Villa d'Este on Lake Como, Italy 

Via Regina, 40, Cernobbio, Italy,   

  One of the most charming and exclusive places in the world in a fairy tale setting with one of the most exquisite cuisines in Italy.

This is part of a series of stories on food and wine from Italy by  South Florida Gourmet editor Simone Zarmati Diament






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Villa d'Este
Via Regina, 40 Cernobbio, Italy,
 (800) 223-6800,  (8000) 223-6800 ,
or 39-031-3481

 excerpted from:  Travel +Leisure  


Regal 16th-century lakefront estate in Cernobbio that is the most prestigious of the lake's hotels, with a jet-set atmosphere.

STATS  152 rooms; 3 restaurants; 2 bars.

ROOMS TO BOOK   For the best scenic views, opt for a room in the quiet Queen’s Pavilion wing—request one with a balcony at no additional charge.

INSIDER TIP Explore the Greek-style temple and mock fortresses in the gardens.

COST  Doubles from $925, including breakfast.

Dine at the hotel restaurant, where the rombo (turbot) is splendidly prepared and so fresh that the delicate flavor of the fish comes through as it often doesn’t. Enjoy the view overlooking the impeccably manicured formal gardens of the hotel.



 by Simone Zarmati Diament

 In the morning, before lunch, the kitchen at Villa d’Este is like a well-orchestrated beehive; each one of the 40 chefs and cooks working with precise and fast movements at their respective station, handling ingredients with the care and minutia required for the exquisite cuisine of one of the most famous luxury  hotels of the world.

While the demand for a high level performance can be exacting, the atmosphere is relaxed; and so is executive chef Luciano Parolari. (Click here to listen to an interview with chef Luciano Parolari)

 A native of nearby Lake Garda in Piedmont, Chef Parolari has been working in that corner of paradise for 42 years and knows exactly what he wants and how to deliver it. “I only buy the best, locally and from around the world ,” he explained during a recent visit. “Organic Carnaroli rice from the Venetto, Chianina beef, USA choice cuts for those of our clients who want an American beef, lamb from France, cheeses from nearby Piedmont, from Lombardy and other regions in Italy and France, vegetables from Tuscany…  The important thing is quality,” he continued as he showed me a case of jewel-like zucchini flowers he would later use in a spectacular dish of ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms drizzled with vinegar and drops of  truffle oil***.

Forty two years in the kitchen  have not eroded chef Parolari’s enthusiasm or creativity:  “I am very fortunate to live in a region that is rich in produce, venison, meats, cheeses, fruit¸ lots of mushrooms and truffles… and we also have a garden in the park,”  he remarked, pointing out that many of his cooking classes start in the herb garden.

Few landscapes are so lush and beautiful as the one you see from the terrace of the historic Villa d’Este on Lake Como.

 One of the most gorgeous lakes in Europe, Lake Como, near the Swiss border, has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times.  It is famous for the sumptuous villas and palaces that flank its shores with towns bearing names like Bellagio, Como , which, as can be expected when crowned heads and celebrities mingle, have given rise to scores of stories, legends and anecdotes

It is on the shores of this privileged corner of the world that The Villa d'Este, a slice of history on 26 acres of parkland in the little town of Cernobbio, operates one of the most romantic and charming Leading Hotels of the World. 

Discreet charm and timeless elegance

 As I was waiting for my car in the superb vaulted lobby, entered a recognizable rock star with tatoos on his biceps, his young wife and his baby.  The week before Italy’s prime minister had  arrived by helicopter.  Throughout the years princes and heads of state as well as Hollywood stars have chosen to spend their vacations at Villa d’Este, not only because of its beauty, history and  discreet charm but because its past extends into the present shrouding it with timeless peace.

 Even the kitchen falls under the spell: it is an important factor to make guests feel pampered.  When asked about the whims of the rich and famous, chef Parolari replied: “We have many important guests here, we’ve  had Madonna and her family, Robert De Niro, George Clooney lives nearby and comes often…  but when they arrive here at Villa d’Este, the most important people are the easiest to serve. To me, every guest who arrives here at Villa d’Este is a special guest.”  

  The mix of guests, many the who’s who of the world easily recognizable from the media, doesn’t faze out the kitchen nor the staff who, under the baton of General Manager Danilo Zucchetti  maintain the decorum, the high level of subdued elegance and the impeccable service that has characterized Villa d’Este since 1873. (click here to listen to an interview with Mr. Zucchetti - Food & wine Talk WSFG)

 As Mr. Zucchetti reflected: “ Villa d’Este is a destination unto itself. Our setting on Lake Como is recognized for its beauty.  And as soon as you enter the 26 acre park on the property,   there is a special atmosphere that gives peace of mind especially nowadays in this hectic world. There’s a sense of timelessness that appeals to honeymooners – this is the most romantic place in Europe after all – and to families alike who can relax and enjoy.”

  Among the best in the World

  It is no wonder that in June 2009, Forbes hailed Villa d’Este as the best hotel in the world and that it was listed as the 15th best hotel in Europe and 69th best hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine the year before.

  Today, with room rates averaging €1000 ($1400) a night and top suites averaging €3500 ($5000) per night, the villa’s Queen’s Pavillion, the Cardinal’s Palace and two private villas are booked from March to October.

  We sat in the Cardinal’s suite with a huge terrace overlooking the Lake, a suite which had recently hosted Paul McCartney . “The sense of privacy is everywhere,” assured Mr. Zuchetti. “You can be totally private or go out. There are so many things to do around here, on the Lake, and  around the Lake,” said Mr. Zucchetti. “ We’re half an hour from Lugano in Switzerland, Bellagio, we’re close to Milan…”. To which I quickly replied: “Once you get here, who wants to leave?”

  Important events

 No need to leave. The hotel hosts important events:  every April, since 1928, Villa d'Este hosts  the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, the  Concours d'Elegance, one of the most important vintage car show in the world other than the one held in Pebble Beach.  In September it hosts the annual Ambrosetti Forum, an international workshop attended by prominent figures from the fields of politics, finance and business which has taken place here since 1975. In November it hosts the World Wine Symposium, what General Manager Zucchetti called “The Davos of Wine” ,  a four-day gathering during which the elite of the wine world – wine makers, scientists, distributors, agronomists and journalists - discuss the future of winemaking and make important decisions.

  Another exclusive and exciting event is the Wine and Truffle Experience.  At truffle time, Villa d’Este, together with its sister property Villa La Massa, a 15 century Medici Villa in Florence, offer to members of the Leader Hotels of the World, a series of  truffle and wine tastings, meals at the top restaurants, winemaker dinners (the previous year the famed Angelo Gaia hosted one of the dinners) limited to 10 couples.

 Restaurants are open to the public

 In case one cannot find a room at Villa d’Este one can come for the day, by car or via ferry for lunch or dinner at any of the three restaurants. This is a great opportunity to get to visit one of the most charming places in the world.

 My choice: for lunch, the Terrace outdoor, overlooking the Lake and for dinner  the Veranda – jacket and tie required for dinner -, where Chef Parolari’s culinary fireworks will make you forget the rest of the world. The Grill, More informal, serves diners in the gardens in summer, under the shade of centuries-old  trees.


Historical, 500-years-old Villa d’Este
A discreet playground for the rich and famous in a slice of history which is reflected in every room, every painting, every objet d'art gracing one of the most charming hotels of the world

The snowy peaks of the Triangolo Lariano’s mountains in Lombardy  have seen it all over the millennia, season after season, as they coquettishly mirror in the Y-shaped Lake Como.

Built in 1568 by Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, a gregarious native of the town and a close and powerful relative of the then Pope, the palace designed by Pellegrino Pellegrini the famous architect responsible for the Duomo in Milan, like the  majestic mountains and the deep lake - one of the deepest lake in Europe: at over 400 m (1320 ft) deep the bottom of the lake is more than 200 metres (656 ft) below sea-level -  has witnessed,  serene and discreetly silent,  a merry-go-round of the who’s who of the world.

During the cardinal’s lifetime The Villa del Garovo, together with its luxuriant gardens  became a resort of politicians, intellectuals and ecclesiastics.

On Gallio’s death the villa passed to his family and sank into a state of some decay until in 1784 it passed to the Milanese Calderari family who undertook a major restoration project and created a new park all’Italiana with an impressive nymphaeum and a temple displaying a seventeenth-century  statue of Hercules hurling Lichas into the sea., on top of a hill overlooking the lake and a the end of a path flanked by drooping fountains,  poplars and evergreens.  

After the death of Marquis Calderari his wife Vittoria Peluso, a former ballerina at La Scala a.k.a . la Pelusina, married a Napoleonic general, Count Domenico Pino. To keep him entertained, she had  a fortress erected on the cliff in the park in 1808, where he would lead his battalion in mock battles commemorating  Napoleon’s war in  Spain followed by great banquets and orgies  that lasted till the wee hours.

In 1815, it was purchased by Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of future King George IV of England. ‘Its garden seems almost suspended in the air,’ she wrote in her diary, ‘and forms a scene of complete enchantment. She called it Nuova Villa d'Este and had parts of the Renaissance park landscaped in the English style.

Visiting the garden in 1903 for Century Magazine, Edith Wharton found this to be the ‘the only old garden on Como which keeps more than a fragment of its original architecture’, and noted that ‘though Queen Caroline anglicised part of the grounds, the main lines of the Renaissance garden still exist’.

In 1873, Villa d'Este was converted into a luxury  hotel for the nobility and the high bourgeoisie, and has since become a discreet playground for the rich and famous,  the powerful and beautiful  in the highest echelons of society:  entrepreneurs, bankers, politicians,  literary giants, crowned heads, heads of state, stars of the silver screen, rock stars, celebrities and  the international  jet set...