Italian Lakes Hotels
29 Via XX Settembre
Tel: 39 0341 830 298
The Milano was simply a poky little pensione with a million-dollar lakeside view until 2002. That's when Bettina Mallone and her Swiss husband, Egidio, transformed it into a budget boutique hotel—before that term was even known in Italy. They fitted the eight simple rooms with modern art and gauzy curtains to catch the lake breezes, mixed creaky peasant armoires with compact Deco desks, and wisely retained the house's original stone floors. All rooms come with balconies and at least lateral lake views, though the vista is best from rooms 1 and 2 (each has a small private terrace) and from 5 and 6 directly above. The Mallones' infectious enthusiasm and stylish sensibilities bring a loyal repeat clientele of mostly middle income, middle-aged (and often American) visitors. The Mallones also converted the front room and shared terrace into a restaurant where Egidio creates three-course Mediterranean meals at guests' request.
Closed mid-November through February.
69 Via Enrico Caronti
Tel: 39 031 32 511
Villa Roccabruna, the home of soprano Giuditta Pasta, muse of the nineteenth-century composer Vincenzo Bellini, has been transformed into the CastaDiva Resort, becoming the first hotel in nearly a century to open on Lake Como's shores. The 75-room property is in an enviable location right on the water and a short drive from the towns of Como and Bellagio. Guests arrive by boat, docking in a cave in the rocky foundation below the hotel. The secluded grounds are ringed with white-pebble paths; huge pine trees frame the view; and a brilliantly designed pool floats on the lake. The spa, too, is a centerpiece, a subterranean enclave with an indoor pool and huge treatment rooms carved into the rock. L'Orangerie's menu showcases local and seasonal ingredients in such dishes as a delicate pea soup with quail egg and local lake trout. While the staff are friendly and professional, the stiff Frau-like uniforms are a misstep. Some of the rooms' design elements might also be a bit over the top for purists (heavy silk curtains and mirrored closets with gold paint), and the new buildings that house additional guest rooms look a little architecturally jarring next to the original villa, but all in all CastaDiva captures the rarefied grandeur of another century.
38–40 Via Rimembranza
Tel: 39 0365 798 000
D. H. Lawrence stayed here in 1912 and 1913 and deemed it "one of the most beautiful places on earth." The Liberty-style villa was built in 1892 and was converted into a 21-room hotel in 2001. It quickly moved into the top echelons as one of the world's finest hotels. Its air of exclusivity appeals to an elite clientele, as evidenced by the outrageous prices (the very cheapest rooms start around $1,200—in the off-season). All of the rooms are suites, and of the 13 in the main house, the one to book is Il Poeta, which has a breathtaking panorama of Lake Garda. The other guest quarters are scattered among four park cottages. Expect lavish antiques, frescoed ceilings, and wonderfully quirky furnishings throughout. The bathrooms are particularly delightful, often up to 500 square feet in size with enormous tubs, heated marble floors, and walk-in showers. The exquisitely maintained grounds include eight acres of olive, magnolia, and cypress trees.
Closed mid-October through mid-April.
67 Corso Umberto I
Tel: 39 0323 938 938
A hotel famous since 1861 and featured prominently in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms might be content to rest on its reputation. Luckily, Iles Borromées continues to fuss over the details, and not just those of the manicured grounds, elegant Belle Époque façade overlooking the lake, and grand public areas…not to mention two pools, a tennis court, and a private heliport. In 2003, the hotel thoughtfully added balconies to even the rooms on the back overlooking the mountains. The 172 rooms come in three styles. Most are fitted in the local 19th-century style of intricately inlaid woods and baths sheathed in marble. The junior suites are more ornate, with Murano chandeliers, wall tapestries, lacquer furniture, and plenty of gilded frippery. The Imperial suites are done in full Empire style, with gilded headboards, inlaid stone tables, and frilly plaster decorations in the bathrooms. One room that has remained unchanged: the Hemingway Suite, preserved just as Papa liked it. The room has frescoed ceilings, a large private terrace, two king bedrooms, and three bathrooms. Unlike most top lakeside hotels, the Iles Borromées closes only briefly in winter.
Closed mid-December through mid-January.
1 Via Roma
Tel: 39 031 950 216
This grandiose 1850s villa has been the place to stay in Bellagio since 1873. Its location is perfect, flanked on one side by the town's central square and on the other by the wooded headland of the Bellagio promontory. The Serbelloni maintains its air of luxury through its oil paintings and antiques, 97 guest rooms with decorative stuccoed ceilings, and ceilings festooned with grotteschi in the grand salons that overlook the heated outdoor pool and private pier to the lake just beyond. Of the dizzying array of room categories, you need know only this: Nearly all rooms with lake views are labeled "deluxe," though not all deluxe rooms have the view, so be specific when booking. The on-site restaurant Mistral has had a Michelin star since 2005, and chef Ettore Bocchia serves his impeccably prepared traditional Northern Italian cuisine on the glass-enclosed terraces. Tucked away further back on the grounds you will find a gym, spa, and indoor pool, as well as the Residence L'Ulivo. These 13 modest but stylishly modern mini-apartments have terra-cotta floors and rattan furnishings and are great for families (the largest sleeps six). They are rented by the week in summer and for shorter periods in the shoulder seasons.
Closed early November through March.
2 Via Ugo Ara
Isola dei Pescatori
Tel: 39 0323 30 408
This bloodred villa at the very tip of Fishermen's Island is a short ferry ride from the main town of Stresa. The 12 rooms are named after flowers, but don't expect an overly floral B&B. The decor is limited to pastel shades to match each individual bloom, plus painted cast-iron headboards. Some rooms look across the water to the gardens of nearby Isola Bella (best seen from the two rooms on the front with working fireplaces); others open onto a view of Isola Madre and the eastern shore of the lake. The restaurant inevitably draws boatloads of nonguests touring the islands who stop off to dine on food a cut above the standard tourist fare in these parts. The homemade pasta and the lake perch are excellent, and the tables are set under shade trees right near the lakeshore.
Hotel closed December through February. Restaurant open daily year-round.
Via Silvio Bonomelli
Tel: 39 030 982 2977
Sometimes to get the best lake views, you have to leave the shores and drive a few miles up into the surrounding mountains. I Due Roccoli, set in a quiet park, has 23 rustic guest quarters with heavy beamed ceilings and simple furnishings. Just be sure to request one with commanding views over the lake below. Breakfast is included, and it's worth signing up for half-board to indulge in the excellent à la carte dinners of fresh local ingredients accompanied by Franciacorta wines. Meals are served by a roaring fire on cool nights; on warm evenings, you can opt for candlelight out on a flower-fringed patio flanked by rough stone walls and open to a sloping lawn rimmed by forest. Being well off the lakes also means I Due Roccoli tends to attract the kind of guests who are happy to spend a day doing nothing more strenuous than strolling the wooded grounds or curling up with a book on one of the panoramic terraces. The hotel does have a pool and bocce courts, if you are feeling so inclined.
Closed November through mid-March.
6 Via Grotte
Tel: 39 030 990 5890
Imagine a grand neo-Palladian villa set atop ten acres of lush and carefully landscaped grounds as only a wealthy 19th-century Austrian baron and confirmed Italophile could construct. That's the Villa Cortine, its serpentine driveway winding past elaborate fountains sculpted with mythological scenes, its interiors crafted by an army of artisans with precious Verona marbles, Byzantine-style stuccoes, and frescoes teeming with symbolism. The splendid isolation of this upscale haven hidden amid a bustling resort town, along with the high-end sports cars frequently parked in the gravel lot, hint at the kind of clientele drawn to such a luxury hideaway. The 54 guest quarters, most housed in an extension built in 1957, have a slightly more sober elegance of burled walnut, heavy curtains, Murano chandeliers, and Oriental carpets on herringbone parquet floors. The vast grounds extend all the way down to the lake with a private beach, pier, and summer beach bar and barbecue for grilling fresh lake fish at lunch.
Closed late October through late March.
18 Via G. Fava
Orta San Giulio
Tel: 39 0322 911 902
This fabulously odd Moorish-style villa built in 1879 is easy to find: Just look for the onion-domed minaret towering above the pine trees. The interiors are the Middle Eastern fantasyland of a palace fit for a pasha, all horseshoe arches with toothy edges and walls slathered in fiddly scrollwork and arabesques. The 14 rooms are filled with 18th- and 19th-century furnishings with intricate wood-inlay floors, silk brocade walls, and marble baths. Some rooms are frescoed; others have tented ceilings to go with the whole Scheherazade motif. Every room in the deluxe category and above comes with a king-size canopy bed. The hotel is patronized by the kind of adventurous clientele drawn to its quirky styling and out-of-the-way location on one of the lesser-known lakes. The hotel has its own small fitness center offering massages, and guests can use the pools, tennis courts, and water sports facilities at the Crespi's two sister hotels, which are right on the lake less than a mile away.
Closed early January through mid-March.
40 Via Regina
Tel: 39 031 3481
Everything about this grande dame of lakeside hotels oozes luxury. Rooms have enormous marble bathrooms and walk-in closets and most have a balcony or terrace. The Empire-style furnishings swathed in Como silks actually date to the time when Napoleon himself was a guest and the villa belonged to his aide-de-camp. The 152 rooms and suites are split between the main villa and the Queen's Pavilion, a pinkish 1860 Moorish-Venetian palazzo at the far end of the 25-acre property. The heated outdoor swimming pool is built within the lake itself, and the indoor pool is flanked by a sauna and Turkish bath. Activities include tennis on the hotel's eight courts and teeing off at the indoor golf and putting green (the private, Peter Gannon-designed 18-hole course is seven miles away), plus sailing, canoeing, and waterskiing on Lake Como. Built in the 16th century as the summer palace of Como's Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, the main villa served as a home to royalty, from Caroline, Princess of Wales (in the early 19th century), to the last private owner, Tsarina Maria Fedorovna of Russia, before being transformed into a hotel in 1873. Since then it has hosted such cultural royalty as Mark Twain, Clark Gable, Madonna, and Liam Neeson. Besides celebs, you'll see well-heeled older travelers, expense-accounted businessmen, and honeymooners who would never dare spend this much on an ordinary vacation, as well as young families splashing out.
Closed mid-November through February.
132 Corso Zanardelli
Tel: 39 0365 20 158
Mussolini ensconced his mistress, Clara Petacci, in this Art Nouveau villa during the dying days of his Salò Republic. Petacci's room, where the couple also lived out their final weeks together before the partisans arrived, is now the Claretta suite and has heavy wood furnishings and gilded stucco ceiling. The other four rooms, done in floral wallpaper and burled walnut antiques, are decidedly less grand. There's a piano bar and sometime discotheque in the Torre San Marco, a fanciful minicastle built against the water's edge at the end of the olive- and pine-tree strewn property. The hotel also hosts Gardone's best restaurant, where the exquisite food has earned the chef a Michelin star—though at these prices, portions could be larger (four ravioli on a plate do not a meal make).
Closed November through February.