Art and music make The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni very special. Like many other luxury hotels, it offers comfort, good service and enjoyable food and drink. And, of course, it enjoys a wonderful location on Lake Como. But I suspect it is its commitment to the Higher Things which means that I keep meeting here good folk who have been returning year after year. These pleasant encounters are most likely to take place in the sitting room after dinner, when the beautiful setting and the music of the trio (violin, double-bass and piano) create what is surely one of the most civilised atmospheres to be found in any grand hotel in Europe. I congratulate Manager Antonio Calzolaro (pictured, with your correspondent) for his determination to maintain this lovely post-prandial tradition. It is one of the joys of Lake Como.
And then there is the hotel’s collection of art. I always make a point of seeking out one painting in particular, in a ground floor corridor. It is of a young server in church. Dressed in cassock and cotta, the latter edged with lace (as all good cottas should be), he is fulfilling the role of thurifer, for in his hand is a thurible, the receptacle in which is burnt incense at Mass. I wonder, each time I look at the painting, whether he might have been a member of the Bücher dynasty, for the establishment is owned by the Bücher family and Gianfranco Bücher is now the master of the domain.
Built in 1850 as a holiday villa, the location of the Villa Serbelloni – jutting out into the prettiest part of the lake – could hardly be bettered. Those of us who love this area must be grateful that, in 1873, the building’s wings were added and the hotel (Grand, indeed) was opened. The gardens, too, are delightful. I know nothing of plants and flowers and I am not tempted by tennis courts and swimming pools (the Serbelloni’s other outdoor facilities), but I can appreciate colour and form. I am always happy, therefore, to find a seat and spend my afternoons in such gorgeous surroundings, where the only sounds are of the distant tolling of the church bell, the occasional humming of a passing ferry and the gentle lapping of the Lake water beyond the stone balustrade.
This, of course, is when I can be dragged outside, for the Serbelloni’s public rooms are possessed of some grandeur. Indeed, in the afternoons, I find it difficult to stop myself from sinking into a sofa in one of the saloons, next to a stone fireplace in the Renaissance style, and tucking into a large bowl of mango ice cream.
There is a wide variety of accommodation. I stayed in room 305, a ‘Deluxe Double’ (604€-740€ a night, bed and breakfast for two, according to season). Situated on the third floor, this Art Déco apartment (pictured) proved both comfortable and quiet. Its air conditioning was efficient and controllable, and I liked the colour scheme of beige, dark brown and gold. The artistic theme was continued by the Chagall print on the wall. Two French windows led to a balcony with views over the lake. The bathroom was possessed of a decent tub, a separate shower, two wash basins, a loo and a bidet.
From this handsome billet I went down each morning to the breakfast room on the first floor. On no account miss a visit to this remarkable chamber (pictured). It is huge and magnificent, with white tablecloths, a parquet floor, crystal chandeliers and smart waiters and waitresses in white jackets. The excellent Omar looked after me exceptionally well. He rushed this way and that to ensure that everything I wanted was done al momento. From the buffet the following struck me as particularly good: bacon, scrambled eggs, crusty bread, cheeses, melon, pineapple and strawberries. Coffee was brought to my table in silver pots, and my dish of ice cubes, as usual, was my constant companion. My breakfasts at The Serbelloni were as I like them – long and leisurely.
The hotel has two restaurants. The Mistral has a Michelin star. But I confined my attentions to La Goletta (pictured), which is by the swimming pool. Here I was impressed by the cooking of Chef Ettore Bocchia. His cuisine – which takes on a more complicated character at the Mistral – is at La Goletta exactly as it should be at the less formal dining room: based upon the finest ingredients, which are handled simply and skillfully and presented with the utmost care. Service, from waiters in black aprons, is correct and attentive. Wine is poured into good Italian glasses, made by Rona.
The weather being mild, I dined on the terrace, under the sky and next to the pool. The setting was enchanting. The panorama before me – with the sun slowly retreating behind the hills on the opposite side of the lake, causing a turquoise sky to stand out against jet back cliffs – was truly beautiful. My wicker armchair was comfortably supportive.
I began with San Ilario ham and melon – full of delicious flavour. Next came trenette pasta, with pesto, potatoes and beans – a straightforward and enjoyable dish. But the star of the evening was undoubtedly the grilled sirloin, for this was beef of the very highest quality, as tender as it was tasty. With Béarnaise sauce and roasted potatoes, this was a truly splendid main course. Having tucked into this meat with enthusiasm, I found that ice cream would best finish my feasting, and so I concluded hazelnut and vanilla varieties. (Allow 70€-80€ for four courses.)
The wine list, with 395 offerings, is largely Italian and French. Prices run from 29€ for the house wines to 8,500€ for 1974 Romanée-Conti. Other bottles to catch my eye were: 1995 Margaux (850€), 2000 Haut Brion (435€), 2001 Latour (450€), 2001 Mouton Rothschild (380€), 2001 Lafite (450€), 2001 Pétrus (1,725€), 2010 Sassicaia (195€), 2013 Ornellaia (200€) and 2007 Franciacorta Anna Maria Clementi (140€).
After such eating and drinking, each evening I went towards the sound of music. And each evening the carpet had been rolled up and taken away – a daily ritual at the Villa – so that those couples with the talent and the inclination could glide across the parquet of the Drawing Room in time to the rhythms of the trio. Here I was surrounded by such a civilised and charming atmosphere that I had little inclination to leave for the Land of Nod. But eventually I did so, happy that the next day would be as pleasurable as the one which was now drawing to its end.
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is one of those lovely hotels which linger in the memory. Its art and its music make it a very special place.
Via Roma 1, Bellagio 22021, Italy.
Telephone +39 031 950 216
Fax +39 031 951 529
Double rooms from 450€-555€ a night, breakfast included, according to season
Open from April to November
See the hotel website for special offers