Take a trip to the stunning Lake Como in Italy
It has to be said, almost every building looked like a retreat for a millionaire. George Clooney, for instance, has a summer retreat at Laglio on the lake’s western shore.
Hotel Britannia Excelsior in Tremezzino lives up to the image. However this three-star hotel is much more affordable than you may imagine.
Built in a classic Italian style with acres of red and gold marble and a smattering of water fountains, it’s no wonder it’s largely populated by Britons enjoying la dolce vita, particularly around the lido which juts out into the lake.
While it was tempting to spend the entire holiday lounging by the pool, Aperol Spritz in hand, I was curious for a closer look at some of the mansions I had spotted on the way in.
The best way to do this – and to be seen – is to hire a private tour to take you into little bays and up close to the mansions.
I’ll admit, I felt like a movie star as I sat back taking in the scenery. We spotted the homes of Madonna and the late Gianni Versace – which while large, were not quite as ostentatious as I was hoping for – although Versace’s Villa Fontanelle in Moltrasio came complete with a bell tower and reached right to the water’s edge.
These were once the holiday houses of wealthy Italian aristocrats. These days, the only people who can afford them have money rather than titles.
We had a peek around one: Villa Carlotta, commissioned by the Cerici family in 1745. It was certainly magnificent, the ceilings decorated with intricate classical frescoes.
The house is dotted with furniture that has belonged to its various owners over the years, with a mixture of grand classical styles and Art Deco pieces.
Discreet guides walk about the room to offer information and answer any questions on the villa and local history.
They addressed my query on the Lariosauro, the “monster of Lake Como” – the Italian version of the Loch Ness Monster – with an amused grin.
Villa del Balbianello is even more striking, standing on a jutting rock, giving it an imposing atmosphere.
Not only beautiful to look at, the home is a Hollywood star it featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale with a broken Daniel Craig convalescing in the gardens with his ice-queen lover Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green.
Hotel Britannia Excelsior in Tremezzino lives up to the image
The Montebello Curve of the famous Bernina Pass
The stunning Hotel Britannia Excelsior’s inviting lido juts out into Lake Como
Lunch was served at the hotel Britannia Excelsior. Sitting on the sun-dappled terrace with views out over the lake, we all agreed life couldn’t get better.
But every meal brought new opportunities for foodie ecstasy. A particular highlight is No26 Gourmet, located at sister hotel Bazzoni.
The Art Deco-designed room had green velvet banquettes and cut-glass mirrors. Here we indulged in a fivecourse extravaganza of delicate, perfectly presented dishes.
The chef is well on his way to a Michelin star and it would be well deserved.
A perfect cube of light fish paired with a parsley sauce almost melted in my mouth, while the four-cheese ravioli felt like every dream about pasta I’ve ever had come to life.
Lake Como itself is deceivingly large at 28 miles long. On the land, life moves slowly – as does the traffic, with Fiat 500s and scooters tooting their horns as they negotiate the sharp bends on the roads from town to town.
Old Italian men take it all in from the comfort of a café, strong coffee in hand, watching the madness with a mere shrug of their shoulders.
Their relaxed attitude soon rubbed off on me and I felt my pace slowing down with each passing day. Italy’s fashion capital, Milan, is only 90 minutes away by car.
The Milanese really are as stylish as everyone says. There are no bad options in a city famed for its coffee culture but I liked Bastianello, if only for the lavishly dressed older ladies-who-lunch. Marble tables are pushed close together and waiters buzz around, plates of cakes in hand.
Not having been to Milan before, I booked a guided walk which proved the best way to get a feel for its bustling streets.
If art is of particular interest, don’t forget to book well beforehand to see The Last Supper, Da Vinci’s rather faded masterpiece housed in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which sells out months in advance.
After ticking off the Duomo and La Scala opera house we mercifully moved away from the hordes of tourists for an indulgent lunch at Ristorante Solferino, where its quirky décor of walls covered in bottles, includes, I noticed, Tignanello, Meghan Markle’s favourite.
The Villa del Balbianello was built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monaster
Lauren O’Callaghan enjoying a pizza at the Hotel Britannia Excelsior Lido Pizzeria
Businessmen in slick suits enjoyed a leisurely lunch of pasta and fish while I was intoxicated by the lobster linguine and millefoglie (and perhaps also a few glasses of Italian wine).
That was fuel enough for some shopping so we headed to the Brera design district, best for cool, arty boutiques.
Stroll down Via Madonnina for fragrance, making sure not to miss Santa Maria Novella, a Florentine perfumery which smells exactly as I imagine Heaven does.
The quaint cobbled sidestreets lined with cafés and shops are the perfect place to get lost for an afternoon before heading back to the more bearable temperatures of Lake Como.
Shearings Holidays (0344 874 8220/ shearings.com) offers a nine-day coach tour from £449 (two sharing), all inclusive.
Price includes six nights at the Hotel Britannia Excelsior, three excursions and coach pick-up points around the UK. Departs May 2019.
Lake Como tourism: visitcomo.eu
Source : EXPRESS