Leisure on Lake Como
Unspoilt charm, luxurious hotels and the soft breezes wafting on the water make Lake Como a heavenly place to escape to
Article by Adam Jacot
Lake Como is surely the most impressive of the Italian lakes. The central point where all three parts of the lake meet is reassuringly kept wild. How heartening that it hasn’t been developed for its panoramic views. Instead the green hills of the promontory are brought gently down to the villa of the famous Galbusera biscuit family and the Rothschild Foundation. And right next door to where I was about to stay in Bellagio at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. A wonderful hotel where the traditional drawing room played host to chamber music and I watched couples drop their inhibitions and dance gently across the parquet floor before retiring to bed.
Several times I took nighttime ferries not to go anywhere specific other than to waft in the cool air and let my imagination run. The lights of the various villages were interspersed with darkened areas of virtually no population.
I jumped on a ferry going to Varenna. The village itself has red fenced ironwork along the raised boardwalks perched over the water. Leading inland are steep steps up old stone alleyways with real character and authenticity. And here I found the wonderful combination of a villa and its gardens at the Villa Cipressi. Studded with its eponymous cypress trees and with steep steps and a terraced garden, this private house is now a hotel and overlooks the lake at a truly divine panoramic point. Time stood still as I absorbed this sensory overload. The scented smells of the herbs and lavender, the giant spider-shaped aloe vera plants and the wisteria with interwined roots. The ironwork of the gates is grand but rusty and the headless sculptures are truly weathered. The flowers and plants have found in this location the mild climate to survive. It’s all to do with the huge quantity of water that the lake holds and thus acts as a moderator to capture and then release the warmth during seasonal changes. Hence the flourishing of some of the more exotic vegetation.
I stayed next at the wonderful Villa Camilla, the old family home of the Marchesi di Rozzano. The interior is well-proportioned and spacious. Upstairs, up the polished floors creak wonderfully all the way up the sweeping staircase. It was like a museum and I was dying to explore every nook and cranny. Along its walls are hung a catalogue of horse paintings strongly hinting at the family passion. The bathrooms are an array of vibrant and surprising colours to counteract their sober and traditional adjoining bedrooms. With 10 bedrooms the house is often taken for family reunions and groups of friends. And there’s a lovely downstairs bedroom and en suite bathroom for an elderly or infirm occupant. It’s all been thoroughly thought through and still has that special feel of a family home. Downstairs, the delicately pink drawing room is able to enjoy a low ceiling given that the aspect of the lake is paramount. There are eclectic artefacts and curiosities throughout and the paintings throughout are charming with military prints and oil paintings of early Milanese street scenes. The library has every volume of Encyclopedia Italiana.
For all of you gourmets, I can recommend within the confines of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo the trendy L’Escale restaurant. Its funky approach and modern decking is set to one side of this massive edifice of what was and is the first purpose-built hotel on the lake.
I also whizzed round the town of Como. The Cathedral is a magnificent building embracing Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles with a high cupola that made demands on my craning neck. Dark and mystical within, the outside frontage is of light stone giving off a pleasing feel to exhibit the many ornate sculptures of saints. As heavenly as Lake Como itself!
For Villa Camilla see www.vaanyc.com/destinations/italy/lake_regions/lake_como/villa_camilla.html
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 047 1064 / www.classic-collection.co.uk) offers 3 nights/7 nights at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni from £1159/£1909 per person. Prices based on 2 adults sharing a classic park view room on a bed & breakfast basis and includes return flights from London Gatwick to Milan and private transfers.
Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author and travel writer.