Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni: The Pearl of Lake Como

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Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is one of the few remaining Grand Hotels in the world and the only five-star hotel in Bellagio, Lake Como.

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.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

The Villa Serbelloni welcomes visitors to their private dock. Photo by Ruth W. Carlson

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.

Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

Villa Serbelloni Salon. Photo courtesy Villa Serbelloni

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.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

Exteriors at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como. Photo courtesy Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni

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.

Exploring Bellagio

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.

Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

The stairs in Bellagio on Lake Como. Photo by Ruth W. Carlson

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.

Varenna near Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

Varenna on Lake Como. Photo by Ruth W Carlson

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.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake ComoGrand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

Did someone say cheese? This is how it’s served at Locanda Dell’Isola Comacina. Photo by Ruth W. Carlson

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.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

Brandy is always nice after dining, especially when it also banishes demons. The ancient curse is spirited away at Locanda dell’Isola Comacina. Photo by Ruth W. Carlson

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 I 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!

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como

George Clooney’s Villa is a popular picture on Instagram. Photo by Ruth W Carlson

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Visiting Lake Como

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.

Written by Ruth Wertzberger Carlson

Ruth Wertzberger Carlson has been writing international luxury travel articles for two decades and still has not found a better place to live than San Francisco. A native of Iowa, she has nine siblings, and loves taking visitors to explore San Francisco. Her articles have appeared in American Way, Bon Appetit, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and several anthologies.