A Weekend of Grand Hotels, Vaporinas, and Aperol Spritzes on Lake Como

·5 min read
Photo credit: Tug Rice
Photo credit: Tug Rice

Contributing Travel Editor Tracey Minkin shares an itinerary for three days of leisure in our favorite destinations around the world. Find more travel inspiration in Weekend Hop.

Of course, George and Amal. But long before my favorite non-portmanteau'd star couple nurtured their privacy and inestimable style along the shoreline of Italy's Lake Como, centuries of elites—from cardinals and composers to millionaires and movie stars, and, yes, even James Bond—knew the power of this peak-crowned lake to inspire us all to dress better, eat and drink better, play better, and ultimately live better.

And the fantastic news is that it's possible not only to break into what may seem like the coolest club ever, but do it over the course of a long weekend. If you can get to Milan, dear friends, without too much stress or time, you're nearly there. A redeye to Malpensa Airport and an hour or so by car to my favorite side of the slender, inverted-Y-shaped lake—the western shoreline that runs north from the town of Como—and you're sipping your first spritz (but surely not your last) by breakfast. And a wonderland of historic villas, superb eating, delightful shopping, jetting about in vaporinas (those clean-lined wooden boats that epitomize Como life), and yes, more iconically orange cocktails, awaits.

Where to Stay in Lake Como

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

Photo credit: Tracey Minkin
Photo credit: Tracey Minkin

If I could create a palace hotel from whole cloth (and make that cloth in the most divine orange), this is the palace hotel I would create. Stepping out this season with a grand refresh from the design hand of third-generation CEO Valentina De Santis, the family-owned Grand Hotel Tremezzo (Lake Como's first palace hotel, circa 1910) has never been more grand nor felt more youthful. And it's the perfect basecamp for a weekend like this one.

Pick your catbird seat: among the opulent jewel-toned sofas and chairs in the lobby and salon rooms?

Photo credit: Roberto Bonardi courtesy Grand Hotel Tremezzoo
Photo credit: Roberto Bonardi courtesy Grand Hotel Tremezzoo

On the awning-shaded restaurant terrace with its essential Como view across to Bellagio and the Grigne mountains beyond? Or immersed in the hotel's lush garden park, including the Flowers Pool with its peek-a-boo views down-lake?

Photo credit: tommypicone courtesy Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Photo credit: tommypicone courtesy Grand Hotel Tremezzo

Or down on Lake Como itself, at the newly reimagined, orange-fabulous T Beach restaurant, loungers, and floating pool?

Photo credit: Courtesy Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Photo credit: Courtesy Grand Hotel Tremezzo

It's impossible to pick a favorite spot, so give into breezy hours spent drifting from one perch to another (including a small, glorious spa and boutique with a divinely focused curation of luxuries, including bespoke scarves from Como's venerable silk house, Mantero). It's all a perfect, cinematic dream.

Passalacqua

One would think that the De Santis family would rest on its splendid laurels in this Como corner, but no: They've just introduced Passalacqua, a new, impeccably stylish little sister to Tremezzo that opened this summer down the lake near the village of Moltrasio.

Photo credit: Ricky Monti, courtesy Passalacqua
Photo credit: Ricky Monti, courtesy Passalacqua

And what a little sister she is: This circa-1787 private villa with quite the guest book (Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, composer Vincenzo Bellini) and a stunning seven acres of terraced gardens has emerged from De Santis's historically sensitive, thoroughly artful reimagining into an intimate boutique hotel. Now, 12 opulent suites occupy the baroque-style Villa with its original frescoes; the Palazz stables hold eight suites; and Casa Al Lago down at the lake's edge holds four more, each with a private garden.

Photo credit: Stefan Giftthaler, courtesy Passalacqua
Photo credit: Stefan Giftthaler, courtesy Passalacqua

(Don't even get me started about the handblown Murano glass chandeliers from Barovier & Toso, especially the five-meter-tall showstopper in the Villa's Sala della Musica.)

Photo credit: Stefan Giftthaler, courtesy Passalacqua
Photo credit: Stefan Giftthaler, courtesy Passalacqua

Isn't the math dreamy? A few nights grand-hotel style, a few nights villa-style, with a smattering of vaporina trips hither and yon to take in the sights. And speaking of which...

What to Do in Lake Como

Visit Bellagio

Whether it's via one of the hotel's vintage boats or hopping the ultra-charming ferry, the first excursion must be one of shopping, strolling, eating, and drinking in Bellagio, a picturesque enclave known as the pearl of Lake Como. For bags, sunglasses, and scarves, do not miss Pierangelo Masciadri's idiosyncratically divine pieces at his Arte E Moda boutique just up from the very walkable waterfront, then nip around the corner to the Lombard-Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo. Then, make sure to treat yourself to gelato at the pink-walled Gelateria, the oldest (and there are many!) in Bellagio.

Photo credit: Tracey Minkin
Photo credit: Tracey Minkin

Tumble around the narrow streets with an eye on acquiring more silk scarves (never too many in this part of Italy), scoring a bottle of locally distilled RIVO gin, and if you're up for it, tour the gardens at Villa Melzi. But make time for a walk out to Punta Spartivento, the spear tip of the peninsula that divides the lake's two "legs." Yes, the view is panoramic, but more so La Punta, an aptly named and utterly delightful seafood restaurant, occupies the point. Stay for dinner and take the last boat home.

Photo credit: Tracey Minkin
Photo credit: Tracey Minkin

Tour Lake Como's Villas

Como life is villa life, and woe to the visitor who does not tour at least one Lake Como villa to get an inside look at the architecture, interior design, and private lives of its occupants. If you have time for only one, make it Villa del Balbianello, a spectacular 18th-century mansion on a wooded promontory and occupied by a fascinating lineage of characters (ask about the secret stairway for getaways both romantic and political), concluding with the dashing Italian climber and explorer Count Guido Monzino. The terraced gardens and statuary are a knockout, the views sublime, and the James Bond/Casino Royale location-spotting part of the joy. While you can reach the villa from the shore, an arrival by boat is far, far more romantic.

Photo credit: Tracey Minkin
Photo credit: Tracey Minkin

If you have time for a second villa (and especially if you are staying at Grand Hotel Tremezzo), scoot next door for a visit to the divine late-17th-century Villa Carlotta, where the botanical gardens and the museum are equally intoxicating.

Sip an Aperol Spritz

Now here's the splendid news: With the right prosecco (and on Lake Como I've yet to encounter the wrong prosecco), you can pair Aperol with bubbles and sip your day away with the most photogenically refreshing drink ever created. The bigger the goblet, the more fun you're having. George and Amal, I feel certain, would agree.

Photo credit: Tracey Minkin
Photo credit: Tracey Minkin


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