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Travel and Tourism

Better lake than never

OmNIUM-GATHERUM - OMNIUM-GATHERUM By Miguel Ramos -
Nestled in the Alps and running from Northern Italy into Switzerland, Lake Como has been described as "exceeding anything ever beheld in beauty." Italy’s third largest lake – 45 kilometers long and never more than 3 kilometers wide – is one of those rare places in the world whose astonishing splendor is better seen than read, and best experienced than talked about.

Roughly shaped like an inverted "Y" and located in the world famous "Lake Region" of Northern Italy, this most renowned of the Lombardian lakes has attracted the rich and famous throughout the ages from Stendhal and Shelley to Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. More recently, the late fashion designer Gianni Versace, who owned the Villa Le Fontanelle in Moltrasio, and superstar actor George Clooney, who bought the 25-room Villa Oleandra in Laglio for $7 million a couple of years ago, were counted among the Lake’s permanent denizens.

Lago di Como has been made world famous by its three main cities. Como – celebrated for its fine silk – on the western branch and from where the lake derives its name, Lecco on the eastern branch and Bellagio – easily the most famous of the lake’s surrounding cities – which is located at the tip of a peninsula dividing the lake in two.
Bellagio
Located on a promontory at the tip of the "Larian Triangle," Bellagio is surrounded by water on three sides and is the inspiration of perhaps its more famous 83-hectare namesake hotel in Las Vegas.

"The Pearl of the Lario," as the town is known, is largely composed of two parallel streets –one high on the hill and the lakeside promenade – and the smaller stone surfaced paths that connect them. Although it takes some effort to climb the tiny store-lined alleys, such is necessary to fully explore this typical Italian town which has been fortunately blessed with astounding views of the lake. Bellagio also boasts the beautiful Romanesque Church of San Giacomo and easily one of the best hotels in the region, Villa Serbelloni.
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni
At the very tip of the peninsula on which Bellagio is located is the neo-classical Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni which opened in 1873. Known for its immaculately manicured Italian gardens, it was originally build as a noble country residence.

Needless to say, the hotel is extremely pricey. However, a more affordable alternative is the hotel’s serviced apartments – the Residence L’Ulivo – which is located just behind the hotel. L’Ulivo offers much better value especially if you are traveling with a group as the apartments are relatively spacious and have their own kitchens. On top of that, you can still rightfully claim that you are staying at the Serbelloni!
Villa Balbianiello
Lake Como’s unambiguous highlight – for me and any die-hard fan of the Star Wars series – is Villa Balbianiello. Although there are many other villas that
you can visit – such as Carlotta, Monastero and Melzi which is probably the most famous tourist spot on the lake – Balbianiello holds the distinct honor of having been chosen by George Lucas as the setting of Varykino, the lakeside country retreat of Padme Amidala on her homeworld of Naboo in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Built in the late 16th century and reachable only by boat, this magnificent villa is known for its picturesque gardens, which exclusively feature flowers and trees in the colors of the Italian flag: green, white and red. It was built at the end of the 18thcentury for then Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini and is now under the protection of the Italian Environmental Foundation.
Villa D’este
No trip to Lake Como would be complete without a visit to Villa d’Este.Built in 1568, this resort hotel which consistently ranks among the best in the world is composed of two buildings – the Cardinal’s Building which houses the main hotel and the trompe l’oeil masterpiece known as the Queen’s Pavilion. In between the two buildings are the world famous gardens which I have seen featured in countless books and magazines underscored by its very distinctive 16th century arc shaped wall known as The Mosaic because it is built from countless rocks and stones.

Exploration of the garden as it rises up the hill from The Mosaic reveals a 500-year-old plane tree (you can’t miss it), fountains, sculptures and the ruins of an ancient fort built in the 1800s by Donna Vittoria Peluso. History tells us that the former proprietor of Villa d’Este was a Marquis by the name of Bartolomeo Calderara who married the young Vittoria Peluso. When the old Marquis died, she remarried a young Napoleonic General – Domenico Pino. To keep her new lover entertained and to prevent him from longing for the excitement of the battlefield, she had the fortresses and towers built so that he could play simulated wargames with his friends.

Masterpiece paintings and sculptures, luxurious rooms with no two alike, one of the best spas in the world, sports facilities from tennis and squash to waterskiing and swimming pools (one is indoor and another is built into and amazingly floats atop the lake), The Mosaic which is among the most photographed monuments in Italy and a choice of arriving by helicopter, boat, seaplane or the conventional car – if you dare call "conventional" the armada of Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, Jaguars, Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and one car in particular I couldn’t identify. Villa d’Este is a one-of-a-kind destination that must truly be experienced at least once by the fortunate who chances upon the opportunity.
* * *
For comments, e-mail me at [email protected].

BELLAGIO

CENTER

GRAND HOTEL VILLA SERBELLONI

HOTEL

LAKE

LAKE COMO

NORTHERN ITALY

STAR WARS

VILLA

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