As an experienced traveler, well acquainted with the pros and cons of much hyped luxury hotels, I was very torn as to whether I should splurge for a stay at Lake Como's much heralded Villa d'Este, or opt for a less expensive option "up the lake" with similarly positive reviews. I'm delighted to say that I chose Villa d'Este, and never looked back.
Villa d'Este is a like an old wine; the more you sit with it, the more it's exceptional character is revealed. I'll admit, I started out skeptical (I prefer small, intimate properties), but upon entering the front doors, realized that I was in the midst of sheer, unadulterated elegance. The common areas are old world glamour and sophistication -- like something out of a Cary Grant movie. That being said, the staff are down-to-earth and friendly, no stuffiness here. It's a combination hard to come by, and no doubt, the secret to this property's legendary status.
ROOMS: Our group (2 couples) were shown to junior suites in the Queen's Pavillion (both buildings are equally elegant). Our rooms were large, opulent, yet comfortable, with balconies overlooking the lake and views that if truth be know, are superior to the Cardinal Building. It should also be noted that everything in this hotel is sparkling clean and painstakingly maintained, from the grounds, to the common areas, to the floating pool, to the rooms. Yes, it's VERY expensive, but it takes money to maintain such high standards.
SERVICE: It seems that instantly, the valets, concierges, and bellman know your name, and they don't have their hands out for tips. The service level is nothing short of exceptional. At the end of your stay, an envelope with tips for the appropriate parties is appreciated, though not expected - classy to the end. I would like to give a special mention to Matteo Balesma (spelling?) whose constant smile and dedication to service is why people return to establishments such as this.
LOCATION: This is where Villa d'Este is sometimes dinged compared to other luxury resorts on Como. I, for one, can make a case for Villa d'Este being the PREMIER location. Situated a short walk from the town of Cernobbio, we found the hotel to be a haven away from the more touristy spots like Tremezzo and Bellagio. And although the lake may not be as wide and the views not as grand, it's a gorgeous, special location, with great restaurants and elegant shopping a short stroll away. If you're looking to be "in the middle of the action", this may not be for you. If you're looking for a relaxing and beautiful respite on the lake, Villa d'Este is your property.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:
1. HOTEL RESTAURANTS: I preferred my meals outside of the property. The breakfast, included in my room, was fantastic, and the food quality was excellent across the board, but the prices were extremely high. Also, their main dining room is very formal, not what we prefer on vacation.
2. WEATHER: Be prepared that summers in the lake district can bring alternating days of rainy cool weather, and hot sunny weather -- this is why it's so lush! We used the rainy days to explore the towns (the hotel provides umbrellas) and sunny days to explore the lake. Bring a sweater and a raincoat and don't let the weather deter. It's worth it!
3. 4th OF JULY: Oddly, this luxurious Italian property has the best 4th of July fireworks we've ever seen. Although we opted out of the formal dinner/dance, we were thrilled with the fireworks show, enjoyed from front row seats on our private balcony.
4. BOAT TOURS: For a private boat tour, go down to the Cernobbio square (on the water front) and book one of the local water taxi's, $350 euro for two and a half hours, a better deal than booking through the hotel, and, in our opinion, the perfect way to see Lake Como.
Overall, this is a special, special place, well worth a visit, at least once. Would we always want to splurge on such a property? No. Are we glad we enjoyed Villa d'Este for our first trip to Como? ABSOLUTELY!