When George Clooney, Richard Branson, Donatella Versace, and Madonna are snapping up vacation villas along Lake Como frequent flyers take notice. If your invitation to their housewarmings got lost in the mail don’t fret, there is an open invitation to the daffodil colored Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy.
Staying at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni
Originally built as a private home in 1852, Serbelloni was later converted to a hotel. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bucher family hosting guests including such luminaries as Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
One of the few remaining Grand Hotels in the world and the only five-star hotel in Bellagio, it’s so comfortable some guests stay for the entire season, April through October. The winter months are reserved to care for tapestries, Murano chandeliers, and Renaissance furniture.
Every room has a view of either the lake, the internationally famous purple azalea gardens, or Bellagio. This village with the nickname Pearl of the Lake is a short Instagram-worthy walk along the water with sailboats gliding past lush gardens framed by snow-capped mountains.
The waterfront overflows with outdoor cafes, with views of women in big-brimmed hats gracefully disembarking from water taxis, a dizzying array of bicycles in colorful spandex whizzing by, and children chasing pigeons. There are also tourist shops hawking silk scarves, but save your euros for the real thing.
Lake Como has been known for its fine silk ever since a royal demanded mulberry trees be planted—the only food silkworms eat. Just up the hill, past lovers sharing gelato and women crowding into shoe shops, you’ll find the real thing at Arte & Moda.
The quirky owner, Pierangelo Masciadri, is worth the climb up the stairs alone. A natural bon vivant, he loves to talk about how art inspires his scarf designs and takes credit for Bill Clinton and George Bush's presidential wins because they both wore his ties at their initial inaugurations.
As you mosey back to the hotel, genuflect at St. James Basilica in the Village Square, an 11th-century national monument. After absolution, churchgoers stop by the nearby Café Bar Sport for a sinful order of homemade gelato with a shot of espresso on top.
Wandering Beyond Bellagio on Lake Como
Beyond Bellagio, the Hotel Villa Serbelloni can arrange a water taxi to Varrena, a fishing village with stucco homes on a mountainside covered in fuchsia colored bougainvillea. After dining on fresh fish at an outdoor café, make your way to Villa Monastero. The rooms, containing original furniture from the 18th century, overlook gardens and the Lake.
Keep that water taxi for a trip to the Comacina Island. It has only one business—a restaurant—but it’s worth the trip. The menu, which has not changed in 60 years, is fresh produce and fish, farm to table before anyone knew the term. Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is run by the fearless Benvenuto Puricelli who defies an ancient curse with a fire ritual.
When it’s time for coffee, Puricelli dons a riotously colored knit hat with a fuzzy ball on top and rings a bell. Pouring brandy into a brass pot over an open fire he tells the story. In 1169 the island foolishly declared war on the mainland and the bishop cursed them. After brandy is poured into their coffee guests feel the Island brings only good luck.
If you just can’t see enough villas or gardens (and who can't) you’re in luck. Villa Barbianello is a short boat ride away. Known for its vertical terraced gardens dotted with statues the Villa also has a collection of artifacts from the last owner, Count Monzino, who led the first Italian expedition to climb Mt. Everest.
It seems the villa most female visitors want to see is the one George Clooney owns—to the chagrin of the locals. When women persist, some water taxi drivers point out a random house because they don’t want to bother their nice neighbor. I did get a drive-by but must confess it looked paltry next to Sir Richard Branson’s compound. Everyone in Bellagio seems to know George and they wonder at the fuss…he’s just the guy who pulls his fishing boat up to Villa Serbellino’s dock for lunch at Mistral, where a Michelin starred chef specializing in molecular gastronomy cooks up the actor’s fresh catch. If you want to look your best for Clooney and friends book the hotel’s personal stylist followed by a photo shoot…and you might find the paparazzi stalking you!
A funny thing happens after you’ve been in Lake Como for a few days. You adapt to the locals' way of thinking. Celebrities are nothing compared to the real star…Mother Nature. Celebs fall in and out of fashion but the allure and beauty of Lake Como never fades and when the real stars are reflected in the water you forget the name of that Clooney guy…well, almost…I’m only human after all. A stay at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como can definitely change your life.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accomodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.