“Villa d’Este is not simply a to-see destination on a bucket list; it’s a place where guests return again and again.”
From this premise, newly appointed chief executive officer Davide Bertilaccio has his work cut out for him as he carefully adds his personal touch to the storied five-star luxury hotel in Cernobbio, Italy, on Lake Como. Overhauling the venue is out of the question.
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“There is a sense of belonging that makes the difference. Nobody wants me to change anything,” he says with a smile. This recommendation also recently came from one high-profile visitor — George Clooney, who famously owns Villa Oleandra in nearby Laglio.
“Guests feel at home, they have a routine, they appreciate our service, guaranteed by loyal employees who have been working at Villa d’Este for a very long time,” says Bertilaccio, who joined the hotel last April. “To understand what they like is the difficult part of the job.”
Bertilaccio obviously has a sixth sense that allows him to do just that, as he has spent over two decades in managerial roles working with Four Seasons Hotels, Rocco Forte Hotels, Armani Hotels, Starwood Group, and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts around the world, from Beverly Hills, London and Paris to Dubai, Singapore and Sardinia.
Most recently he held the position of regional vice president at Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and managing director of Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, the Tuscan property first acquired by Massimo Ferragamo in 2003.
Bertilaccio took over as Villa d’Este marks its 150th season in business this year.
“There are so many beautifully refurbished hotels around the world, but we want to maintain the allure, flair and authenticity of Villa d’Este’s timeless elegance. It simply cannot be standardized,” explains Bertilaccio, who was selected by president Giuseppe Fontana. His family owns the Villa d’Este Group, which is part of The Leading Hotels of the World, and includes the Villa La Massa, in Tuscany, and the Palace Hotel and the Hotel Barchetta Excelsior in Como, overlooking the lake.
Originally a 16th-century building, Villa d’Este became a hotel in 1873 and is surrounded by a stunning park covering 10 hectares.
It offers 152 rooms and suites between the central Cardinal building and the Queen’s Pavilion, in addition to 15 rooms in four 19th-century villas: Villa Cima on the lake shore; Villa Malakoff; Villa Garrovo, and the Mosaic House in the park. Each room is unique, furnished with antique furniture, paintings and prints, precious velvet or brocade curtains and spacious marble bathrooms.
Bertilaccio will now oversee the restoration of the nearby 27,000-square-foot Villa Belinzaghi dating back to 1873 and transforming it into another part of the hotel, surrounded by an 86,400-square-foot park.
There is a beauty center and a floating pool, but also an indoor pool in the Sporting Club, which offers a gym, a sauna, and tennis and squash courts, among other facilities. The Villa d’Este Golf Club spreads among chestnut, birch and pine woods, its 18-hole course is one of the most difficult “par 69” in Europe.
Over the years the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, not to mention numerous members of the aristocracy, sultans and top politicians, have been drawn to this unique destination, with beautiful views of the marina. “If a place has a soul, it remains alive forever” is a favored motto here. After the pandemic, Americans are back in force and remain among the main nationalities favoring the hotel.
Chef Michele Zambanini manages three restaurants: the more elegant Veranda and the more informal Grill and Il Platano. There is also the Bar Canova and the Sundeck.
“Our Italian products are our strength,” says Bertilaccio, who isn’t looking to expand the food offer with dishes from international cuisines. “How hard has it become to find spaghetti with tomato sauce done just right? Perfect yet simple and traditional recipes is what we want to stand for,” he says.
To be sure, there was hardly an empty table in the Veranda as waiters busy themselves without breaking a sweat, perfectly dressed in tailored pantsuits — despite the July heat wave. This is another sign of the hotel’s style, also embodied by Bertilaccio himself, who is wearing a blue business suit over a starched shirt and a classic striped tie — not a hair out of place. His manners, however, are friendly and anything but distant.
Bertilaccio has also been busy with Villa d’Este’s calendar of events, from the prestigious vintage car exhibition Concorso d’Eleganza, to the Fourth of July and Bastille Day celebrations, complete with fireworks over the lake.
The executive is also planning to extend the opening dates of Villa d’Este in the winter season, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve, to make it a year-round destination.
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