Italian Lakes grand hotels offer the quintessential lakes experience. Especially if you check into a room with French doors opening onto a balcony overlooking the shimmering water – from where you can wave to George Clooney as he whizzes by in his speedboat.
Italian Lakes Grand Hotels – Northern Italy’s Lavish Lakeside Sleeps
Staying at one or two of the Italian Lakes grand hotels is an essential part of the experience of this Northern Italian region. Along with circumventing Lake Como in a sports car, strolling luxuriant bougainvillea-filled lakeside gardens, bouncing across the water in a polished speedboat, and Clooney-spotting.
When we were researching an Italian Lakes guidebook some years ago we were lucky to be able to check into one elegant waterfront pile after another for the entire duration of the trip. That was definitely a dream job.
While the ultimate honeymoon would have to be a grand tour of the Italian lakes grand hotels (and they’ll definitely do the trick if you’re going on a trip to rekindle a romance), soaking up some history is another sound excuse for spending a few hundred euros per night on a hotel room.
The Italian Lakes grand hotels are indeed history – while some date back to the early 1900s, others are several centuries old, having accommodated the very first grand tourists to Italy on the earliest slow travel journeys, served as palaces for aristocrats, and hosted the rich and famous, from authors to artists and movie stars.
If you’re going to spend that much on a hotel – or a handful if you’re going to make a proper trip out of it – then we recommend taking things slowly and treating it as a good old-fashioned holiday. Pack plenty of books, bikinis and boardies, a little black dress and suit (yes, or at least a suit jacket), and your favourite bottles of bubbly.
Plan on doing very little at all except lingering over long breakfasts and even more leisurely lunches, lazing away days by the pool, sipping sparkling on your balcony as you savour the sunset, dining alfresco on the waterfront, and enjoying moonlit strolls along the promenade. Because grand hotels always boast promenades.
If you can only do a few, my picks would be the exotic Moorish-inspired Villa Crespi, on Lake Orta, which is worth a stay for some of Northern Italy’s finest food; majestic 17th century Villa d’Este, just outside of Como, at Cernobbio, which is the grand old dame of all the Italian Lakes grand hotels; the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni at Bellagio for the stunning swimming pool and just as spectacular food; and the lovely neoclassical Villa Fiordaliso, perhaps the lake’s most romantic hotel.
Alternatives to the Italian Lakes grand hotels include atmospheric albergo in the centre of historic towns, holiday apartments, and agroturismo, rural accommodation or rooms on a working farm or vineyard. More on those soon.
Italian Lakes Grand Hotels – Our Picks
The sight of Villa Crespi, a Moorish-style villa built in 1879 at Orta San Giulio, is a startling one. If the idea of the Middle East adjacent to Italian Lake Orta is fantastic, the exotic interior details of the villa keep the suspension of belief alive a little longer. Fourteen ornate rooms of varying size and detail are on offer, but topping the magical atmosphere is the Michelin two-star cuisine of chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo whose creativity outshines the whimsicality of the accommodation. Book the restaurant when you book the hotel. We only spent one night here when we stayed – we were doing a road trip around the lake – and ever since I’ve dreamt of returning.
Via G. Fava 18, Orta San Giulio, 0322 911902
Book Villa Crespi online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
This Belle Époque masterpiece on a vast waterfront property with sprawling gardens is reason enough to stay in Stresa alone. Originally built in 1861 and exquisitely restored, it’s lake opulence at its best, despite the fact that it’s popular with groups and conferences. The public areas and sumptuous rooms are richly decorated and while a lake view room is the most romantic choice, the garden view rooms don’t suffer from a lack of attention as they do in some other lakeside hotels. The main restaurant is a fine dining affair with formal dress expected in the evening. Yes, it’s that kind of place.
Corso Umberto I 67, Stresa, 0323 938 938
Book Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Not as majestic nor as sumptuous as the others on this list, I’ve included this 4-star as it’s still rather grand, it ooze history (Verdi stayed here), and it’s more affordable than the other. It also has one of the best locations in Cannobio, right on the waterfront overlooking the promenade, which is lively in summer. Don’t even think about booking anything but a lake view room with balcony. There is a rather alluring junior suite with a double balcony, a generous breakfast and fine al fresco restaurant.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III 6, Cannobio, 0323 739 639
Book Hotel Cannobio online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Cernobbio’s Villa d’Este is a lavish hotel with sprawling lawns and a prime lakeside location that’s the envy of other properties in the region. The 17th century hotel has had more famous faces wander its whimsical gardens than there are boats bobbing on the lake and while the character-filled rooms have their own idiosyncrasies, this is the kind of hotel where you let romance dictate your stay. If you’re staying at the height of summer, book your hotel restaurants in advance and get an increase on your credit card limit.
Via Regina 40, Cernobbio, 031 3481, www.villadeste.it
Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Close to the delightful Villa Carlotta, this grand hotel at Tremezzo, dating to 1910, is a sumptuously appointed property, with excellent dining and impeccable service. The spacious rooms, superior and above, have dazzling views, while the classic rooms face the garden. All are beautifully decorated with period furniture and fittings but the main reason to come here is for the jaw-dropping swimming pool and beach on the lake. This is most definitely the hotel you stay at where you plan on doing nothing but lazing about in the sun all day.
Via Regina 8, Tremezzo, 034 442 491
Book Grand Hotel Tremezzo online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni
One of the oldest hotels on the lake, Bellagio’s Villa Serbelloni offers up the quintessential Como experience. The handsome old place exudes atmosphere, from the gilt-edged mirrors and high ceilings dripping with chandeliers to the gigantic lakeside swimming pool. There are verdant gardens to explore, a pianist in the evenings, and elegant dining rooms to dress up for, including a wonderful Michelin starred restaurant. Definitely book a room with a view.
Via Roma 1, Bellagio, 031 950 216
Book Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Grand Hotel Fasano
One of the most famous of the Italian Lakes grand hotels – well, it’s Lake Garda’s most renowned – the Grand Hotel Fasano offers what many believe to be the quintessential Garda lakeside experience. Built as a hunting lodge for Austrian imperial family in 1888, it was later expanded. There are several different price categories with lake view rooms being more expensive obviously, but they’re worth every euro. Lovely gardens, several fine restaurants, a bar, a beach club, and good spa make it difficult to leave. For romantics there are rooms in the old hunting lodge.
Corso Zantelli 190, Gardone Riviera, 0365 290 220
Book Grand Hotel Fasano online with our booking partner Booking.com.
This pretty pink neoclassical villa with a small private beach and marina has been transformed into an exquisite hotel, the lake’s most romantic. An exclusive Relais and Châteaux property with only five suites, bragging rights go to the sumptuous Claretta suite. Boasting a terrace with beautiful lake vistas and decorated with original period furnishings, including damask tapesties, it’s named after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s mistress who once lived here. A stay isn’t complete without a meal at the fantastic Michelin-starred waterfront restaurant and a drink at the piano bar atop the medieval San Marco Tower
Via Zanardelli 150, Gardone Riviera, 0365 20 158
Book Villa Fiordaliso online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Gran Hotel Gardone Riviera
When the hotel opened in 1884, it had 300 rooms and different spaces for breakfast, tea, conversation, drinks, dining, and dancing, the Gran Hotel Gardone Riviera is one of the classic Italian Lakes grand hotels of the region. A visit is such a time warp you half expect Winston Churchill to be painting his lake reflections while puffing on a cigar as he once did here. Writers can take inspiration from knowing that former guests included literary giants such as Vladimir Nabokov and Somerset Maugham. The fact that not much appears to have changed since (apart from the sheets) will have you excited or looking elsewhere. There’s a splendid pool, lovely breakfast area, and helpful front desk staff, but waiters can be a bit surly. A drink at Winnie’s Bar is a must.
Via Zanardelli 84, Gardone Riviera, 0365 20 261, grangardone.it
Hotel Villa Feltrinelli
This beautiful villa and gardens at Gargnano, built by the prominent Feltrinelli family in 1892, served as their summer escape. In 1977 noted hotelier Bob Burns bought the villa, restoring it to its former splendour. And this was some summer shack! The detailed renovation seamlessly integrates historical fittings with mod cons, but it’s the notion of croquet on the lawn, cocktails in the elegant bar, and pretending this is your own summer escape that has the greatest appeal. It’s ideal for a special holiday.
Via Rimebranza 38/40, Gargnano, 0365 798 000, villafeltrinelli.com
Italian Lakes Grand Hotels – Our Tips
- Always book a room with a view, preferably with a balcony. If you don’t you’ll regret it once you check in and want to upgrade and there are none available; these are always the first to go.
- Checking into a grand hotel with a lakeside swimming pool is a must in summer.
- Summer is expensive, but prices are lower mid-week, and even lower in spring and autumn.
- Don’t rule out winter – there are bargains to be had at the hotels that do stay open in winter.
- But keep in mind that the lakes are generally seen as a summer destination, so many of these hotels – and their restaurants – close completely in winter, re-opening around end of March. Do your research.
- If you’re doing a road trip, check ahead whether there’s parking and if there’s a fee, and if there isn’t parking what the fees are for the nearest car park. They can be very expensive. Although one advantage of staying in grand hotels instead of city/village hotels is that there is usually parking.
- If your hotel has a Michelin-starred restaurant, book a table for your first evening when you book your hotel. You can get tips from the waiter for where to eat outside the hotel for other meals.
Have you stayed in any of the Italian Lakes grand hotels? Do you think they’re worth the expense for the experience? And which are your favourites?