Ladies of the lake
From Page 1 Parolari, putting the finishing touches to a risotto with porcini mushrooms, when asked about the huge number of staff in his kitchen and in general (with a total of more than 300, there’s a staff-to-guest ratio of almost two to one).
It’s this sort of attention to detail, the dedication to providing guests with everything they need, discreetly and without fuss or fanfare, that keeps Villa d’Este on the hotel awards lists.
As I sink into my deeply comfortable bed, window thrown open to let in the sound of the gentle lapping of the lake below, it’s hard not to feel like a movie star, despite having not even a sniff of a Hollywood role so far. Doubles from ($812); www.villadeste.it.
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni
THERE are few more beautiful places to have breakfast than the light-flooded terrace at Villa Serbelloni, the only five-star accommodation in the beautiful village of Bellagio near the lake’s central fork. Eighteen kilometres of avenues and gardens featuring tropical plants provide a stunning backdrop for this Bellagio favourite, and the old-style elegance of the hotel interiors — splendid frescoes and paintings, gilded frames, period wallcoverings and the like — point to a long history.
The grandest room in the house is the lounge, with original parquetry floors and ornately painted ceilings, a riot of colour almost outdoing the views. I seat myself in one of two red and gold thrones marking the entrance to this opulent room and wonder at the royalty who have sat here before me.
The Serbelloni is perched on a promontory jutting into the lake and, like Villa d’Este, it was originally a private residence. It later spent some time as a lodging for the homeless before an extra wing was added and it began life as the town’s most luxurious hotel in 1873. Today the Rockefeller Foundation has a stake in the villa and holds regular conferences on site.
While the hospital-like corridors hark back to its days as a lodging house, the guestrooms beyond are bright and spacious and have stunning lake views. Michelinstarred chef Ettore Bocchia works a little molecular gastronomy magic in the hotel’s restaurant but if more traditional fare is your thing, Restaurant Silvio, run by local fishermen Silvio and Cristian Ponzini, a stone’s throw away in the cobblestoned Bellagio town centre, dishes up local specialties using fresh perch from the lake.
Like Villa d’Este, Serbelloni’s guest register boasts some of the world’s biggest names: JFK, Puccini, prince Rainier of Monaco, Franklin D. Roosevelt and author Umberto Eco are just a few to have gazed at the magical views from their bedroom window. Doubles from www.villaserbelloni.com.
Etihad flies to Milan via Abu Dhabi from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. More: www.etihadairways.com. Lake Como is 40 minutes’ drive from Milan Malpesa airport. The best way to explore the villas and villages of Lake Como is by boat. There are regular ferry services or you can hire a private motorboat with an English-speaking driver. www.lakecomo.com www.italiantourism.com.au