Grand Hotel Tremezzo and its new sister hotel, Passalacqua, establish the gold standard for getaways on Italy’s Lake Como.
Valentina De Santis, elbows and hands working in unison, navigates hairpin turns behind the wheel of a mini orange Fiat. Instead of slowing around each curve, she accelerates. My grip on the wicker car seat tightens as there are no seat belts in this zippy, vintage vehicle.
The view of the lake from one of the pools at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, the oldest resort on Italy’s Lake Como.
“Faster?” she asks, laughing. I smile nervously and tell her to go for it. We whip around the steep road that winds like corkscrew pasta from the new Passalacqua to Lake Como at the base of the Italian Alps. De Santis isn’t a stunt driver. She’s the CEO of Passalcqua and the belle epoque-style Grand Hotel Tremezzo, representing the third generation of family leadership in the latter’s long and storied history.
When we finish our adrenaline ride, I ask De Santis what distinguishes the 24-room Passalacqua from its sibling, which was opened in 1910, making it the oldest resort on Lake Como.
“Grand Hotel Tremezzo will always feel special, with the buzz of a great seasonal resort,” she says. “With Passalacqua, we wanted the place to feel like a family villa, an escape to someone’s grand home.” The property was built in the 18th century and was renovated for the opening last summer. It sits in the lakeside village of Moltrasio, where yellow and pink homes dot the undulating hills. The setting prompts days of getting lost among the restored gardens, dining on the flagstone-lined terrace where the waitstaff don white tuxedos, or enjoying the subterranean sauna and steam bath framed in an ancient stone chamber. Want to splurge? Check into the 2,700-square-foot Bellini suite.
Lake Como is more than a cinematic setting and microclimate; it’s also a waterway to visit spots like Bellagio (stroll the Salita Serbelloni) and the wisteria-laced Villa del Balbianello. The easiest way to cruise is via vintage midcentury boats— owned by Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Passalacqua—complete with Loro Piana fabric, wood paneling and a Champagne-popping crew. The experience has a Talented Mr. Ripley feel, especially when docking at the 84-room Grand Hotel Tremezzo, its creamy yellow facade a mix of grandeur and whimsy. Suites have been updated and doubled in size, with decks and hot tubs overlooking Lake Como and the gardens of the not-to-miss Villa Carlotta.
The 24-room Passalacqua opened last summer as the sister property of Grand Hotel Tremezzo.
The scene at Grand Hotel Tremezzo includes a private beach spiked with billowing orange and white umbrellas; a Water on the Water pool; and, on the backside of the property, a poolside bar and trattoria dubbed Piscina dei Fiori.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo opened in 1910.
The property’s outdoor area is a tale of two resorts. The beach and its adjacent bar hum with the rhythm of Lake Como: scooters negotiating the narrow roads, chic couples sipping AperiTEAvo (a new twist on the Italian Aperol spritz and afternoon tea) at Giacomo al Lago and house music drifting across the lake. Behind the property, guests discover a more subdued, Narnia-like tableau: the most beautiful pool on the planet (I can’t stop snapping photos), clay tennis courts and a fragrant walking trail—framed in azalea and rhododendron—leading to a peak offering staggering views.
After a walk, I take a pizzamaking class at T Pizza. This isn’t a lark; the wood-fired oven produces more than 300 pizzas a day, and the chefs guide guests through the steps of making flawless Italian dough and customized pies. For something more subdued, visit the resort’s spa in an 18th century villa. Couples choose the T Spa Suite for treatments, including hot-stone and candle massages, rose and purifying facials, and aromatic herbal scrubs, followed by dips in the Turkish bath or time in the Mediterranean steam room.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo boasts a laudable food service program, including memorable meals at Giacomo al Lago (must-order: tortelli cacio e pepe) and L’Escale (must-order: spaghettoni alla carbonara). But La Terrazza Gualtiero Marchesi receives the loudest hosannas as the only restaurant in the world where the Italian culinary legend’s signature dishes are served. The tasting menu features lobster with sweet pepper sauce, branzino and black truffle, and the crescendo: saffron risotto with golden leaf, which, along with other genius dishes, propelled chef Marchesi to earn three Michelin stars and legendary status.
Views of the lake from the Maria suite at Grand Hotel Tremezzo.
Legends are everywhere here,even romantic ones. In the 1970s, the De Santis family discovered hundreds of love letters hidden behind walls in some rooms. No one knows who wrote them, but they were likely penned a century ago when European and American aristocrats frequented the resort. The hotel’s owners decided to share the spoils: Each night, guests receive one of 10 love letters, along with Italian sweets, on their pillow. A sample: “I want to gently caress the reflections embroidering your dress, arms and neck. I want to tell you how beautiful you are, but instead I stay silent. And that’s when you ask me if I’m happy.”
CEO Valentina De Santis, the third-generation leader of the family-owned and -operated resorts, and her zippy Fiat.
Those are some smitten guests. They fell for the flesh, no doubt, but also the heady swirl of hues, scents and birdsong that inhabit this special place.