Spectacular backdrops and well-known villas have made Lake Como a favourite of the European aristocracy, but it’s not just for the rich and famous…
Words Hannah Hopkins
Arriving at Grand Hotel Tremezzo – arguably the best hotel on Italy’s breathtaking Lake Como – is like stepping into something akin to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Grand and awe-inspiring, it perches right on the front of the lake, towering above passers-by and making them stop in their tracks to admire its opulent art nouveau frontage. Even the reception area – reached via a gilded lift – is flawless.
Though it may be famed for its swanky restaurants and A-list visitors, Lake Como is also perfect for lazy lakeside frolicking and family holidays, especially if you go off-peak when it’s so beautiful and peaceful. Surprisingly, there are frequent cheap flights to various airports in Milan – about an hour’s drive away from the lake.
We are based in the commune of Tremezzo – an excellent choice if you want to be near the key towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio and Cadenabbia (all reached via ferry), without being surrounded by tourists. We start with a trip to Bellagio, one of the most popular with a buzzing quayside and steep, cobbled steps packed with local shops, followed by Varenna – a fishing village which dates from the eleventh century. Like Bellagio, Menaggio is known for its café-filled piazzas and winding cobbled streets, while Cadenabbia is slightly quieter.
After a packed day of exploring we retire to our lake view room at Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Newly refurbished, they have elegant interiors in delicate colours, luxurious marble bathrooms and a terrace looking out over the brilliant blue water. We loved the special touches – sumptuous robes, fresh fruit and chocolates left each day and ESPA bath products.
Along with a grand table dedicated to every kind of sweet you can imagine, there are no fewer than five restaurants in the hotel – we were blown-away by lunches at La Terrazza where Italian classics like tiramisu are done justice.
For dinner we enjoyed L’Escale Trattoria & Wine Bar, the newest addition to the food offerings. An homage to the symbols of Italian dining – the trattoria, and the wine bar, it’s ideal for informal dining with a warm, relaxing atmosphere. The menu features traditional and local flavours, with cold cuts and cheeses from the mountains surrounding Lake Como, homemade pasta, risottos and fun to-share fondues.
Breakfast is served on the front terrace of the hotel, with views of the lake that are so good, you might forget all about the epic buffet and à la carte breakfast menu, which includes eggs any way you like, waffles and crepes, cakes and pastries, hot food and every fresh juice you can imagine. There’s even prosecco if you want to start as you mean to go on…
The next day we check out the hotel’s three pools, because one is never enough. Instagrammers frequently opt for the suspended pool which hovers on the lake, but we fell for the the Piscina dei Fiori (the pool among the flowers) tucked away in a quiet spot at the back of the hotel. There’s also a pool in the spa, which offers treatments from one of the world’s most exclusive, distinguished beauty providers, ESPA.
Right next door to the hotel is Villa Carlotta – a museum famed for its resplendent gardens, whose art collection includes works by Canova, Thorvaldsen, Migliara and Hayez in addition to pieces of furniture from the time of the various owners. Five minutes from Lenno, a short boat ride from Tremezzo, you’ll find the magnificent Villa Balbianello, a Franciscan monastery where Casino Royale was filmed. You can also take a longer trip to Como itself for designer shops, plenty of gelato and a funicular ride to the top of the mountains.
On our final night we venture to the quieter, less touristy side of the lake to Villa Làrio. The boutique property – previously owned by the renowned Lombardi family – has recently re-opening its doors with a new Head Chef, Michele Tamburrino, and is quickly becoming a dining destination, sought out even by those who aren’t staying nearby.
With a glamorous location overlooking the lake, you’d expect fine dining, but refreshingly Tamburrino’s menu is packed with authentic Italian home cooking, including fish freshly sourced from Lake Como itself (and the nearby Mediterranean) and tomatoes picked fresh from the hotel gardens. The interior is contemporary, candle-lit and intimate – a complete change from the typically extravagant style of most places in Lake Como. Reflecting the menu, it’s comfy sofa-style seating and calm atmosphere makes you feel like you could be at home, albeit with a killer view.
After an introductory Aperol Spritz – an essential on any trip to Italy – we sample the likes of homemade pasta with ragu, a local fish not dissimilar to salmon and the most incredible desserts – the chocolate mousse topped with sea salt was a particular favourite. Driving back at night, with the spectacular backdrop of the Grigna mountains and countless world-famous villas illuminated, it’s not hard to see why Lake Como has long been favoured by the European aristocracy and curious travellers alike.