Etched into steep cliffs on the quieter side of the lake, and combining architectural, design and culinary excellence with a relaxed ambience, Villa Lario has it all. Unlike its stuffier and more expensive rivals, Villa Lario offers the Italian Lake Como dream at an achievable price with a few surprises up its sleeve, too, writes Holly Rubenstein.
Villa Lario, Lake Como – Hotel Review
Located in the picturesque village of Pognano on the quieter eastern side of the most famous section of Lake Como, Villa Lario is breathing new life into the local hotel scene. The principles of simplicity, modernity and invention permeate the design, food and drink; a stark contrast to Como’s blueprint of opulence and tradition.
The 18-room, all-suite Villa Lario hotel also offers two very different experiences. Typically in Lake Como, you’re either lakeside peering over the water, or perched high up the cliffside looking down on the lake. Here, you have the luxury of both options. By the lakeside, and enveloped in two acres of lush gardens, is the recently-restored, 19th century Palazzo, which is home to the bar and half of the suites. The sound of water lapping against the shore provides the perfect soundtrack to a deep sleep – combined with the privacy Villa Lario affords and the lack of TVs in any room, the sense of quiet is truly palpable.
Guests can then take the outdoor lift up the sheer cliff face to Villa Bianca, housing the rest of the suites, all with gasp-inducing, far-stretching lake views, as well as the restaurant, terrace and infinity pool.
Suites blend minimalism with monochrome design – highly unusual for Como – with a palette of white, grey and black tones. All have kitchenettes and a selection have balconies which, being on the ‘sunny’ side of the lake, allows guests to soak up the sun setting over the cliffs across the water.
A stay in Lake Como is not complete without a trip or two on the water. Here, there are two options at complete opposite ends of the cost spectrum. A five minute stroll along the lakeside pathway outside the hotel will bring you to Pognana, a small village with a ferry terminal that, for a few Euros, can transport you up and down the lake. Alternatively, opt for a lake tour on Villa Lario’s wooden boat – complete with a luxury picnic, departing from the much-photographed private jetty – or one of the various tours offered by local providers. The hotel also offers water sports and water taxis.
The less-visited east coast of the lake has a few fabulous towns to visit. Don’t miss Torno, a real hidden gem with a stunning harbour and fantastic cafes and restaurants. Or Nesso, a picturesque and charming lakeside village, famous for its magnificent waterfall and Nesso Gorge, locally known as Orrido di Nesso – probably one of the best natural wonders that you can find around the lake. Both are less than a 10 minute’s drive away.
The other main attraction on this side of the lake is glitzy Bellagio, famous worldwide for its beautiful villas overlooking the water. It’s a 30 minute drive from Villa Lario, hugging the lake’s edge with some serious hairpin bends. I’d suggest opting for a taxi, not just to avoid the speedy local drivers, but to give yourself the freedom to have a drink or two in the array of atmospheric lakeside cafes and bars. Be sure to take time to wander the narrow alleys mixed with designer shops, local artisans and traditional restaurants – a fantastic spot to people watch.
Villa Lario’s restaurant is fast-growing a well-deserved reputation for its exceptional food and drink. Despite the wonderful produce that the Lombardy region provides, most Lake Como hotels offer similar menus with a few classic dishes ever-present. But there’s nothing like local, youthful exuberance to break the status quo: Head Chef Alex Visconti, a Como local and incredibly just 28 years old, offers an inventive menu built around five seasonal local ingredients, where each dish heroes at least one. During our stay, the five ingredients were aubergine, basil, tomatoes, provolone cheese, and red onion, with the standout highlight a delectable lemon spaghetti with spicy provolone cheese, fermented lime and basil dust.
With unobstructed, 180-degree panoramic views of the lake from the restaurant terrace, and floor-to-ceiling windows from the restaurant inside, this has to be one of the most memorable spots to eat on the Lake. After dinner, descend down to the majestic surroundings of the Palazzo, where the small bar punches well above its weight. A vast array of drinks are on offer from local, small production wines to a great selection of cocktails. We opted for a Negroni, only to be offered the barman’s own take, complete with his own home grown wild fennel Vermouth.
The culinary delights continue into the morning, with freshly-squeezed juices and smoothies, overflowing baskets of freshly baked pastries, and a range of light and hearty hot dishes on the menu, cooked to order.
THE FINAL WORD
If the Lake Como ‘scene; is what you’re looking for, Villa Lario is not for you – head to the grand dame hotels, instead. But if you’re keen to soak up the lake’s natural beauty, sample exceptional food and drink, relax in full privacy and quiet, and enjoy comfortable, design-led surroundings and suites, then Villa Lario will deliver la dolce vita and then some.
Suites start from €490 per night including breakfast. villalario.com