TO THE LAKE
ITALY’S PREMIER NORTHERN RESORT HAS NO SHORTAGE OF HOTELS, BUT THESE ARE SPECIAL: A REVAMPED FAVOURITE OF HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY, AND A RARE NEW ARRIVAL.
Visitors to Como can immerse themselves in Belle Epoque grandeur at the Tremezzo or Patricia Urquiola’s sleek design at the brand-new Il Sereno.
THE GRAND HOTEL TREMEZZO RIVIERA DELLE AZALEE, LAKE COMO
The Grand Hotel Tremezzo nestles on the western shore of Lake Como, with sweeping views of the charming lakeside town Bellagio and La Grigna mountain. With its Belle Epoque grandeur, it could as easily be dubbed Grand Hotel Tremendous. There is little to fault here, whether it’s the bright and breezy buongiorno from staff every morning, or the traditional touches of antique furniture and restored tiled floors, or its enviable location right next door to Villa Carlotta with its eight hectares of fragrant botanical gardens and a history steeped in royalty and great art.
Built in 1910 by Enea Gandola, a local Bellagian, and his wife Maria Orsolini, Grand Hotel Tremezzo opened to great acclaim and was sought out immediately as a playground for the rich and famous, aristocratic and Hollywood figures alike. Their daughter Mariuccia once wrote of Enea and Maria as an extraordinary couple: “romantic, strong, tied to the past because tradition is important, but at the same time modern, curious, projected into the future”. The same could be said for the de Santis family, now Tremezzo’s faithful custodians, who have restored the hotel’s beauty, elegance and good old-fashioned luxuriousness, reviving what regular guest Greta Garbo described as “that happy, sunny place” in her 1932 film Grand Hotel.
Tremezzo’s CEO, Valentina de Santis, is the third generation to continue what she sees as a quiet evolution rather than revolution of the hotel’s opulent history, following in the footsteps of her “visionary” father Paolo de Santis and mother Antonella Mallone. It was Valentina’s grandfather Giovanni Battista Mallone who rescued the Tremezzo from run-down obscurity in the early 1970s. Part of the experience is the different kind of hospitality you get at family-owned hotel, she says. “Staying in Tremezzo is extremely personal: we are here every day, overseeing every little detail, with staff who really do care about our guests (some have worked here for more than 25 years). We’re all very proud to work here – something our guests feel immediately.”
Arriving from street level via a lift into Tremezzo’s grand reception, all shades of saffron and regal red, towering marble columns and elaborately patterned parquet floors, it immediately seduces with its swathes of silk curtains, buttoned velvet sofas and the distinctive headiness of the hotel’s bespoke rose perfume. This sense of “historical interconnection with all the treasures we have on the lake,” says de Santis, can be felt throughout the hotel, whether it’s a suite named after nearby Villa del Balbianello (dating back to the 13th century, painstakingly restored in the 70s and 80s by the late supermarket heir and Everest explorer Count Guido Monzino) or one of the four prestigious historical suites named after de Santis’s grandmother Aurelia.
In ode to Como’s longstanding tradition of silk weaving, framed silk scarves line the hotel’s ground floor walls and all the curtains and bedding are sourced locally. Under Antonella’s watchful eye, the same artisans who make the sofas or tables for the family’s own homes make them for the hotel too. “It takes everything to a whole other level of special,” says de Santis. “Guests might not necessarily notice it, but they can feel the love and care put into all these things.”
With its 91 rooms and suites, including a recently added fifth floor of more modern rooftop suites (complete with jacuzzis and terraces), there is much todo at Tremezzo – but even in peak season, “you’ll never feel the hotel is too crowded”, de Santis says. Guests can escape to one of five restaurants, including La Terrazza which is overseen by three-Michelin-star chef, and the “father of modern Italian cuisine”, Gualtiero Marchesi; or the newly refurbished L’Escale Trattoria & Wine Bar, which serves fondue as well as classic Italian pastas; or the colourful Sala Musica for an Aperol spritz.
There are three pools, including a private “beach” and floating pool on the lakefront, an Espa spa and marble hammam, housed in the recently restored 18thcentury Villa Emilia, once the library for Villa Carlotta, and a Vizianello launcher named Batt, after de Santis’s grandfather, to take for a cruise around the lake. A walk to the top of the hill will deliver guests to the hotel’s much-loved mascot, Orsetto Bobo (a large teddy bear) sitting on a tree trunk, with a view of the whole of Lago di Como spread out magnificently below.
Tremezzo has linked with the 18th-century Villa Sola Cabiati, famous for its frescoed walls, lush gardens and historical furniture, pottery and tapestries, to give guests unprecedented access with guided tours, locations for intimate dinners and even stays (from €10,000 a night). Mercifully, there’s no hint yet of a suite or bar named after George Clooney, the most famous recent local resident, who is name-checked everywhere you go.
What de Santis loves most about Como is that “it’s a place that’s never changing. Even from my first memories, when I was five, it has always been a fairytale place,” she says. “Being on the lake gives something to your soul and here at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, we want to embrace the future but maintain the charm of the past. We want our experience to be very Italian and timeless.” grandhoteltremezzo.com
IL SERENO TORNO, LAKE COMO
There’s no Belle Epoque grandeur, restored antique furniture or “historical suites” to be found at Il Sereno, Lake Como’s newest hotel and the first to be built on the shores of the lake in decades. Instead, this is a contemporary design and architecture lover’s idea of paradise. The hotel, which opened in the tiny village of Torno, about 5km northeast of the town of Como, was designed from head to toe by the Milan-based Spanishborn designer Patricia Urquiola.
Urquiola has worked on hotel projects before – the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona; Das Stue, Berlin; Oasia, Singapore to name a few – but this is the first hotel where she was given carte blanche and had control over every aspect from the tapware to the staff uniforms. Even Il Sereno’s three private Riva boats were given the Urquiola touch. Every item of furniture is either an existing design from her work with prestigious Italian brands such as Cassina, Molteni, B&B Italia and Moroso, or was designed and created for this project, such as the tapware by Axor Hansgrohe, light fixtures by Flos and a freestanding lozenge-shaped bathtub by Agape.
The hotel is built on the remaining structure of an arched stone boathouse on the site, which now houses the hotel’s restaurant. Getting the necessary building approvals was slow and, according to Urquiola, involved six different authorities. The grid-like design of the building has been based on one of the few significant modernist structures in the region, the Casa del Fascio designed by Giuseppe Terragni in Como opposite the city’s cathedral. The loggia balconies on Il Sereno are in a grey, flecked local stone which are broken up with timber vertical louvres designed so guests can move them throughout the day. A strip of the façade on Terragni’s municipal administration building, built during Mussolini’s regime, was left unadorned so political banners could be mounted on it. In Urquiola’s building the blank section has been transformed into a vertical garden by French botanist Patrick Blanc.
Guests arrive at the hotel down a winding and narrow driveway to a small carriage house. From there you’re escorted through one of the hotel’s gardens to a 6m-high entrance door. The 30 spacious rooms (the smallest is 65sqm) all have lake views and balconies that blur the line between inside and out. The most private accommodation is to be had in the Grand Suite Lago rooms, with magical views up and across the lake, and the 200sqm penthouse suite with a large wraparound terrace and outdoor hot tub. The décor reflects the colours of the lake and its surroundings – there are skyblue sofas, leafy green pillows and turquoise bed coverings. Rooms are clad in walnut panelling which also cleverly integrates the wardrobes.
One of the most spectacular design features is the winding staircase that takes guests from the ground floor to the restaurant below. Made of walnut and bronze, the stacked square steps appear to float free as they wind up to the first floor. The hotel has an 18m freshwater infinity pool, private jetty and a newly opened spa in a separate building on the site. The public spaces are filled with lounge areas, a small library and a quiet bar where you can relax or contemplate the lake.
Sereno Hotels also own the 16th-century, 18-bedroom Villa Pliniana on Lake Como, restored with interiors also by Patricia Urquiola. The Villa Pliniana is available for complete rental only. A new hotel by the group in Venice is in the works which will also be the vision of one significant designer. Il Sereno is a member of Leading Hotels of the World. lhw.com/ilsereno
Clockwise from top, Tremezzo’s private beach, the Flowers pool, T Bar, L’Escale verandah and interior, the Sala Musica lounge, the lobby, Batt the launcher, and a Park View Prestige room
Clockwise from left, the infinty pool overlooking the lake; the Alcova terrace with mountain views; the Darsena guestroom; the Corner terrace; the hotel exterior; and the spectacular winding staircase