By John O’Ceallaigh
From Richard Branson to the Versaces and George Clooney, the world’s most moneyed famously occupy the glitzy holiday homes that encircle the glistening waters of Lake Como, and yet few of their magnificent properties come close to matching the majesty of Villa Sola Cabiati, a 16th-century waterfront mansion recently made available for exclusive-use hire through the nearby, family-run Grand Hotel Tremezzo.
This is one of the most remarkable places I have ever stayed, no question, and with full-board accommodation at the six-bed, 12-guest property starting at an equivalent to €640 or £580 per person, it could even be considered something of a bargain for the high-end travellers who flock to the lake each season. Certainly, whether it’s a get-together for a special birthday, anniversary or wedding, there’s little around here that will offer comparable bang for buck. (For comparison: B&B rates in an entry-level room at Grand Hotel Tremezzo start at €830 per couple.)
Much of Villa Sola Cabiati’s appeal comes from its immense architectural splendour. Now owned by a well-off family ordinarily resident in Milan, the property was previously the summer residence of the Dukes of Serbelloni. Though those earlier proprietors are largely irrelevant historically speaking, crucially they were very wealthy during the times the villa required expansions and enhancements, and the building is awash with the most beautiful decorative features and flourishes.
By a master from the Tiepolo school and inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid, there are pretty-as-can-be pastel-coloured frescoes to admire; balconies are carved from marble; wall displays are laden with delicate tableware; furniture includes a bed that was slept in by Napoleon and his wife Joséphine. Modern additions are discreet and considerate, ranging from stylish mustard-coloured chairs by Italian brand Flexform to a Bluetooth-controlled Sonos sound system.
With bookings only possible through Grand Hotel Tremezzo, parties who book the villa will also gain full access to the hotel’s facilities, ranging from its famous swimming pool embedded in Lake Como itself to its well-equipped spa, beach club and clay tennis court. But over my two-night stay I could hardly bear to step away – even the most pampered traveller will recognise how special the setting is and will want to make the most of every moment on site. In light of revised travelling priorities post-Covid, expect a greater emphasis on in-villa activities in future too. The team expect to host creative workshops on site (to include the likes of painting and silk-weaving) and will happily facilitate on-site spa treatments, barbecues and so on.
To that end, hiring the villa entitles groups to the services of a dedicated experience manager, a butler and chef. Our menus veered towards the homely and unpretentious, and as you tend to expect at even the most humble eatery in Italy, everything was prepared with reverence and consistently delicious. A special candlelit dinner in the dining room included plates piled with ricotta- and spinach-stuffed ravioli, followed by Medieterranean-style sea bass and tiramisu, daintily served in martini glasses. Al fresco lunches in the front lawn, looking towards the water and forested hillsides beyond, included simple antipasti and copious Aperol Spritzes. Perfect. Had we wanted to burn off some calories, there was the option of swimming in the back garden’s hidden pool.
I skipped that, instead requesting a private jaunt across the lake by Riva. It is an idyllic way to spend a sunny afternoon, with Lake Como’s jumble of centuries-old churches, cascading gardens and colourful waterfront townhouses providing an unwaveringly impressive panorama. Still, even though I scrutinised the other palatial properties we passed, there was very little that to me seemed to approach the grandeur of Villa Sola Cabiati. I was inclined to agree with the villa manager Alberto who had earlier described the villa to me as “a treasure of the town and its people; it is a place to fall in love, it breathes absolute beauty.”
Exclusive use of Villa Sola Cabiati starts at €7,700 per night; reservations must be for a minimum of three nights.