We were on our way to The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, but my mother had no clue.
We arrived in Bellagio by ferry with our rental car, courtesy of Auto Europe. We had been in Germany the previous day, and had driven from the Black Forest to Porlezza, via Lago Maggiore.
Disclosure: my car rental was sponsored by Auto Europe and travel insurance by Travelex, both brands I have used and loved in the past. We were hosted by the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni for a one night stay with breakfast. All opinions are always my own.
I had decided to surprise my mother, and had not told her that we were going to Bellagio, or that we would be staying at The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni! We were the first ones off the ferry and it was a very short drive through the tiny streets of Bellagio to navigate to the hotel.
Don’t worry, this is a one way street, and everyone drives very slowly as there are many pedestrians. One of the biggest differences between the US and Europe are the old villages and streets. Besides a few places on the east coast, most of modern America has very wide streets to accommodate larger vehicles. In contrast, ancient European builders did not account for an invention that was to be realized many centuries into the future.
We pulled into the drive for the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (GHVS) and were greeted immediately by the valet. We could already see that the hotel was an architectural gem with its scalloped frieze and arched details around the windows.
Before I begin to show you our room and the hotel, it is important to note some details about the history and current owners of the Villa. You know how I love to support companies and people who have values of quality, attention to detail and a passion for their business, just as I do? Well, the Grand Hotel is a family-run establishment, in fact, the Bucher family still lives here, and it was evident that meeting and exceeding their guests’ expectations is their ultimate goal.
“In 1872 the villa, which is in pure neo-classical style, was sold and since then it has formed the central nucleus of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni which was opened in 1873.” Read more on the hotel site below.
We checked in and were shown to our room which faced Lake Como. We had three windows with three views! I have always loved Condé Nast Traveler’s “room with a view” feature, and all three views were CN Traveler material.
I think I should warn you at this point: if you subscribe to my posts, you’ll know that I share a lot of photos, and my travel posts tend to be on the longer side due to the fact that I want to share everything with you. However, the number of photos I took while staying at the GHVS is, well–crazy. There were so many incredible views and so much I wanted to show you, that it’s just impossible to add them all here, although I’m still sharing a lot! I apologize in advance for the length of this post! It’s difficult for me to narrow down the photos, but do visit the hotel’s own website which has a gorgeous gallery of pictures (link at the bottom of this post).
The hotel’s rooms are all unique, decorated with family pieces and furniture which have been passed down through three generations. In fact, this is the case throughout the entire hotel. It felt as though a museum, a palace, and a family home had magically melded to create the Grand Hotel’s welcoming atmosphere and stunning accommodations.
We entered through a large sitting room before going into the bedroom; pure luxury surrounded us with high ceilings, gorgeous wallpaper and opulent, yet classy decor.
The bathroom was surfaced in white marble and was so spacious and elegant, I could have spent all day relaxing in the tub, but there was so much to see and do (and eat)!
The toiletries were packaged and displayed so beautifully, it seemed a pity to open them.
All the beds in the hotel have a unique, decorative quilt; ours were green, but we were able to see some other rooms and they were all beautiful.
A few minutes after the bellboy left, he returned with a bottle of sparkling Italian wine, strawberries and a welcome note–what a lovely surprise!
We decided to have lunch before popping open the bottle of this Italian version of Champagne. Mum and I admired all the details of the hallways on the way down to the more casual of the two restaurants, La Goletta. Can you believe that these are just the hallways?
La Goletta is located near the pool, with views of palm trees and Lake Como beyond. The à la carte menu had plenty of choices so that there was something for everyone, yet wasn’t overwhelming by any means. We were seated on the terrace and placed our order. We were served some fantastic bread, with really good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar which we ate as we waited for our meal, even though I had ordered a focaccia!
It did take quite a long time for our food to arrive, but it was worth the wait. I had ordered a focaccia filled with burrata cheese and topped with Prosciutto di Parma. I honestly had never seen anything like this and didn’t think that this would be something would be served anywhere in Italy, but it was so wonderful, I now want to make it at home! Update 3/13/2017 I DID make it at home–here’s the recipe!
Mum had a hard time deciding, but ultimately chose “I maccheroni fatti in casa con broccoli, olive, capperi, pomodori secchi” which translates to, “homemade macaroni (or pasta) with broccoli, olives, capers and dried tomatoes. We were a bit surprised that normal broccoli was used, as usually it’s rapini-type broccoli which is the norm in Italy, but it was very good all the same.
After lunch, we took a walk around the pool and the gorgeous gardens (there’s also an indoor pool).
Mum and I were amazed to see that the hotel even has its own sandy beach! May I please just live here?
Mum and I headed back up to our room for a glass of bubbly before venturing into Bellagio, which is right outside the the front gate of the hotel.
You might remember me explaining about the different specifications that the Italian government issues on different food and drinks on my agriturismo post? The DOCG label is a mark of quality, ensuring that this Franciacorta sparkling wine was top quality. It was a deliciously bubbly, afternoon tipple!
On the way out, we met the hotel manager, Mr. Antonio Calzolaro, who offered to give us a tour of the hotel, which we were happy to do. He was very jovial with a great sense of humor, but we were happy to learn that his English was much better than our Italian, so we switched to speaking English for the rest of our conversation!
Mr. Calzolaro explained that the hotel originally was built in 1850 as a holiday villa for a wealthy family from Milano, but it was sold due to financial difficulties and opened as a hotel in 1873. It has been in the Bucher family for three generations. You can read about the history of the grand hotel on their website, but the period furnishings, frescoes, French-style wall-coverings, Persian rugs and Murano glass chandeliers are much more stunning in person. This is especially true when placed in such an architectural gem such as the GHVS.
Mr. Calzolaro told us about movies that have been filmed at the hotel, or nearby such as Bobby Deerfield (with Al Pacino), Star Wars and Casino Royale. Many celebrities, notable people and past presidents have also stayed at the Grand Hotel; we certainly could see why.
We saw so much more, and really enjoyed our time with Mr. Calzolaro. We then walked into Bellagio to have a wander in those famous streets and passageways.
And look at this–I matched this Vespa perfectly–right down to the tan seat!
A gelato was a requirement that day, and it tasted as good as it looked.
Mum practically pushed me to keep walking as we went past this window of Italian candies! How did she find out about my sweet tooth?
We walked back to the hotel and relaxed on the terrace overlooking Lake Como where other guests were enjoying a drink, reading or just enjoying the view.
Now do you understand what I was saying about too many beautiful views, everywhere I turned? Here is one more I just have to share–how awesome is this?
Mum pulled me away from this one, too (just kidding), as it was time for a brief meeting with Michelin star Chef Ettore Bocchia, the executive chef for Mistral restaurant. After speaking to him, we couldn’t wait to eat dinner that night. Chef Bocchia introduced the first molecular cuisine menu in Italy and is the creator of many new techniques in the kitchen.
When we went up to our room, I managed to get a sunset photo from our window, just as the sun was falling behind the mountain across the lake. So much beauty in a short time was absolutely awe-inspiring.
My brother, Tony, had told me before I left on this trip, to take Mum out for a really nice dinner somewhere. I couldn’t think of any place that fit the bill, better than Mistral Ristorante. The view from our table was magnificent, especially with the colors from the sunset still hanging in the cloudy sky.
Our sommelier, Emanuele helped us to choose a lovely wine to go with our pasta dishes.
There were so many appealing appetizers to choose from, but we’d really eaten a lot at lunch (and I had gelato) so we went right to the main course. Mum chose homemade gnocchetti sardi with cinghiale (wild boar) and carciofi (artichokes), and I went the classic route and ordered the spaghettoro con pomodoro fresco, cipolloto e basilico (gold drawn spaghetti with onions and basil) which was made tableside.
Here is Daniele making my dinner for me. You can click on the photo to see a video of him in action.
One thing I loved about many of the staff is that they had a sense of humor. The waiter who brought out my mother’s entree told her, “Don’t touch! It’s a surprise!” which is why she is laughing in the first photo below.
The staff timed our meals to be served at the same time; Daniele finished my pasta and served it when my mother’s gnocchetti arrived. Ta dah!
This has to be one of the most beautiful settings in the world, and with the pasta and wine–sublime.
The pasta also tasted sublime, with the best quality, freshest ingredients and served hot off the pan–absolutely superb. Can you tell I was happy?
A dinner to remember, forever. Thank you, Tony and Annie!
We just couldn’t pass up dessert and the tiramisu came highly recommended. Although I’m not of a fan of “deconstructed” dishes, I’ve reconsidered classifying them all into one group, as I had the best tiramisu I’ve ever tasted at Mistral, and it just so happened to be, “deconstructed”. Paired with a sweet dessert wine, I wanted every bite to last forever.
We were served a little tiered tray of sweet bites after our dessert, and they were all very enticing and delicious.
We were intrigued by what was happening at the table next to ours and realized it was the molecular ice cream making with liquid nitrogen! Click the photo for a video clip.
The restaurant manager, Carlo, came to speak to us to make sure everything was satisfactory at the end of our meal and we assured him that it was a superb dinner with impeccable service, too. We had a lovely chat with him and learned that he began working at the hotel in 1985, which I believe says a lot about the owners of the hotel and the way it is run. Carlo ordered limoncello for us which was a perfect ending to a phenomenal meal.
Caffè Concerto Strauss, a piano trio played during our dinner, in fact, I don’t recall them taking a break together; their classical music added so much to the atmosphere that evening.
We returned to our room, but my eye latched onto a beautiful purple handbag in a display, along with other accessories. Mum and I decided we’d visit the Arte e Moda shop in the morning, which was right across the street from the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.
I popped outside to take a walk in the garden as I wanted to experience the hotel grounds at night. Simply spectacular is not an exaggeration in the least, with the peacefulness of the location, the cool night air and the lights twinkling across the lake from Griante–it was magical.
The beds and pillows were so comfortable, both my mother and I slept like babies. I remember waking up, opening my eyes to see the high ceilings and drapes and thinking to myself, “This must be how royalty wakes up”! I got up and threw open the windows and absorbed as much of the scenery, smells and sounds as possible. Can you imagine waking up to this? (Click on the photo.)
Our plan for that day was to have breakfast, visit the handbag shop, then begin our drive to Zurich, Switzerland. Breakfast at the hotel is included with the room, and just seeing where breakfast is served is an experience in itself–it was more like an elegant ballroom!
Look at the exquisite detail in this ceiling!
As expected, the offerings were all top quality and so flavorful. The fresh squeezed juices were fantastic, and the stunning floral arrangement was the crowning glory to the buffet table. The selection was excellent; there isn’t a chance that someone could complain about the lack of variety in this outstanding buffet.
After breakfast, we walked across the street to Arte e Moda, the handbag and accessory shop owned by Pierangelo Masciadri. He explained that he was the designer and showed us a display cabinet where there were articles and photos of past US presidents wearing his ties, and letters from them thanking him. Pierangelo’s creations are inspired by mythology and Italian history, which I loved. My mother wanted me to choose a handbag for my upcoming “big” birthday, and then we learned how many of Pierangelo’s handbags have a zip-off top flap which can be replaced with another flap resulting in a different look without purchasing an entirely new bag! Genius! Pierangelo was very genuine and friendly and we had a lovely chat, not only about his designs and creations, but his mother’s cooking.
Ultimately, after much deliberation, although I loved so many of the designs, I decided to go with colors that I wear more often, and designs that were just more “me”. Mum bought me a bag with a second “flap” so now I have two new bags!
Here is Mum with Pierangelo and his daughter, who also works with him (as does his other daughter). If you’re interested in Pierangelo’s bags, ties, scarves or shoes, you can see more and even order them online, HERE. Thanks, Mum! I love my bag(s)!
Reluctantly, we checked out of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. I could easily have stayed for a month–wait, what am I saying? Months on end is more like it. I didn’t even mention that there is a spa, gym and tennis courts at the hotel, which we didn’t have time to see.
The valet brought us our car and we were on our way to Zurich. To be continued…link below.
If you ever get the opportunity, or make plans to go to Northern Italy, or anywhere nearby, I highly recommend the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Of course it’s a 5 star hotel, and is a bit pricier than other hotels, but I believe it is more reasonable than many other 5 star hotels in the US and other countries, especially given its top location. You can even just go for a beautiful lunch or dinner.
Please visit the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni for more photos, facts or to make a reservation.
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Disclosure: my car rental was sponsored by Auto Europe and travel insurance by Travelex, both brands I have used and loved in the past. Thank you to the Bucher Family for hosting my mother and me for bed and breakfast at their exquisite hotel. No conditions were made for positive reviews and all opinions are always my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.