villa d'este

Villa d’Este is the ultimate grand dame hotel

Why this historic palace-turned-hotel on Lake Como still stands head and shoulders above the rest

You can read all about the history of Villa d’Este while you have breakfast on the terrace, if you like. Or you can look up and see it for yourself instead. All that patrician grandeur and Renaissance prettiness and high Italian pomp! Once upon a time, there were nuns down in this corner of Lake Como. Then came cardinals, then Milanese counts, then prima ballerinas, then European princesses and British royalty, and then the jet set and the golden age movie stars, and then the Clooneys. It’s a patchy chronology, I know — but perhaps we can put that down to last night’s negronis, if you don’t mind. Two-by-two and tinkling like a baby grand, they were ferried over by white-coated waiters with good hair and enviable posture. Grazie. Prego. The younger brothers that I never had…

Down on the terrace it’s sunny and warm, but not too hot. This is because someone clever thought to put a substantial lake just next door. Then someone even cleverer decided to construct a sizeable pool in the substantial lake, which means you can engage in a sort of meta-swim just before lunch, and burn twice the calories in the process (potentially).

This nifty piece of pontoonery bobs gently as you slowly sauté on the navy blue sunbeds, and it rocks you to sleep like a French au pair or the front seat of a Volvo estate. Sometimes there are whistles from the lake, where a gleaming teak boat throngs with gleaming teak people — a Slim Aarons photo without the Instagram appropriation.

If you like, they’ll take you out with them, too, and you can look up at the grand palazzos in the hills and seriously consider a second career as a billionaire. I’m told that astronauts, looking back at earth from the vantage point of outer space, suddenly gain a new understanding of their place in the world and the beauty of our planet. Looking back at Villa d’Este from the waters of the lake has a similar effect, only with added Vilbrequins

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