Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy

Hideaway of the jet set and the glitterati, the celebrated Villa d’Este is caught between Lake Como and it’s own private parkland. Spend days by the floating pool, strolling through the grounds and letting white-gloved waiters fawn over you while you dine on the lakeside terrace.

If it's good enough for Leo DiCaprio's mother, it's good enough for us. The 16th-century Villa d'Este is the spot where Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles came to bicker lustily over who was boss and where Frank Sinatra brought Ava Gardner to feed her grapes. It's a place where the suave, subtle and snappily attired doormen, bellboys, waiters (yes, all gents) hover like unobtrusive butterflies. There are more staff than guests here.

Forgot your satin swimming cap? Don't worry, this place has its own line. Roast beef for breakfast? Sure. In fact, this place is so particular, so stunning and enduring in its grace and beauty that we believe nirvana actually modelled itself on Villa D'Este. This is Lake Como at its proudly OTT best.


Buzzing off tiny little coffees, we're whisked to a mammoth fuschia-and-marigold suite, where we bask in the rippling shade of emerald drapes, eyeing the mosaic garden outside and every sumptuous detail within - heavy vases of fresh daisies, a magenta-leather pencil case filled with crystal-tipped pencils and surrounded by a platter of Lombardian peaches and apricots, for instance. Each of the 152 glittering rooms - scattered between the Cardinal Building and the Queen's Pavilion - is individually decorated. Expect silk prints, Murano chandeliers, antique furniture and marble bathrooms neatly littered with towel robes and bespoke toiletries. We recommend opting for a pad trimmed with a balcony.

What's for breakfast?

Perfectly formed eggs benedict, a cheese selection the size of my apartment and some rightfully ignored cereal and fruit counters. All this is enjoyed on the glorious terrace, soundtracked by chirping chaffinches. The tall and elegant Managing Director Danilo Zucchetti - Lombardy's own Cary Grant - joined us for coffee. As a young boy, he cycled to the Villa d'Este with his mates and vowed on the spot that he would one day run the show here.

How about lunch and dinner?

There are three restaurants here: the Grill, near the Queen's Pavilion; the informal Il Platano and Veranda, where we stop for lunch. We ogled filthy-good views of the lake while quaffing aperitifs concocted from gin, sage and grapefruit and snacking on aubergine parmigiana and petits fours. The last of our summer reading laid on the table, mostly unread.

Is there a bar?

Oh yes. Three, in fact. Terrazza Bar and d'Este Club is the pièce de résistance. People here drip with glamour (we were dripping with espresso martinis) and musicians perform here during summer months.


Down an almost never-ending tunnel of gentle spa-wattage spotlights and artwork is a gym and sauna, where we work off the pasta of recent weeks spent galavanting northern Italy. The golf and polo paraphernalia, flip flops and swimming caps feel very heritage, very country club and very rich. Private motorboats and watersports equipment can be rented from the hotel.

What about its green creds?

Most of its workforce comes from surrounding villages, produce from local farmers, and the decor is honed by Lombardian artisans, craftsmen and landscapers. Villa d'Este's commitment to going green - a famously under-practiced trend across Italy - is certainly moving in a more conscious direction.

Things I should know…

You don't come here to retreat and shy away from the fanfare of white-gloved staff and heavy silverware on the terrace. You don your finest gladrags, sharply tailored garb and broad-brimmed sun hats - absolutely essential for both strolls around the manicured gardens of this 16th century regal residence and oil-ups on the swimming pool that floats on the lake. Mind the Riva-boat paparazzi.

Within a short walk I can find…

Pick up the Life Path from Villa d'Este's "mosaico". Perfect for jogging (or a leisurely saunter), the 1.5km route threads through the nature-rich grounds past fortresses, towers and priceless views. For a more challenging trek, drive to nearby Mount Bisbino and trace the Lariano Trail.

A short drive away, granted, but worth a foray, is Ulivo at Grand Hotel Imperiale, where our tonics dashed with local Rivo gin are soundtracked by a white-haired man tinkling on a baby grand. Nothing in Como is low-key.

Discover More
Il Sereno, Lake Como, Italy