A place on the lake
A grand past beautifully reimagined for the present.
Built in 1787 to be the grandest villa on Lake Como, Passalacqua has been painstakingly restored to assume its place as one of the most beautiful hotels in the world.
Ruben Ortiz and Stefan Giftthaler
12 October, 2023
Lake Como represents a majesty from a bygone era that set it apart to this day
The very mention of its name evokes images of extraordinary natural beauty and opulent villas. With a rich history that goes back centuries, Lake Como represents a majesty from a bygone era that set it apart to this day, attracting visitors from around the world to drink in this breathtaking region of Lombardy, Italy, and experience the grandeur of the magnificent historic villas that discreetly along its shoreline.
Passalacqua, one of the region’s most exquisite private villas and just voted the world’s best hotel on the coveted The World’s 50 Best list, opened to the public in June last year and is already considered one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. With its 24 luxurious suites, the magnificent mansion enjoys an idyllic, tranquil location just off the scenic lakeside main road, above the small village of Moltrasio. Just a 45-minute drive from Milan Malpensa Airport, 36 minutes by train from Milan Centrale to Como and 15 minutes by boat to Moltrasio brings you this private wonderland, sitting atop three acres of terraced gardens with hidden pathways, beautiful centuries-old trees and 15 fountains with manicured lawns gently tumbling down to the lake’s edge on the southwestern shore.
With origins dating back to the 18th century, Passalacqua is the result of a meticulous restoration project over the course of three years. Its storied past has been beautifully preserved and echoe through its elegant architecture and opulent interiors.
It is the latest offspring in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo family and has been brought to life by third-generation hotelier extraordinaire, Valentina De Santis. Travel + Leisure magazine has included it on their It List of The top 100 Best New Hotels in the world while Conde Nast Traveller magazine names it on its Hot List of new hotels for 2023.
The villa was built circa-1787 on land originally owned by Pope Innocent XI - the grand vision of its original owner Count Andrea Lucini-Passalacqua who worked in conjunction with architect Felice Soave and designer Giocondo Albertolli to create the grandest villa on Lake Como. The Lucini-Passalacqua family’s crest of three parallel lake pike has been adopted as the villa’s stylish symbol – on keys, on doorhandles and more.
The villa soon attracted prominent figures from around the world. Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill and composer Vincenzo Bellini were all villa guests long before its rebirth as a hotel. Bellini made it his home in 1829 while he composed two of his celebrated operas, La Sonnambula and Norma. Guests can still enjoy the composer’s original creative space in the magnificent Bellini suite, complete with antique grand piano.
The villa was built circa-1787 on land originally owned by Pope Innocent XI
The De Santis have been meticulous in their endeavours to bring back the magic of this magnificent mansion to its former glory
There are 12 lavish suites in the main historic villa, eight in The Palazz restored rear stables with centuries-old beams and damask-covered walls, and four lakeside suites, Casa Al Lago, with private gardens and shared common areas – ideal for exclusive use. The ground floor of the Italian Baroque-style villa with original frescoes comprises one magnificent room after another from the cosy and intimate bar with historic fireplace, the Sala degli Specchi or mirror room, the well-stocked library, gracious reception to the central imposing Imperial staircase, the oval room, through to the dining room, Sala della Dame.
The De Santis have been meticulous in their endeavours to bring back the magic of this magnificent mansion to its former glory, grandeur and charm. They worked tirelessly with local Italian artisans and generations-old companies to restore, replace and ensure the villa’s rich heritage, innate sense of place and exceptional craftsmanship were maintained. They scoured antique shops and art galleries, sourcing exquisite pieces and commissioning others to make sure each room had its own unique character and ambience.
My junior suite on the first floor with a lakeside view is big enough for a small family, the luxurious bathroom with claw-foot bath and spacious glassed-in shower recess almost the same size. Furnishing fabrics are opulent, curtains are silk taffeta and Beltrami bedlinen made from birch tree fibre are softer than silk. At the press of a button, the TV rises up out of the custom-built leather-trimmed steamer trunk crafted by Bottega Conticelli in Orvieto. A beautiful etched mirror Barbini cabinet conceals tea and coffee-making facilities with a secret mini bar beneath. Amenities are scented with the villa’s own customised fragrance, Aqua Como 1787, and are generously offered. Classical music is piped into rooms with individual controls.
On arrival, guests are met by hotel staff dressed in chic Giuliva Heritage uniforms, male staff wearing beautifully tailored bespoke waistcoats, jackets and cravats that hark back to a more elegant era. Although only a young Italian luxury fashion brand, their authentic Italian style fittingly celebrates Italy’s culture and craftsmanship too.
In summer, guests can enjoy breakfast outside on the terrace under striped canvas awnings overlooking neatly-trimmed Italianate gardens one level below. Inside, a buffet table is beautifully presented with house-made pastries and breads, while guests are encouraged to visit the kitchen to discuss with the chef what they might like to eat.
In summer, guests can enjoy breakfast outside on the terrace under striped canvas awnings overlooking neatly-trimmed Italianate gardens one level below
Executive chef Alessandro Rinaldi wants to ‘make guests feel at home, welcoming them with the typical warmth of Italian homes’
Lunch can be by the 20-metre pool under floral-lined DoubleJ parasols, in the colourful 200-year-old greenhouse or under the plane trees overlooking the whole estate; aperitivo in the garden or on the terrace while the dinner menu of Italian home-style classics is usually served in the beautiful dining room or on the terrace with lake view. Executive chef Alessandro Rinaldi wants to ‘make guests feel at home, welcoming them with the typical warmth of Italian homes’.
A typical dinner menu might begin with lobster and buffalo caprese, a seafood platter with raw langoustine, shrimps and purple prawns or perhaps chicken liver parfait or a salad of fruits and vegetables from the villa’s garden. All pastas are house-made and very appealing. Ricotta gnudi in a seafood soup, spaghetti with garlic, oil, pepperoncini and red prawns or pacchero pasta with cocciuto cheese, zucchini, zucchini flowers and Beluga caviar. Main courses might be Dover sole meuniere, a classic Fiorentina steak with roasted potatoes and corn, suckling pig with cherry chutney and garden vegetables or a traditional veal shank with risotto Milanese. Rinaldi’s spaghetti with clams is also note-worthy as are his fresh daily breads made using his family’s fourth-generation bread starter.
Intimate twin seats at an open-air cinema, a clay tennis court and luxuriating spa with Barbara Sturm treatments are all part of the unique Passalacqua experience.
The garden is outstanding with magnificent established trees considered to be among the most historic and well-maintained in all of Italy. In a novel way, the garden echoes the villa itself with its own secret ‘rooms’ or chill-out spots. A rose garden with beautiful flowering old English roses, a magnolia garden with a stand of five century-old magnolia trees – perfect for yoga or meditation. Or an olive grove, an orange and lemon orchard, one with heirloom varieties of apples and pears, another with cherries, apricots and kiwifruit, and of course herbs and vegetables where chickens happily forage – perfect places to wander or sit and drink in the calm.
Exceptional in every conceivable way, at Passalacqua it’s as if time has stood still from a past, more gracious era, with the real feeling that your own body clock has automatically reset. Yet this timeless bliss is so ‘now’ Passalacqua is living proof that timeless elegance an the very finest things in life simply transcend time.
The garden is outstanding with magnificent established trees considered to be among the most historic and well-maintained in all of Italy
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