For a taste of Lombardy’s dolce vita, head to tranquil hotel Relais Villa Vittoria on the sleepy shores of Lake Como. Take in the sweeping mountain-and-lake views from the infinity pool, or dip a toe in lakeside larks a stone’s skip away from Como’s hustle and bustle.
11.30am. Earliest check-in 3pm, but both are flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from £124.39 (€140), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include a buffet breakfast of juices, jams, honey and pastries, as well as a selection of meats, cheeses, bacon and eggs.
The hotel operates as a bed and breakfast from 1 December to Easter; during this time the spa will operate on a limited evening schedule, the restaurant will be closed and Italian-style breakfasts will be available each morning.
From 4 to 30 November 2018; the hotel operates as a bed and breakfast from December to Easter.
At the hotel
Spa, garden with direct access to the lake, kayaks and bikes to borrow, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, radio, air-conditioning, minibar.
Our favourite rooms
A room with a view is a must: with their own balcony, a separate sitting room and a working fireplace, the Lake View Suites are spacious and cosy. The smaller Romantic Lake View rooms at the back of the villa are just as nice, with sweeping vistas of the lake and surrounding hills; in the morning throw open their French doors for breakfast on the balcony.
In the hotel’s mulberry garden, the unheated outdoor infinity pool is just steps from the blue-green waters of Lake Como.
The hotel’s small spa area has views of the lake with a Jacuzzi for up to six people, a chill-out area with sunbeds, a colour therapy shower, a small midnight-blue hammam, and a treatment room for hot stone massages or balancing facials. From 1 December to Easter, the spa is open for massages and pampering treatments (book in advance) between 5pm and 7.30pm.
Pedal pushers for leisurely bike rides along the shoreline; binoculars for celeb-spotting on the lake.
Relais Villa Victoria can help arrange boat hire with a company across the lake, including pick-up from the hotel's pier; ask for a picnic hamper to sample at your next mooring point.
The hotel is more suited to grown-ups, but cots and extra beds are free for the under-eights; for older children extra beds cost €50 a night.
With a backdrop of glittering lights on the opposite shore, the candlelit linen-clad tables on the terrace overlooking the lake are particularly atmospheric on a clear night.
Villa Vittoria is very relaxed – pack some casual basics as well as more stylish togs to blend in with the Lake Como crowd.
La Barrique serves simple Italian food such as baked Tomino cheese or crispy leek risotto on the terrace; breakfast and lunch can also be enjoyed in the gardens, beneath the jasmine-scented gazebo. If the weather’s not up to it, guests can take refuge in the small restaurant built into the rock beneath the hotel.
There is no bar at the hotel, but drinks can be enjoyed by the grand piano in one of the lounge's deep sofas, on the terrace or in the gardens, where guests can sink into the wicker chairs shaded by a jasmine gazebo.
Breakfast is served from 8.30am to 10.30am, lunch from noon to 2.30pm, and dinner from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
A light lunch and dinner menu, as well as breakfast, can be ordered in-room from 8:30am to 10pm.
In the quiet village of Laglio on the western bank of Lake Como, Relais Villa Vittoria is a 20-minute drive from central Como.
The nearest airport is Milan Malpensa, an hour’s drive away, with good links to Europe and beyond. Milan Linate, a good alternative for domestic and international flights, is over an hour’s drive away, as is Bergamo airport for budget connections to the UK and Europe.
Como San Giovanni station is a 20-minute drive away, with regular links to Milan and further afield. The Malpensa Express runs from the airport to Como Lago station, but you’ll need to transfer in Saronno.
The hotel is in a quiet, peaceful location away from Como’s better-trodden tourist paths, so it’s best to hire a car to explore the surrounding area. From Milan or Malpensa Airport, Villa Vittoria is easily reached via the A9 highway to Como Laghi. Exit At Como Nord; past Bennet supermarket on the left, take the SS 340 towards Menaggio. At the crossroads after Moltrasio and Carate Urio, turn right towards Laglio along the Vecchia Regina road. The hotel is on the left before you reach the shops and restaurants – look for the red building marked Vecchia Strada Regina Teodolinda, the hotel is at number 62. If hiring a car, opt for a small one: the hotel has two free parking spaces outside but the space is tight. There’s also parking further down the hill, a five-minute walk away.
Worth getting out of bed for
It’s no surprise that Laglio is home to Lake Como’s most famous resident (Clooney’s Villa Oleandra is just up the road): it has a tranquil, off-the-beaten-path feel that belies hotel Relais Villa Vittoria’s proximity to Como’s hustle and bustle. Borrow a bike, hop on a boat or hire a cabriolet to tour the baroque villas, romantic trattorias and galleries dotted through this genteel corner of Lombardy – oversized movie-star sunnies optional.
A jaunt on the lake is a must on any Como visit. Hire a gleaming mahogany wood Riva boat from Matteri Yacht club (+39 0319 14456) for a glamorous high-speed caper. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, make like the locals and hop on one of the ferries criss-crossing the lake instead (www.navigazionelaghi.it). The Alps-meets-lake views from Brunate are worth the seven-minute journey on the steep funicular from Como (+39 0313 03608). A 20-minute drive from Laglio, baroque Villa Carlotta holds concerts and exhibitions on its sprawling azalea-hedged grounds.
It’s worth the 20-minute drive up a narrow winding road to Cernobbio’s Il Gato Nero (+39 0315 12042), a romantic trattoria with spectacular views that is rumoured to be one of George Clooney’s favourites. For fish straight from the lake, head to Crotto dei Platani (+39 0318 14038), a picturesque restaurant with a terrace perched over the water. It’s hard to find a prettier lakeside terrace for an alfresco dinner than Trattoria del Glicine’s (+39 0315 11332): settle at one of the tables sheltered by heavy garlands of wisteria to sample plates piled high with fried artichokes or zucchini flowers (and the 1,000-bottles-strong wine list, of course).
If you’re headed up the funicular to Brunate, family-run Trattoria del Cacciatore (+39 0312 20012) is a great pit-stop for lunch under the wisteria. Expect simple and very reasonable home-cooked food – the polenta is a specialty. Pane & Tulipani (+39 031 264242) in central Como specialises in carpaccio and local wines – make sure you keep some room for a slice of scrumptious cake from the glass-domed selection.
Many bars on Lake Como are within restaurants and hotels, so look out for them when exploring the area. Ask a friendly local to help you find Cantina Follie (+39 0344 42311), a tiny gem of a bar tucked under stone arches in Tremezzo. Book ahead to enjoy the genial hosts’ wine tastings and platters of antipasti at one of the barrel-top tables, or just turn up and try your luck for a spot at the large communal table.
I don’t trust Mr Smith. He’s standing quite still in the slow-moving ballet of Milan arrivals, brandishing a comedy ‘Mrs Smith’ sign, his newly trimmed beard framing a smirk. He is wearing a suit. This in itself is suspicious: when we first met he’d emerged, bare-legged and scruffy, from a muddy pond in France, part Mr Darcy and part swamp creature. No, I don’t trust this devilishly spruced-up Mr Smith, and with good reason: we’re spending the weekend in Como, there’s a twinkle in his eye, and he’s promised to throw me in the lake.
Where to start with Lake Como? Around us, autumn is creeping in. Bright red vines cling to sheer cliffs; water springs between candy-coloured houses, looking decidedly more fredda than calda. The road twists and winds around the shores, giving us tantalising glimpses of a thin stretch of water cradled by hulking snow-capped mountains. ‘There’s the lake!’ I cry, pointlessly, but Mr Smith is too busy scraping down cobbled one-way streets to marvel at its silky emerald surface, or the way it sparkles in the midday sun.
Relais Villa Vittoria, a pretty summer mansion of salmon-pink walls and mulberry gardens, sits on a small Laglio lane right above the water. Blink and you’d miss it, so discreet its entrance and hushed its grounds. We’re promptly ushered upstairs, past inviting sofas and a baby grand, and shown to our room, a sweet dove-grey nest kitted out with plump pillows and a cosy day-bed. French windows lead onto a small balcony; outside, there’s a dinky table, a pair of chairs and the sort of glorious, tranquil view that makes you cry ‘There’s the lake!’ pointlessly. There’s a trace of anxiety in the receptionist’s voice as she shows us the bathroom – it’s not cutting-edge in style but the huge tub is fitted with Jacuzzi jets and a power shower straight out of a muscle-pummeling Alpine health clinic. I’m sold.
Once alone, we do as long-distance lovers do: we jostle for hangers in the spacious wardrobe, bicker over which side of the enormous cloud-like bed we’re going to sleep on, and raid the minibar for mini-priced mini-bottles of prosecco. Mr Smith, who is treacherous and manipulative, unearths a box of Marcolini macarons from the depths of his holdall. We sit on the balcony, biting into the pastel-coloured dainties and smiling beatifically at everything: the hills turning golden in the afternoon sun, buoys bobbing gently on the water, speedboats zooming past. ‘Later, we should walk down to the lake’, mutters Mr Smith, twirling his moustache, and so giddy on ganache and bubbly am I that I readily agree.
‘Il Signore del Gorgonzola’, says the sign at the deli counter, next to a large slab of something creamy. Dusk creeps in as we visit this small cupboard of a corner shop to stock up on local wines (sharp and tart) and crisps (herbed and moreish). It’s fair to say there there’s little else in Laglio, save a few trattorias and Clooney’s villa somewhere down the road. Outside, Mr Smith scoops me up in his arms, twirling me around to silent music, dangerously close to the lake’s edge. Slosh, slosh, slosh, goes the water below us, but it’s just a man bailing his boat out with a bucket. I quickly suggest we head back to the hotel for dinner before Mr Smith – my very own Lord of Cheese – gets any ideas. In good weather, meals are served alfresco on a pretty terrace, and the air, we’re told, is heady with jasmine blossom. But this is October, and so we take refuge in the romantic nook of cosy tables and fairy lights carved in the stone below the villa. Antipasto, primo, secondo: the plates keep coming, laden with bresaola, melt-in-the-mouth goose prosciutto, baked tomino and speck-laced gnocchi. I marvel at Mr Smith’s beef fillet, he attacks my escalope; by the time the dolce appears, we have more or less given up, and waddle back upstairs to our room.
In the morning, mist hangs low on the water. Staying on Lake Como, I’ve decided, is all about those views, so I shake Mr Smith awake and we stand on the balcony, watching the fog creep down from the mountains, our skin prickling with goosebumps in the cold air. We feast on warm croissants and eggs and bacon, then do (we are creatures of habit) as long-distance lovers do: we fall back asleep to the sounds of thunder rolling over the lake. Waking to crisp blue skies, we head to the town of Como, getting into the Italian spirit of things by driving up bus lanes and getting lost in markets stocked with puffa jackets and many, many shoes. (It is autumn.) Once we find our bearings, we wander through the old town, past its green-roofed cathedral and enticing pasticcerias. It’s hard to get away from the lake: after restorative cappuccino and cannoli we stroll to the water’s edge, where enormous swans float imperiously in the shallows. Mr Smith looms menacingly behind me, camera in hand, but I distract him by hopping on to the quaint funicular ambling up and down the steep slope. In Brunate, at the top of the hill, there are lavish houses locked up for the winter, and views to the plains of Lombardy and the majestic Alps beyond. The air smells of pine and when we kiss, our breaths fog in the crisp air.
The next morning, we pack our bags and walk through the gardens, one last time, to Lake Como. It’s easy to imagine Relais Villa Vittoria in the summer: long idle sun-drenched afternoons of book-thumbing by the infinity pool, a splash in the blue-green waters, perhaps, and evenings of wafting from wisteria-clad trattorias to hole-in-the-wall wine cellars. We stop by the steps leading straight down to the water. I scoop up Mr Smith in my arms; ahead of us, there’s the slow torturous drive back to Malpensa, and then our sad separate flights home. I smile, devilishly: we’ll come back soon, when the livin’ is easy and the cotton is high.
And when we do, I’m going to throw him in the lake.