Editors' Picks

Villa d’Este

Italian grandeur, lakefront legend, palatial

Via Regina 40., CERNOBBIO 22012


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Indagare Adored

At a Glance

Few places can make visitors feel both immediately at home and entirely intoxicated upon arrival, as if they have stepped into a storybook. Villa d’Este is the stuff of such fables, deservedly: it was the first summer palace built on the shores of Lake Como (in the 16th century), and it is now one of Europe’s most luxurious waterfront playgrounds. Guests can stroll its promenades and see 100 magnificent Baroque fountains or ogle the estates along the lakeshore. Split between two buildings, the 152 rooms are furnished in Renaissance style, with silk brocade drapes and oil paintings galore. There are also tennis and squash courts and a scenic (and steep) running path, weaving through 18th-century fortresses and towers. Dinner at the main Veranda restaurant is a jacket-and-tie affair, but it is decidedly less formal by the overwater pool—which is the place to be by day, with gelato or *A Farewell to Arms*in hand, if you’re not out on the lake.

**The Standout:** The 25 acres of novel-worthy gardens and grounds, including a pool that floats on the lake **Don’t Miss:** A private boat ride to see lake life from the water

Indagare Loves

  • The Queen’s Pavilion—private and with its own concierge
  • Aperitivo hour on the lakefront terrazza, followed by dinner with live music overlooking the gardens (dressing up is encouraged).
  • The four sumptuous private villas, for the ultimate Como retreat


Set on the shores of Lake Como, with 25 acres of manicured gardens to the back and cross-water views of the pre-Alps and mansions to the front, Villa d’Este is an overwhelmingly beautiful estate fit for royalty—as well as a place to return to time and again.

The first summer palace to be constructed on Lake Como, the Renaissance estate was built for the Cardinal of Como in the 16th century. In the years following his death, the villa fell into disrepair and passed among several owners until the Milanese Calderari family assumed ownership (the fortresses in the hotel’s garden are leftover from this time, when the family matriarch had them constructed so that her husband, a Napoleonic general, would not suffer from war nostalgia). The last private owner was Caroline of Brunswick, who moved to the waterfront home during a tumultuous time in her marriage to King George IV. She named the property Villa d’Este, which stuck when it was turned into a luxury hotel in 1873.

Nowadays, Villa d’Este, located on the southwestern edge of Lake Como, is the region’s uncontested grande dame property. Beloved by Italians and foreigners alike for its excellent service, divine views and sumptuous accommodations, the hotel is synonymous with old-world glamour. Accommodations are split between two main buildings, the Cardinal building (where reception and the restaurants are located) and the Queen’s Pavilion, which offers guests more focused attention as it is significantly smaller and has its own concierge.

Rooms are as lavishly decorated as the rest of the hotel, with silk-brocade drapes, regal oil paintings lining the walls and a rich-hued color palate of royal blues, deep reds and shimmering golds. The best rooms are undoubtedly those that feature lake views, which can be admired from over-water terraces. The hotel also has several on-property villas, including the stunning, six-bedroom Villa Garrovo, which opened comes with both a kitchen and gym.

Meals at Villa d’Este’s Veranda, with views out to lake and the gardens, are princely affairs (a jacket and tie is required for men), but the rest of the dining venues are casual, with menus to please all ages (and for the pickiest of eaters, simple homemade pasta is always available). In the summer, the more relaxed Grill and Il Platano are particular favorites among guests, thanks to their al fresco setting and lake views. The pool bar, terrace bar and Bar Canova all offer light bites throughout the day and poolside fare including caprese salads, hamburgers and club sandwiches. While guests won’t dine on-property every night, evening aperitvi on the terrace are a must. Cocktails can be enjoyed with a spread of classic Italian antipasti like olives, almonds and arancini.

Lounging at the heated floating pool and hot tub (maintained at a steady 86 degrees Fahrenheit) is the main pastime here. On cooler fall days, the lounging shifts to the terrace bar, where guests go after breakfast for cappuccinos, followed by white wine, and then Aperol spritzes. Most guests also devote a few hours to wander the grounds amid jasmine and azalea bushes. The on-property running path (more of a steep hiking trail, actually with many stone steps) weaves through the immaculate gardens and fortresses, while the fitness center offers the facilities of a country club, with tennis and squash courts, a golf simulator, an indoor pool, sauna and a well-equipped gym. There is also a spa on property and golf can be set up at any of a number of courses nearby.

Who Should Stay

Villa d’Este is one of the top properties in the region for couples and mature families looking for an epic hotel experience with a traditional aesthetic on on Lake Como

— Emma Pierce

Written by Indagare

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