Villa d’Este

Lake Como, Italy.

The legendary Villa d’Este is more than just a majestic hotel; it is an architectural masterpiece and an institution. The Villa and its gardens are rich in history and art and have long held the world’s most sophisticated travelers in their thrall. A favorite of royalty and connoisseurs, Villa d’Este has a near-legendary status. Originally built in 1568 as the summer residence for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, Villa d’Este sits on one of the most romantic lakes, Lake Como, amidst 25 acres of magnificent and much celebrated gardens.

The building is richly decorated with frescoes, reliefs and internal fountains. With a little imagination, you could almost feel the presence of Franz Liszt, who composed the ‘Jeux d’Eaux à la Villa d’Este’ while staying there as a guest of the Cardinal of Hohenzollern. Liszt is one of many distinguished artists and writers who have visited and worked at the villa and immortalised it in music, art and poetry: Hubert Robert and Fragonard, Montaigne and De Brosse, Federico Zuccaro, Livio Agresti and Girolaio Luchiano, to name just a few.

Much has been written about the beauty of the gardens, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tree-lined terraces and individually named show-stopping fountains are perhaps one of the most striking features of this estate.

Villa d’Este has 152 guest rooms, located both in the Cardinal Building and in the Queen’s Pavilion, which was built in 1856 in honor of Princess Caroline of Brunswick who was, for a time, Queen of England. Double rooms and suites are elegant, comfortable and each is unique in size and interior design. Although furnished with antiques, all rooms have the most up-to-date modern facilities, including air-conditioning, marble bathroom, Jacuzzi, minibar, satellite TV and high-speed internet connection. Should you choose to arrive via helicopter, the villa has its own helipad for guests.

In addition, two private villas stand on the grounds of Villa d’Este. Villa Cima was built in 1814 and boasts stunning views, 7,000 square feet of spacious rooms over three floors, and luxurious décor. Villa Malakoff was built in 1860 and stands on a small hill within the grounds of the Villa d’Este. This warm and informal house offers discretion and privacy, yet provides all the amenities and creature comforts guests require.

While located in the center of Tivoli and within reach of a handful of great restaurants, you could forego ever leaving the estate, as there are five eateries on the grounds of the hotel. The most formal, for which proper attire is required, is the elegant Veranda, overlooking the lake and gardens. Hand-made fresh pasta, risotto and fish are the house specialties. This is also the location of the famed breakfast buffet, a feast so magnificent and a true highlight of the trip.

The Grill offers regional cuisine. It is open from April to October, for dinner only, and is closed on Mondays. Smart casual attire is appropriate. The Non Solo Pasta is an informal, cozy restaurant with a charming ambiance, offering an Italian buffet of hors d’oeuvres, a variety of pasta dishes and a selection of desserts. It is open from June to September, for dinner only, and is closed on Sundays. Outdoor dining overlooking the lake is an option at all restaurants. The Pool Bar offers a range of light meals, salads and snacks at lunch time, as well as cocktails and drinks throughout the day. The Canova Bar serves snacks and drinks inside or outside on the terrace overlooking the lake with an evening piano bar until midnight. On the weekends there is live music.

The Villa d’Este sporting club caters to all tastes. There is a unique outdoor swimming pool floating on the lake, an outdoor children’s swimming pool, an indoor swimming pool and facilities for wind-surfing, sailing, canoeing and water skiing. Be sure to take a kayak out on Lake Como for a stunning view of Villa d’Este from the water.

The Villa has eight tennis courts (six in clay), a squash court, and a health club with steam bath, sauna and massage. The sybaritic Spa offers a soothing atmosphere and a variety of massages. The Spa also offers personalized treatments using the Villa d’Este products, which can be purchased at the Spa boutique.

During my time at Villa d’Este, I was able to have tea and a chat with long-time manager, Anna Maria Duvia, where we discussed the philosophy behind this marquee establishment.

BB: The philosophy surrounding Villa d’Este appears to rely heavily on privacy and comfort. How do you continue to achieve this?

AM: As our president has said, the hotel has to be a way of life itself, and today we retain the discrete and demure of a private patrician villa where our guests feel treasured in the old-fashioned way. The privacy is easy to attain as soon as you enter the gates of Villa d’Este, as you are really entering a small village.

BB: It is apparent that many of your guests have been here before and consistently return. Where do you think this loyalty comes from?

AM: We have many regular guests, some who spend the entire summer here. I am now even seeing even the third generation of those guests. An important factor that separates Villa d’Este from other luxury hotels is the staff. Many of our guests report to us how much they enjoy them. Much of our staff has been with us for 20, 30 years, so it is like a big family here.