Multigenerational travel and villa vacations are two of those trends we might as well stop calling trends. They’re here to stay. For a lot of us, they’re simply travel and vacations.
And yet, renting a villa from an overseas agency can feel dicey. Who is doing the quality control? And how good are the food and the service? To be sure, there are plenty of solid agencies out there renting terrific homes. But it removes the guesswork to book through a hotel. Besides, some of us simply find hotels fun, and we like having a lively pool scene, restaurant, or bar that we can drop in on.
So it’s good news that two of the most luxurious hotels on Italy’s glamour-drenched Lake Como (and no, I’m not going to do the obligatory celebrity name-drop) have annexed historic, museum-worthy palazzos and begun renting them as private villas—with high-touch, hotel-caliber service—in the past year.
Il Sereno Lago di Como, on the edge of a cliff in the sleepy lakeside town of Torno, made a lot of headlines when it opened last summer—the first new hotel on the lake in decades. Designed by hotshot Milan-based architect Patricia Urquiola, it’s a sleek and contemporary alternative to the historic grandes dames that dot the shore.
Noted botanist Patrick Blanc designed two vertical gardens as high as 35 feet, along with a green sculpture made up of close to 3,000 plant species. Three custom Cantiere Ernesto Riva wood motorboats, from the family that has been hand-building them since 1771, ferry guests to villages around the lake. And chef Andrea Berton, whose three Milan restaurants have four Michelin stars among them, oversees the kitchen.
Alongside all that contemporary cool, the management took on responsibility for the 16th-century Villa Pliniana, a private home in Torno that was previously off-limits to the general public (as most of Lake Como’s properties are). The house and its 18-acre estate are less than 1,000 yards from the hotel’s central areas but drip with Italian history—it’s easy to imagine Tilda Swinton swanning in for a Luca Guadagnino film. (Watch I Am Love or A Deeper Splash if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Urquiola had a hand in the thoughtful renovation, which generally preserved the villa’s classic art and architecture but injected doses of modern luxury, such as a Corbusier sling chair under the elaborately painted ceiling.
On the other side of the lake, Grand Hotel Tremezzo, one of the un-fustiest historic hotels on the waterfront, began offering guests the option of renting their own private palazzo earlier this year. Formally forbidden to most travelers, Villa Sola Cabiati is an over-the-top, heavily frescoed jewel of Italian art de vivre that accommodates up to 12 people. The villa is a short limousine (water or land) jaunt from the main hotel, with its five restaurants overseen by master chef Gualtiero Marchesi, known as the father of modern Italian cuisine, and a sophisticated ESPA spa, where the long infinity pool has one of the best views over the lake.
Sprezzatura (the uniquely