Luxury on Lake Como – Villa d’Este
Trip Over to Lake Como
During our 3 weeks staying in Como the weather was generally perfect – cool, crisp, sunny spring days, but even on the couple of rainy days it was still perfect and didn’t stop us from getting out and about. The rain was never the umbrella type while we were outside – just the hat and coat variety.
It had been suggested to us that it is not possible to walk around the gardens at Villa d’Este unless we were staying there, that set the day’s challenge for us……. There were low, but non-threatening clouds over Como as the ferry pulled away from the wharf heading for Cernobbio (Pronounced:- Churn-ob-yo) just 2 stops away. The ferry passes another monument to Alessandro Volta, the local lad who invented the battery a few hundred years ago, unveiled in August 2015, this steel sculpture called Life Electric:-
“Inspired by the electric tension between two poles of a battery, the great gift from Volta to the humanity” – Daniel Libeskind from the Life Electric Project.
The sculpture takes on a life of its own in the variety of lighting conditions over the lake, sometimes almost blending into the lake, other times in stark contrast. Some local residents had signed a petition to stop this sculpture being placed in the lake, but now it is there with no sign of any animosity towards it, and it provides a good vantage point to walk out to with seating under the art work, giving a different view of Como and the surrounding area.
Villa Erba can be seen from the ferry as it approaches Cernobbio wharf, one of the many Villas in Cernobbia, groups can book tours here. Most of the villas are either private, or can be booked for events. But our mission was to visit Villa D’Este with its opulent gardens and hotel.
Within a few minutes our ferry had arrived at Cernobbio Wharf and as the ferry pulled up the last of the morning market was being packed away, suddenly we were the only people left on the streets. The drizzly, misty rain and cold must have kept everyone inside for an early lunch made from the produce they had just bought from the market. Undaunted, we continued on towards our challenge………..
The gardens in the villas were all very impressive, and even without land for gardening, hanging gardens add a creative touch to a house just up the road from the Cernobbio ferry wharf.
Up at Via Regina, the main road through Cernobbio around the west side of Lake Como, a side street, Via Monte Grappa, heads through the arch way before winding its way up into the hills. I love the way the Italians don’t knock down their history to make roads, they work with it. Parking is never a problem for these tiny Italian cars, there is always room to park your Fiat or Smart car no matter how small the space. If the car fits, park it!
After turning right at Via Regina and wandering up the road looking at various restaurants, reading menus (all sounding delicious) and trying to decide which one to have lunch in, and doing a bit of window shopping as the shops were all closed for the very civilised Italian long lunch break, we reached the next bend in the road and there were the gates to Villa d’Este. The plan to have lunch somewhere before going to explore the gardens went out the window as we hadn’t realised how close it was.
As we went striding purposefully in through the entrance gates to Villa d’Este the man in the gate office came out see what we wanted, quick as a flash Christine said, “We’re having lunch at the Veranda.” (I decided the terribly elegant couple in the photo of the main gates must be staying there as they weren’t stopped). He welcomed us to Villa D’Este and wished us “Buon appetito”. That was the lunch decision made………..we were in, mission accomplished!!
Prior to 1873 Villa d’Este was a private residence with a very interesting history involving nuns, a ballerina, a Russian Czarina and British royalty, although not all at the same time. Click here to read the history of the Villa.
Following the path lined with beautifully manicured flower beds, not a petal out of place, passing Villa Cima, a lakeside private, almost Tudor looking, villa on the estate built in 1814 by the Princess of Wales to accommodate Count and Countess Pino, the former owners of the estate, after she had convinced them to sell the estate to her (it was the least she could do). It is now one of the villas hotel guests can book to stay in.
Hundreds of immaculate hydrangeas line the interior of the restaurant, and yes, they are real, I checked!!
In summer the glass windows surrounding the Veranda can be lowered down into the ground so you really are sitting out on the veranda, and more tables spill out on to the terrace closer to the lakes edge.
Lunch was exquisite, we shared many dishes so we could taste as much as possible and were waited on hand and foot as there were almost as many staff in the Veranda as there were guests. I suspect though, even if every table was full, we would still be waited on impeccably. There was someone to take our coats, a sommelier to choose our wine, then the waiter recommended we share a Salmon and Strawberry entree, we then shared Duck Cannelloni and Ameriticiana Tortoli, all served up by the waiter at the table so we didn’t have chop and transfer half making a huge mess ourselves. Then the maitre d’ flambed our Crepe Suzette at the table – this was followed by the smoothest espresso coffee I have ever had – with a hint of chocolate.
Having eaten more than enough food to give us the energy to explore the gardens, and fortunately the rain had stopped, but it was still overcast, we set off into the gardens. There are a number of restaurants and bars at Villa D’Este, we walked passed the Terrace Bar that I’m sure in summer is full of sun kissed guests enjoying an Aperol Spritz overlooking the swimming pool that floats in the lake. Next to the Veranda Restaurant you can look up through the marble gardens, up the long path that leads to the statue of Hercules hurling poor Lica into the waters below. From here you can walk over to the back of the Villa d’Este gardens to the remains of Donna Vittoria’s towers and fortifications from the early 1800s, a bygone era in the life of the estate.
The Queen’s Pavilion was added to the estate in the late 1800s with steps going down to the lake and the underpass to bring boats in if the water gets too choppy for passengers to safely disembark………After bringing the boat into the protected water under the Queen’s Pavilion passengers could walk up the steps to the estate and the boat could be kept in one of the boat parking bays underneath.
In summer Cernobbio becomes a vibrant lakeside village, with many bars and restaurants open, but not on the grey day in early spring when we visited. We were not disappointed though, far from it, and we completed the challenge – we explored the gardens at Villa d’Este without staying in the hotel. I’m not sure if it was cheating that we were forced to have lunch there to get in through the gates, but if that’s cheating, I’m all for it…………
Itinerary for Trip Over to Italy – Milan, Como and Venice
Qantas flight (Emirates code share) to Milan (Malpensa) from Sydney via Dubai
Stayed in Milan, Airbnb, for a week before going to Como
Picked up in Milan by Como Limousines and driven to Como
Stayed in Como, Airbnb, for 3 weeks
Picked up in Como by Como Limousines and driven to Venice
In Venice, water taxi to Al Ponte Antico Hotel for 3 nights and water taxi back
Picked up in Venice by Como Limousines and driven back to Como
Picked up in Como by Como Limousines and driven back to Milan (Malpensa) Airport
Qantas flight (Emirates code share) to Sydney via Dubai