Ladies of the lake

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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.

Check­list

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

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