It was a warm spring day. I was sitting on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, having a bite of lunch in the sunshine. In front of me stood the foothills of the Alps, still snow-capped but ready for spring. The mountains dipped low into the waters of Lake Como below and it struck me again that in that moment, I was living out a dream that had played so many times before in my mind. I was in Bellagio, on the shores of Lake Como, ticking off a bucket list item.
Lake Como, or Lago di Como, as it is known in Italian, is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy. It’s situated in northern Italy near the Swiss border and is about 80 kilometres from Milan. The wishbone-shaped lake branches off in two directions and Bellagio sits conveniently at the intersection, providing easy access to all three end points of the lake. Ferries run between some of the most popular villages along the lake like Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio.
When my husband and I were invited to be guests at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (the first guests of the season, in fact!), we knew that we were in for a treat.
We flew into Milan’s Linate Airport, though you can also fly into Milan’s other airport, Malpensa. From Linate, the drive to Bellagio took about an hour.
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, which is open from April to November, is one of the oldest hotels in the Lake Como region and is the only 5-star, luxury hotel in Bellagio. Approaching the yellow stuccoed building from the front entrance, it’s clear that you’re about to set foot into a place that is grand and steeped in history. Once the vacation home of 19th century aristocrats and now a luxury hotel in one of the most picturesque spots in the world, the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni doesn’t disappoint.
Inside the hotel
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni oozes European charm and old-world glamour. The property has 73 rooms and 22 suites. None are the same and they range in design from simple to elaborate, but all in keeping with the neo-classical style that’s seen throughout. The property, which is now family owned and run by the Bucher family (and has been for four generations, since 1871!), remains as true as possible to its historic origins. The interior design of the property still today reflects the good taste and style that was so appreciated by the wealthy nobility of the time. Guests are sure to appreciate the stunning frescoes adorning the walls, the Murano chandeliers, the antique Persian carpets and the period wall coverings. The sweeping marble staircases are exquisite and grand and the soaring stucco columns make the villa positively palatial.
All the hotel’s 95 rooms offer guests a view of the lake or the park and village. Ours had a spectacular view of Lake Como and was one of the most beautiful rooms I’d ever seen. All rooms have air-conditioning, central heating, flat screen TVs, mini-bar, WiFi and all the usual amenities you’d expect from a five-star property. But trust me, the TV is the last thing you’ll be looking for in a place like this. Our room seemed to call for quiet contemplation and when I wasn’t walking around it, marvelling at the design that harkened back to a time long gone by, I was gazing out the window at the lake or lying on the bed, staring up at the intricate patterns of the painted ceiling, which commanded an almost cathedral-like reverence.
Outside the hotel
Bellagio is known as the Pearl of Lake Como and the lavish hotel is situated smack in the middle of some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in the world. Surrounded immediately by beautiful gardens and further out by the calm waters of Lake Como and the pre-Alps, the views in every direction are picture perfect. The hotel is just steps from the cobblestone streets of Bellagio, where you’ll find wonderful restaurants dishing up authentic Italian food (you have to go into town to try the pizza, pasta and gelato; try Pasticceria Gelateria, the oldest ice cream shop in Bellagio, which began serving scoops in 1919!), and there’s lots of shopping. Como is known as the silk capital of Europe, so Bellagio is the perfect place to pick up fine silk scarves, bags and ties. I stumbled into the shop of Pierangelo Masciadri, whose work beautifully merges art and fashion and whose most famous customers include Bill Clinton and George Bush; both men wore Masciadri’s ties at significant points in their careers. His pieces are pricey but I treated myself to a lovely silk evening bag and an iPhone case that featured the pattern of the scarf I loved but couldn’t afford.
Other things to do: Visit Villa Balbianello, which is a 15-minute boat ride away from the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Built in 1787 on the site of an old Franciscan monastery, the villa is now a museum, home to the artifacts acquired by its last owner, the explorer Guido Monzino. The gardens are impeccably well kept and were, for me, even more interesting than the villa’s interiors. And speaking of gardens, be sure to stroll through the Giardini di Villa Melzi, open from March to October. Stretching lazily along the shores of Lake Como, the gardens are peaceful and full of statues and beautiful blooms, like azaleas, camellias and rhododendron.
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni offers guests two main dining options: La Goletta and Mistral. La Goletta is the more casual option. The nautical-inspired restaurant dishes up regional Italian cuisine and if you really want local food, try the lake fish. Mistral is the upscale option, situated on a terrace overlooking the lake, and is one of the most romantic places you could ever imagine dining. As dusk descends on Lake Como and the strains of live music start up in the nearby salon, your dinner at Mistral is destined to become an experience you remember forever. The one Michelin star restaurant is under the guidance of chef Ettore Bocchia and he brings guests a menu that’s always in season as well as a tasting menu of molecular cuisine, which features dishes like turbot cooked in melted sugars, sugar-free meringues and ice cream cooled by liquid nitrogen that’s prepared tableside.
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is a gem, the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. From the spectacular scenery that surrounds the hotel outside to the design details inside that are so carefully protected, restored and maintained by the Bucher family, guests will feel not only the history of the property but the love that has gone into preserving it. Every detail of every room, every piece of art and history, every glimpse of nature’s bounty, deserves to be recognized in a quiet moment of appreciation. It really is that special.
Single room rates start at €261. Classic room rates start at €418. See all rates here.