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Europe: Villa D’Este - Europe’s best hotel?

Describing Villa D’Este, a luxury hotel nestled on the shores of Lake Como as Europe’s best hotel does admittedly need a ‘bit’ of evidence to back up such a bold claim. I won’t lie, I am completely smitten with the place but then it’s hard for anyone not to fall in love in such a location. A palatial villa facing one of Italy most enchanting lakes surrounded by mountains, it is truly heavenly.

So you may well ask: what proof do I have to substantiate the above conclusion? Firstly, I should say that this was my second visit to the hotel; I was introduced to the charms of Villa D’Este back in 2010. The hotel hosts the now annual World Wine Symposium, an event that was started in 2009 in a bid to bring the great and the good of the wine world together to discuss the future of the wine industry. These are not easy going people, ever so slightly demanding and used to habitually staying in the World’s best hotels. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, everyone who attended said in one way or another that Villa D’Este was incredible. Unbelievable, beautiful, well you get the idea. I didn’t meet anyone who was indifferent.

Other than alcoholic, sorry, committed wine journalists, Villa D’Este has been welcoming guests since 1873, although its history dates back more than 500 years when Lake Como was then famous for its silk industry. The site where the hotel now stands was first inhabited by nuns, who in 1442 took refuge from a civil war in a church, where guests now hang in the hotels park. After they were ousted (seems a bit harsh really) the wealthy Gallio family took a fancy to the lakeside location, and finished constructing the Villa in 1568.

Villa D’Este has been welcoming guests since 1873

As you might expect, the property changed hands many times over the centuries: a collection of aristocratic types, one Napoleonic general and finally Princess Caroline in 1814. Once she had settled in, Princess Caroline changed the name of the Villa to “New Villa d’Este”, due to her personal ancestor, Guelfo d’Este. She dedicated several years in restoring the villa but unfortunately the Princess’s ‘slight’ overspending put her in so much in debt with her banker that when, in 1820, she returned to London she left the Villa d’Este deed of sale in the hands of her banker. There was an understanding that she could get it back by paying up her debts. The princess never did quite manage to pay off those debts and in 1829, the Bankers heir sold the majestic Villa to one, Prince Domenico Orsini.

The next Blue Blood to fall in love with the estate’s charms was Empress Maria Fedorowna, wife of the Russian Czar. The Empress stayed at the Villa for two years, after she returned to Russia then villa’s life as a hotel began. A group businessmen decided to form a Limited Company and combined the two Villas: the Cardinal’s and the Queen’s into one luxury hotel. Villa D’Este has been welcoming the great and the good for over 140 years, including Mark Twain, Elizabeth Taylor and Woody Allen.

The hotel is not condescending to mere mortals, however; everyone is treated with the greatest care and attention from the moment you arrive to you bid a sad farewell. On arrival last year, my luggage was instantly whisked away, giving me chance to get reacquainted with the hotel while my room was being prepared. The hotel was every bit magnificent as I remembered, from the lake side pool and romantic garden to the beautiful dining room that dispense with its roof in the summer months.

The hotel has 152 rooms and 2 private villas, Cima and Malakoff. Robert De Niro routinely hires Cima in the spring, apparently! But for all the majesty of the hotel and its location, none of that would mean anything if it wasn’t for the professionalism, warmth and hard-work of the staff at Villa D’este. Nothing is ever too much for these people, they are genuinely proud to work at the hotel and it shows. Not an easy balance, to be professional, friendly but not over family and they do it with aplomb. Special mention must go to Illio, the bar manager at Villa D’Este. Always friendly, always ready to help and always welcoming. His cocktails are pretty good too!

Europe’s best hotel? I’ll leave you to decide after you pay a visit, but I cannot imagine a finer hotel, and I’ve visited quite a few.

Further Information:

Villa D’Este
Via Regina, 40
22012 Cernobbio
Italy
www.villadeste.com
reservations@villadeste.it
0039 031 3481

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

James LawrenceJames Lawrence is a self confessed wine obsessive, passionate about discovering and promoting the lesser known wines and wine regions of the world. He is a frequent contributor to decanter.com and runs an interactive, community led wine forum, thewineremedy.com In 2004, he went to study in Bilbao, Northern Spain. Luckily for him, the famous wine region of Rioja was just over an hour away by car. He began to spend a great deal of time there, visiting the wineries in Rioja and speaking to local wine makers. Their passion for the subject and their pride in the wines was infectious. He began to realise what an amazing subject wine is and how wide and complex the world of wine could be. Subsequently James moved into wine retail while finishing his degree, and was hooked. James also enjoys food and travel writing - he lives for Italian and Thai cuisine!

  • Kelly Rogers

    Oh. Villa D’Este has a really enchanting history. I like to visit this wonderful place one day. I like to look at this place since many royal personages had been here at one time or another. :)

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