The time­less beauty of Lake Como

Lake Como’s glit­ter­ing wa­ters and el­e­gant vil­las are a haven for celebri­ties and mor­tals alike. Michelle Harbi checks in for a taste of the good life

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ake Como is a view you couldn’t tire of – what­ever the weather or sea­son, the panorama of wa­ter, for­est and sky is never less than be­guil­ing. We vis­ited in late April and ex­pe­ri­enced it in all its guises. On our first day, bleak skies and buck­et­ing rain threat­ened to stop play but it was a plea­sure sim­ply to sit back with a strong Ital­ian cof­fee and watch the vista change grad­u­ally – clouds shroud­ing the tops of the moun­tains as boats passed in a stately fash­ion, in­ter­rupt­ing the still­ness of the shim­mer­ing lake.

By the fol­low­ing morn­ing, all had cleared, the sun throw­ing ev­ery­thing into glo­ri­ous tech­ni­colour – muted greys re­placed with daz­zling blues and greens, the low mist lifted to re­veal snow cap­ping the moun­tains, their bases dot­ted with pretty peach and yel­low vil­las. And be­low, as ever, the boats pass­ing, busier to­day with tourists tak­ing in the view from the wa­ter.

Long known as a glam­orous des­ti­na­tion for the celebrity set, if you are look­ing for a lux­u­ri­ous break then Lake Como is hard to beat. About 50km north of Mi­lan if you want to ex­tend a busi­ness trip, it’s as lit­tle as 45 min­utes’ drive from Malpensa air­port de­pend­ing on where you choose to stay.

Lo­cated east of lakes Mag­giore and Lugano, in the foothills of the Alps, Lake Como is shaped like a slen­der two-pronged fork, with the city of Como it­self sit­u­ated at the foot of the western leg, and the pop­u­lar town of Bel­la­gio lo­cated in the cen­tre, where the branches meet. We chose as our base the su­perb Casta Diva Re­sort and Spa, set right on the lake about 6km up the wind­ing east­ern shore­line from Como, in the co­mune of Ble­vio.

Part of Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World, the five-star lux­ury Casta Diva has a sto­ried his­tory. Villa Roc­cabruna, the grand house at the heart of the 26,000 sqm prop­erty, was orig­i­nally built in 1797 and 30 years later was bought by so­prano Gi­u­ditta Pasta. A muse of Bellini, she was the in­spi­ra­tion for his opera, Norma, and the first to sing its fa­mous aria,“Casta Diva”.

Re­built in the early 20th cen­tury, it be­came a ho­tel in 2010 fol­low­ing con­sid­er­able ex­pan­sion. It now com­prises 73 spa­cious rooms and suites split across nine vil­las set in man­i­cured grounds. De­signed in tra­di­tional or mod­ern styles, most rooms have fab­u­lous lake views that can be en­joyed from pri­vate bal­conies or ter­races. My own suite was huge and had not one but two bal­conies, with un­der­stated, con­tem­po­rary in­te­ri­ors that rightly de­ferred to the vista out­side.

You could eas­ily go to Casta Diva for the week­end and not leave the grounds. As well as con­tain­ing ten suites, the main villa houses sump­tu­ous, high­ceilinged sa­lons for tak­ing tea, and a cock­tail bar for some­thing stronger.

A cov­ered walk­way takes you to the ex­pan­sive 1,300 sqm spa – home to ev­ery­thing from a Turk­ish bath to a Hi­malayan rose salt room – and fine-din­ing

restau­rant L’Orangerie, which has a lake-view ter­race and serves beau­ti­fully con­ceived and pre­sented Mediter­ranean cui­sine. Out front, mean­while, and per­fect for laz­ing the day away in peak sea­son, is a float­ing pool and deck sus­pended right on the lake.

When you are ready to ven­ture out, it’s worth set­ting aside at least half a day to ex­plore Como it­self – the re­sort lays on a free reg­u­lar shut­tle ser­vice (use­ful if you don’t have your own wheels, as taxis can be eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive). We spent a happy af­ter­noon wan­der­ing the nar­row streets of the on­ce­walled old quar­ter – the Duomo (cathe­dral), built be­tween the 14th and 18th cen­turies, is spec­tac­u­lar – and watch­ing the lo­cals go about their busi­ness from café ter­races. Strolling the lake­front prom­e­nade was also lovely, and it was good to stum­ble across La Vita e Bella restau­rant (Pi­azza Domenico Croggi 4), where we strug­gled to choose from the long list of boun­ti­ful, very rea­son­ably priced sal­ads on of­fer.

Still, you can’t spend all your time on dry land here – it’s a must to get out on the wa­ter and ex­plore the lake. Casta Diva runs a tour to Bel­la­gio and back on

As we sailed north, the lake widened to re­veal ever more ex­pan­sive views un­til Bel­la­gio un­veiled it­self

its 20-seat boat ( Ð85 per per­son, April to Septem­ber/ Oc­to­ber de­pend­ing on weather). It wasn’t run­ning on the day we had set aside, so in­stead we boarded a ferry from Como port. Ser­vices de­part reg­u­larly through­out the day and you can hop on and off at the many vil­lages that line the shore.

Our time was lim­ited so we con­tented our­selves with head­ing straight for Bel­la­gio, catch­ing glimpses of lo­cal life in the towns – an out­door karate class here, a game of bas­ket­ball there – as the boat docked to off­load and on­load pas­sen­gers. As we con­tin­ued north – won­der­ing which villa be­longed to Ge­orge Clooney – the lake widened to re­veal ever more ex­pan­sive views, un­til the densely packed pas­tel build­ings of Bel­la­gio un­veiled them­selves.

Un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful and ro­man­tic, Bel­la­gio is also very touristy, its wa­ter­front ter­races and steep al­ley­ways packed with vis­i­tors even in spring. It has a won­der­ful at­mos­phere, though – La Punta (ris­toran­te­la­punta.it), on the edge of the town, looked like a par­tic­u­larly re­fined place to stop for lunch, with stun­ning views, while Bar Rossi, down by the ferry ter­mi­nal, is an old-school spot for a ne­groni.

Still, af­ter a cou­ple of hours we were happy to re­treat back to the tran­quil­ity of Casta Diva. Don­ning my thick white robe and snooz­ing on a sunbed by the float­ing pool, the early evening sun warm­ing my face, I felt like a bit of a celebrity my­self.

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Left: Casta Diva Re­sort and Spa

Book a stay at Casta Diva Re­sort and Spa with Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World from

Ð530 per night (two shar­ing) on a B&B ba­sis. Tel +44 (0)800 0482 314; slh.com/ cas­tadiva

From top: Casta Diva suite; Bel­la­gio; Como cathe­dral

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