MOLTRASIO, Italy - I almost didn’t make it to this slice of heaven nestled into the shores of Lake Como. My visit to Passalacqua came at the end of a few months in Europe, and with all the doom and gloom about canceled flights, lost luggage, and endless lines plaguing the summer travel season, I almost bailed out and headed straight back to the United States. But after being urge by a friend who’d been among the first to visit after its June opening (the hotel is one of Fathom’s Best New Hotels of 2022), I was lucky to spend two of the most spectacular, most restorative, most glorious days of this summer (okay, of the year and, come to think of it, of this weird decade) staring onto this sublime glacial lake.
My trip to the area was seamless — an hour drive from Milan — and alighting at the four-and-a-half-acre Villa Passalacqua was an instant breath of fresh air. Passing through grand iron gates, I was warmly greeted in the driveway and whisked through the grand rooms of an 18th-century stunner that has been meticulously restored down to every fresco, stick of furniture, and fixture. Every single detail has been carefully thought through by hoteliers Paolo, Antonella, and Valentina De Santis (the uber-chic family who also own the iconic Grand Hotel Tremezzo just down the lake).
With just 24 sumptuous suites (twelve in the Villa, eight in the Palazz, four in the Casa al Lago), a visit to Passalacqua feels like stepping into someone’s regal home, where you can enjoy total solitude or indulge in discreet people-watching by the serene pool. It is a completely rare, special feeling to be in such a cosseting environment — surrounded by terraced gardens teeming with roses, jasmine, and centuries-old cypress trees — and where your every whim (for me, that’s a cold Coke Light) is anticipated before you think of it yourself.
I was fortunate enough to stay in the Bellini Suite, the set of rooms where Vincenzo Bellini lived and composed such operas as Norma and Sonnambula. What inspiring and dramatic surroundings: soaring ceilings, a full dining room, light-filled sitting rooms (rooms, plural), a “minibar” (a word that does not do justice to the dedicated space brimming with fine coffees, jars of homemade sweets, and, divas in heaven be praised, Coke Light), and a bedroom straight out of a fairytale. With surroundings so spacious and spectacular, I have never slept so well. And I won’t even go into the Beltrami bed linens which are among the softest I’ve ever felt and apparently so sought after they are now available to order from Sense of Place, Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s online boutique. Yes, dear reader, extricating myself away from my suite was hard.
But I had to, because Villa Passalacqua really comes to life outdoors, with burbling fountains setting the soundtrack for a gentle stroll around the manicured grounds. I particularly loved spending time at the pool, with festive chaises and umbrellas designed by J.J. Martin of La Double J (who also designed the textiles and serving pieces in the Winter Garden) — Aperol spritz and delicious salty snacks at hand as the sun set. Valentina De Santis took particular care when selecting the canvas touches throughout the property, including those designed by Guido Toschi: bright orange cushions (a signature color here and at Tremezzo) coolly set on the grand front steps, colorful awnings, and Moroccan-style tents covering the dining area, one of my absolute favorite elements.
The food is wonderful. Particularly the breakfast buffet, set inside the home’s actual kitchen, where you can help yourself to local fruits, meats, and cheeses, as well as well as freshly baked breads and jam. (It doesn’t get better than apricot jam in Italy.) In yet another lovely, unexpected touch, diners at breakfast are presented with a regal, three-tier tray with local delicacies that you might not otherwise try — a pizzette, a sweet, cream-filled puff that was the best thing I ate the entire time, and so on. Again, little surprises everywhere.
For water sports and fitness enthusiasts, there is plenty to do as well: clay tennis courts, boating, an indoor-outdoor gym set within an olive grove overlooking the lake. The gentle thump of Italian techno music was the only thing that kept me from retreating to the perfect lawn for a nap.
The tiny village of Moltrasio on the west side of Lake Como. You won’t notice the town because you will never leave, but the lakefront location adds to the experience.
A baroque, airy villa with the highest service standards anywhere. The De Santis family scoured markets and sales to appoint rooms with period-perfect, sometimes quirky, pieces that make the whole thing uniquely chic.
This Place Is Perfect For…
Affluent couples, solo travelers in need of escape, foodies, and families with older (teenage) children.
But Not So Perfect For…
Families with small children and people who can’t sit still.
A small but excellent spa, an indoor-outdoor restaurant, a poolside bar and solarium for lunch, a complete gym with state-of-the-art equipment, a red clay tennis court, a boat for guests’ use.
Food and Drink
Delicious. Particularly breakfast which can be a languorous, hours-long affair. For those in search of something simple, they get it: tuna tartare, salads, sandwiches are all excellent. Cocktails and great local wines are not in short supply.
The 24 beautifully appointed suites have a hidden television, SMEG fridge, well-stocked bar, locally sourced amenities, and a sewing kit completely with delicate, bespoke pin cushions that you’ll want to take home.
The way the friendly staff makes everyone feel like a part of the family — their attention to your needs, travel details, restaurant bookings, and on — is unmatched. That and those incredible sheets!