It had been one of those frantic pre-holiday dashes: Mr Smith lost his phone in the park, our lumbering but lovable Frenchie tumbled into the pond, the house resembled student digs and my pregnancy hormones were raging – our home was hardly a welcoming nest for a incoming newborn. A weekend away was clearly in order. In fact, that strange and cunning word ‘babymoon’ was about to be exploited.
‘It’s very peaceful, isn’t it?’ Mr Smith observed as we drove along Lake Como. ‘Rather quaint and sleepy…’ he said, as a lone sea plane cut through the lake, a reminder that although Como may have all the charm of a sleepy lakeside bolt-hole, the Clooneys and their ilk are also in town.
An hour’s drive from Milan Malpensa in our Fiat Panda led us to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, perched on the side of Lake Como. And grand it is, restored to its 1910 splendour. At reception we were met by a parade of towering rose stems submerged in vast vases, lavish candelabras and a swell of red-velvet loveseats. I shrieked with pregnant delight as I spied the table of pick ‘n’ mix canapés – a friendly touch to replenish the low blood sugar.
The hotel is owned and run by a Como family who are still very involved in everything from the silverware to the constant refreshing of the flowers. The hotel was one of Lake Como’s first five-star hotels and back in 1910 was regarded as extremely avant-garde, especially the elevator leading from the road to the first-floor reception. With only 90 rooms, and a 200-guest capacity, the hotel has a warm and cosy feel, despite its grandeur. We opted for a deluxe lake-view room and it didn’t disappoint. The bed facing the French windows and cast-iron balcony offered a glorious view of the lake speckled with dancing images of terracotta homes reflected in the water, and lush green hillsides capped off with snow.
In the marbled and gilded bathroom, however, was the unwelcome sight of scales. But this was not a weekend for fretting about carbs. No, this was a weekend for babymoon extravagance, so before paying a lengthy visit to the T Spa for an Espa pregnancy massage and facial, Mr Smith and I tried out the indoor infinity pool. The Espa massage and facial were performed with the utmost love and care, perfect for my tired legs, and they somehow restored a glow to my early-morning-flight face.
For dinner, we opted for the tasting menu in the hotel’s main restaurant La Terrazza, masterminded by the first chef to bring a Michelin star to Italy, 86-year old Gualtiero Marchesi. The curried chicken and mashed potato amuse bouche was a rather eccentric start, but was certainly tasty.
The lake’s outstanding villas and gardens are a popular attraction so on an overcast Saturday, we explored Villa Balbianello. A 25-minute panoramic walk (or a five euro water taxi) from the quaint town of Lenno gets you to the spectacular 1500s villa, where Casino Royale was shot. The bookshop stocks the local olive oil which is well worth buying, if only for its gorgeous bottle (but you can get it cheaper in the wine shop right by Grand Tremezzo).
We’d heard a lot about the rival hotel Villa d’Este, so we headed there for a palatial sun-downer (the Italians implore a pregnant woman to drink as ‘it’s good for the baby’). It is indeed beautiful. Right on the lake, the old palace is in its own little bay, a haven of seclusion and peace. It’s a perfect place to gaze at Como’s glamour pusses as they try to board their private boats in the highest of heels, glass in hand, Saturday-night gowns skin tight.
While I currently can offer no real insight to Como’s wineries and vineyards, over the months I have mastered the art as a gelato connoisseur. Italians love gelato, especially when the sun’s out. Try La Fabbrica del Gelato in Lenno if you visit Villa Balbianello or Il Pistacchietto in Cernobbio.
Sunday morning, we awoke to the Tremezzo church bells ringing out. With a brilliant blue sky above, we decided to savour our last day lounging by the T garden pool, one of the three Grand Tremezzo pools – the prettiest and most recently refurbished. At 11.30am, a refreshing frozen shot of apple, cucumber, spinach and ginger was offered around – delicious.
Our favourite afternoon meal was spent at the family restaurant, Locanda La Tirlindana. Down the cobbled steps of Cala Comacina, you enter the mediaeval square of Piazza Matteotti and Chef Patricia’s delightful restaurant, set directly on the water’s edge. Here, Italian families chat away over fritto misto di mare, dopey dogs chase the ducks into the lake and kids run along the restaurant’s jetty dressed as sailors. This was the local heart of Lake Como and we seemed to be the only non Italians; it felt as if we had been let into the secret. I recommend the signature ravioli with mascarpone and lemon; and then take the ferry from the restaurant to Lake Como’s only island, Isola Comacina, and wander around San Giovanni church, artists’ houses and Roman ruins.
It was the Fiat Panda that brought us back to reality later that afternoon as we drove past the yellow Lamborghinis spiriting our fellow weekend guests away while we headed for the airport. We left with the lingering scent of old-fashioned luxury and sights and sounds that we’ll treasure forever.
This review was first published in 2018 so some hotel details may have changed.
Jessie Ware is an acclaimed singer, a beloved podcaster (with mum, Lennie, on Table Manners), and now – in the form of the celebrated Omelette – a published author. She is playing live across Europe and the UK this summer.