Inside one of the most historic luxury hotels on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como
Located on the shores of Italy’s majestic Lake Como, this family-run hotel—a cornerstone presence in the area at nearly 150 years old—just reopened this spring.
Situated in the famously chic resort town of Bellagio, Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni has hosted many legendary guests, including European socialites (the Rothschilds), Hollywood celebrities (including Mary Pickford, Al Pacino, and George Lucas), and world leaders, notably Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.
Even at more than a century old, all of the hotel’s 72 guest rooms and 22 suites have the modern comforts one would want (the hotel makes annual renovations to stay current with hospitality demands and expectations) while still preserving original style that has welcomed Hollywood stars, royals, and world leaders for decades.
Construction work on the property—built in pure neoclassical style—started in 1850, with the intention as serving as a summer holiday villa for an aristocratic family from nearby Bergamo. In 1872, the villa was sold and transformed into Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, which first opened in 1873.
While Lake Como is busiest during the summer months, the area is still remarkably peaceful. That is partially because government laws prevent the construction of any new properties (homes, hotels, etc.) to prevent the area from becoming overcrowded. And existing properties have to follow a number of rules about maintenance; for example, hotels can renovate interiors for as much as their budgets will allow, but they cannot make any alterations to the exterior. (So no changes on paint color, only new layers of the same shades.)
But many tour guides will recommend you come visit even earlier in the spring as the area is famous for its gardens. Lake Como’s multitude of botanical gardens see the blooming of azaleas, camellias, and wisteria flowers.
Although there are roads around the lake, it’s actually quite easy to get from town to town—by boat. A hotel concierge would be more than happy to set you up with a private luxury water taxi and tour guide, which will make you feel like you’re sailing up to the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. But there are also multiple budget-friendly ferries that go between villages on both sides of the peninsula, and truly, the best way to see Lake Como is from out on the water itself.
The entire area is also ideal for water sports—notably sailing, water skiing, kayaking, and rowing. By foot, there are trekking and cycling routes wind through the promontory. But whatever you decide to do, bring good walking shoes as you will need them to climb up and down the hilly, cobblestone streets of most towns, from Bellagio to Varenna. Not to mention there is no shortage of shopping. But what might be most notable is that even though Bellagio, especially would strike you as the sort of posh spot on par with Cannes or St. Barth’s, there aren’t many luxury fashion label stores, like Prada and Gucci. Most of the stores are all locally and family-owned wine and craft shops, clothing boutiques, and restaurants serving the best of local and national Italian cuisine.
But the hotel alone is enough of a draw, whether you’re in the area for an event, a vacation, or even a more luxurious (Wi-Fi-enabled) spot for working remotely. Whatever the reason, guests can find relaxing experiences inside and out, starting by laying out by the pool (or the hotel’s private beach) under a striped umbrella overlooking the lake. There is an indoor pool for exercise or access during incldement weather (northern Italy is increasingly prone to unpredictable rainstorms during the summer).
And the hotel spa offers dozens of different treatments using products with all natural ingredients, accompanied by a sauna, and steam bath. While it is lovely to run outside, the hotel has a fully equipped fitness center, from weights to the latest Technogym treadmills and elliptical machines.
For families that come for weddings or business events, the hotel also has onsite childcare available, and there is special heated pool and a playground area for kids. Bonus: the hotel is also very dog-friendly, and the hotel will provide a dog bed, water and food bowls, and plenty of treats.
And, as aforementioned, the region has a glorious number of excellent restaurants, the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni has two of the best you’ll find anywhere. La Goletta, the hotel’s all-day restaurant, has indoor and outdoor dining options available, the latter of which sits right near the pool. (Both have prime views overlooking the lake.) This is the place where you should go if you want simple but elegant Italian food done right.
The property is also the only luxury hotel in the entire Lake Como area with a Michelin star, Mistral, which serves a seasonal menu rooted in the quality of the raw materials, and a cellar featuring more than 450 wine labels from around the world. Guests should prepare themselves for a tasting menu of seven (or more) courses, from amuse bouche to multiple dessert courses, all of which are made from fresh, locally sourced vegetable, fish, and meat. (And both restaurants are very accommodating to dietary restrictions and allergies.)
Villa Serbelloni is also popular for weddings and large events. (The breakfast room—which might be the most ornate hotel breakfast room you’ll ever see—also serves as the grand hall for weddings.) Conference rooms can be set up for up to 300 people, and the hotel has a team that can audio-visual equipment as well as administrative services and a press room. The meeting rooms can also be repurposed for painting and craft exhibitions, fashion shows, and photo shoots.
Like many other hotels around the world, the property closed for an extended period of time during the pandemic, reopening for a window during the summer of 2020 and then a longer one in 2021. The hotel is normally closed in the winter, as are most hotels in the Lake Como area. Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni fully reopened for a normal year this past April.
Rates range from €525 to €1,523 ($550 to $1,595) per night during the low seasons (April 1 through May 5 and September 30 through November 6) and from €618 to €1,716 ($647 to $1,798) per night during the high season (May 6 through September 29).
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