stay, dine and imbibe on Lake Como.
This lavish compound in the hamlet of Cernobbio has been the undisputed grande dame of Como since it opened in 1873, attracting a steady stream of luminaries and discerning travelers. Made up of two “palaces”, its 152 rooms — many with terraces and balconies offering unrivaled views of the lake — are furnished with antiques, paintings and brocade accents that recall the villa’s 16th-century royal roots. For the regal treatment, book Villa Cima, the hotel’s three-story, 7,000-square-foot lakefront residence, built in 184 by Caroline of Brunswick, who later became Queen of England.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo
In the 1932 film Grand Hotel, Greta Garbo called the Grand Hotel Tremezzo “that sunny, happy place,” and the glittering resort overlooking the heart of the lake still lives up m the compliment.
Happiness can be found everywhere, from the floating pool, private beach club, clay tennis court and world-class spa (with indoor infinity pool to the five acres of exquisitely manicured grounds. Art nouveau interiors and grand public spaces evoke the belle epoque, while rooftop suites, a recent addition, come with a private butler and big-sky views from an outdoor Jacuzzi.
Il Sereno Lago di Como
One of the most anticipated European hotel debuts of the year, the 30-suite sister property of Le Sereno in St. Barths opened its doors in August, bringing a contemporary aesthetic to the otherwise traditional locale. Designer Patricia Urquiola, whose former clients include Louis Vuitton and Cassina, was the visionary behind suites outfitted in stone, walnut and bronze, while the hotel’s three boats were custom-designed by legendary local boatbuilder Cantiere Ernesto Riva.
A 60-foot freshwater infinity pool suspended over the lake and two vertical gardens by French botanist Patrick Blanc accent the grounds.
Built in 1573 and set on 18 waterfront acres, this spectacular palazzo consists of four separate villas, where Napoleon, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley all once laid their heads.
Besides the massive ballrooms and waterfront gardens that can accommodate up to 500 people, the 19-bedroom villa also features a spa, private dock and on-site helipad. The owners of Il Sereno Lago di Como, about a half mile away, took over the villa’s management earlier this year, so guests can expect world-class service, too.
Villa Sola Cabiati
The six-suite baroque-style villa, which dates back to the 1500s, once served as the summer residence of the distinguished Serbelloni dynasty. Today it’s a living artifact, with antiques from the family’s collection in every room. (And a few modern luxuries, like a helipad and cinema.) Serbelloni descendants still own the property, and they’ll happily escort the curious to the family’s private museum on the top two floors, where heirlooms and centu-ries-old pieces remain perfectly preserved.
Il Cigno Estate
Set amid seven acres of gardens at the end of a gated road, the sprawling estate comprises two villas, separated by a harbor, that can be booked individually or by the pair. Suites come outfitted in the finest Italian linens and overlook a huge private swimming pool, but Il Cigno’s standout feature is unquestionably its wood-burning fireplaces, which pair perfectly with bottles of vintage Barolo.
Il Gatto Nero
George Clooney is a regular at Il Gatto Nero, a casually elegant mainstay perched high on a hill in Cernobbio, where the views of the lake are as impressive as the cuisine. An acclaimed wine cellar and dishes like pasta with fish, raisins, pine nuts and bread crumbs, and veal tenderloin with foie gras and chestnut honey help cultivate a loyal and well-heeled clientele.
Specializing in just-caught sea-food since 1919, this fifth-generation family-owned restaurant and hotel is the star of Lake Como’s quaint Bellagio village. Sit under Silvio’s vine-covered pergola or at a table on the veranda — you can’t go wrong with either — and order the catch of the day, prepared by the chefs in a Parmesan and truffle sauce.
The Market Place
Highly imaginative tasting menus and local ingredients make this upscale farm-to-table spot a can’t-miss for epicureans. The dining room is intimate, with just 24 seats, and each dish — like the rabbit ravioli with chanterelles, or fish with zucchini carpaccio and scampi — is meticu-lously constructed.
Locanda La Tirlindana
If there’s one thing Locanda La Tirlindana has mastered beyond its flawlessly tender calamari and mascarpone-filled ravioli, its personalized service. The owner has been known to jump on her Vespa in search of lost customers, then usher them through narrow cobblestoned streets to the idyllic waterfront venue. The entrees are outstanding, and desserts, like red berry tiramisu, are even better.
Fresco Cocktail Shop
While Lake Como’s nightlife is largely relegated to low-key soirees at private villas, this lively tavern is a popular option for after-dinner drinks. Bow-tied bartenders craft cocktails using fresh ingredients and are known for putting a unique spin on typical Italian libations. Try their take on a digestivo, a chocolate sangria with ruby port, fresh orange, sugar and white chocolate mousse.
I Tigli in Theoria
Built in 1013, this former bishop’s palace turned Michelin-starred restaurant radiates character with a wooden coffered ceiling, candlelit courtyard and rotating art exhibitions. The upstairs lounge serves up a selection of drinks like the Spritz des Alpes, a spicier version of the Italian classic made with nutmeg and prosecco.