It might look timeless, but there's a new hotel on Lake Como that's vibrant and fun without compromising on world-class service, finds Rosie Paterson.
There was no designer involved, says Delia Facchini, PR director, when I ask who is responsible for the interior decoration at Passalacqua, the latest hotel to dig its heels into the sand on the shores of Lake Como. Perhaps that’s why it feels so special, so different I wonder. The bouquet of hand-cut flowers, handed to me upon arrival, had already left me feeling giddy.
But what else would you expect from the hotel recently voted the best in the world? When I visited, Passalacqua hadn’t yet been awarded that accolade. But it has now — and I’m not a little bit surprised.
The question of design is another great example of the attention to details here. Passalacqua’s owners, the de Santis family — famed for breathing life into Grand Hotel Tremezzo — took on the burden of making every painstaking interior choice, from the silks that would cover the chests at the end of each bed, cleverly concealing TVs, to the hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers that, if you look closely, are covered in tiny candy pink glass flowers.
Not that there wasn’t any external help brought in, but it was very selective indeed. An example of one of the few people outside of the family permitted to exert any influence over the proceedings? J J Martin, the founder and designer of exuberant women’s clothing brand La Double J.
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Sig. Martin was invited to bring her riot of colour, pattern and print — typically restricted to the label’s silk trousers and feather-trimmed slippers — to one of the hotel’s many terraces: the swimming pool terrace. The moss green umbrellas clustered around the pool’s raised lip are lined in a red and pink kitsch floral print and, in the 200-year-old greenhouse restaurant (order the simple spaghetti with tomato and goat’s cheese), the cushions are covered in Passalacqua’s own fish motif fabric.
This is a hotel that Como’s seasoned summer crowds flock to; the ones who have already ticked off the Lake’s myriad Grande Dame properties and now want something a bit more personal, a bit more fun — without having to sacrifice on style or service.
Where else are you likely to find an elegant pick n’ mix bar next to the check-in desk, or bright orange cushions genially scattered on stone steps leading down to the gardens, or a breakfast buffet laid out like a harvest festival in one of the old kitchens? The stripy, cupola-shaped awnings crowning outdoor tables, are faintly reminiscent of hot air balloons.
The villa was built in the late 18th century by Count Andrea Lucini Passalacqua and it’s his coat of arms — three lake fish — that pops up here and there, including on the cushions and carved into stone above one of the fireplaces.
It watches over Moltrasio, a small port and town on the Lake’s south-western edge, dissected by a fast-flowing tributary and is, in turn, itself watched over by the 11th century Church of Sant’Agata.
There are 12 suites inside the central shuttered building; and a further 12 spread between the stables to the Villa’s rear and a 1970’s built house down by the water’s edge (these four can be taken on an exclusive use basis). The grandest is the Bellini suite, once a music room where the operatic maestro of the same name composed.
Once-upon-a-time, the Count would’ve entertained staying guests with a roster of activities, something that the de Santis family have decided to emulate and so, there is wine tasting, cooking classes and a spa. It is, however, just as easy to do nothing; to wile away the day reading next to the pool, or watch the Lake turn through every shade of black and blue as the sun passes overhead.
While you’re there
- Join a gelato-making class in the hotel kitchen with Laura — who also happens to own and run a gelateria in Moltrasio (Le Giuggiole, her grandmother’s nickname)
- Embark on a guided tour of Lake Como on one of Passalacqua’s two wooden launches. You’ll cruise by mediaeval villages, former silk factories now gasping for breath under layers of ivy and Villa Balbianello — the backdrop for films such as Casino Royale
- Visit Como’s Gothic Duomo, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. The town — on the Lake’s southern tip — is a 20-minute drive away
- Lake Como is famed for its gardens, especially on the central western shores which benefits from an especially mild climate. Villa Carlotta and Villa Serbelloni are both worth a visit
Follow Rosie Paterson on Instagram @rosielkpaterson