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
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
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
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
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.