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 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.” grand­hotel­


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.

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

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