By Jon Haggins Photos David Fasano
Lake Como is everyone’s dream destination. Whenever I think of Lake Como, I think of George Clooney, however, it’s more than that. Lake Como is blessed with the Grand Villa Serbelloni Hotel in Bellagio and the hotel sits majestically at the edge of the lake with its beautiful landscaped gardens and an outdoor pool with the best view of the Alps.
Bellagio is where the air is as fresh as old lace curtain, blowing in the wind. Some of its guests have included George Lucas, and President of Italy. It’s also where the Royals have stayed and you can too.
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni was built as a private home in 1853 and turned into a luxury hotel in 1873. It is located in a privileged position in Bellagio, a small medieval town known as the “pearl of the lake” for its beauty and its position at the tip of the promontory in the center of Lake Como.
The Bucher family, have owned the hotel for generations, enables its guests to live the evocative atmosphere of the past, while responding to their needs and desires of current times as well. There are 95 rooms and a residence with 13 self contained apartments. The hotel also offers a many modern conveniences such as Internet, a fitness room a spa that offers a variety of treatments, a hot tub, steam room, sauna and an indoor pool.
The Royal Hall is lined with crystal chandeliers. The ceiling is accented with gold leaf. It can be leased for special events. It’s also used as a breakfast room with a large variety of breakfast treats.
Local Spumoni is served with appetizing hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail hour in the Sala Breva and the specialty of the house is a musical trio. Now what could be more relaxing than that?
Villa Serbelloni offers two fine restaurants, La Goleta, informal dining and Le Mistral offers a fine dining experience. Molecular cuisine is today the most advanced frontier of culinary research. It is a new way of cooking based on the scientific observation of what happens to the ingredients in the process of cooking, cooling and matching during food preparation.
This new awareness leads to improve traditional dishes as well as discovering new cooking methods, new taste experiences and new opportunities for dietary cooking.
Chef Ettore Bocchia was the first in Italy to approach this type of research, since 2002.
In his two-fold role as rigorous researcher and creative chef, he has paved the way to Italian molecular cuisine in Italy and today he is considered to be its initiator and major authority.
Two of the fine dishes served are prawns with guacamole ice cream cooled by liquid nitrogen and crispy cuttlefish ink water or pumpkin dumplings starches with truffle and Parmesan cream. It’s where molecular preparation of ice cream is presented to guest using liquid nitrogen and cream. The waiter gently and magically stirs the cream and gas to form the ever so creamy ice cream. Dinner is accompanied by live music.
I spoke with the chef Ettore Bocchia and he told me that he has a special relationship with all of his suppliers, because it’s important for him to know where his products are coming from. He also added that he gets his tomatoes from Sicily and Olive oil from Rome and etc. Otherwise he cannot offer the product to the guests. I commented, “How fortunate we are to have a passion for what we do.” I dined on a lake trout with a pink interior, it reminded me of salmon. Chef Ettore Bocchia received a Michelin One Star for his cuisine.
Villa Serbelloni Hotel is a stone throw from the center of the village of Bellagio and Villa Melzi. The entrance to Villa Melzi has a garden of canopies and colorful flowers.
The Rockefeller Foundation has a villa on top of the hill and overlooks the village. The village is very active with locals and tourists who enjoy the small cafes and walks through town. There are many small shops with Italian made items such as jewelry, crafts, foulards, bags and accessories made of silk, thanks to the province of Como.
There are a number of ferries that shuttle locals across the lake. We boarded a lacquered wooden motorboat for a scenic cruise passing George Clooney and Richard Branson’s villa. This is what everyone comes to Lake Como to view.
The only way to get to Villa Balbianello is by boat. The villa is perched along the side of the hill and incorporates six floors. It has its own clock tower and chapel. It’s the only villa with double exposure on the upper level. The villa is surrounded by lush gardens and creeping fig that drape around the columns that stand in the open court between the library and the music room.
We boarded our boat and departed Villa Balbianello to cruised pass a number of quaint villages resting along the shore and climbing up the mountainside.
Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is located on a small island along the lake. It’s the only restaurant on the Island. The island has a sorted history. The island once had seven churches, pre –Roman times there were Temples on it. It was always considered a sacred place. When Christians came to the area the temples were converted to Romanesque churches. The island was burned to the ground in 1169 by the Como army. German Emperor Frederick the Red Beard rebuilt Como in the second half of the 13th century. The island is known as haunted, but here are no signs of it today. The restaurant has never altered its menu. A waiter arrives with a large Parmesan cheese slab on his shoulder. You have to be superman in order to carry that. It’s my favorite cheese. Lunch consists of fresh fish, vegetables and potatoes. Dessert is very simple a peeled orange with a scoop of ice cream. After the owner speech, we posed for a photo op.
Varenna was the next stop along the Lake. Varenna is a small quaint village with lots of history. A large statue of The Visconti Family greeted us as we disembarked from our boat.
The town square is typical of the region. A large church with a bell tower and many historic buildings surround the square. Antique cars paraded the narrow streets as we arrived. The lake surrounds the island and it’s where you’ll find families casually dining in cafes along narrow cobblestone streets or in cafes next to the sea while children parade along the seashore. This is a perfect destination to hang out in the squares. The lake view is spectacular and peaceful. We made our way to another dining experience at Varenna Mona Restaurant where everything was freshly prepared.
Varenna’s southern end lays a narrow colorful garden overlooking the lake in front of the Villa Monastery. The villa is a museum that offers tours from March until October. The interior is filled with treasures of furniture, painting and murals from the past. If you had to remember two things, remember the Lake Como and Hotel Villa Serbelloni.