They hole up in incredible, opulent villas, popping out to dine in waterside restaurants, gliding over the water in glistening wooden water taxis. Now there’s a new kid on the block. Bringing a touch of classic Asian style to this quintessentially Italian vista, the Mandarin Oriental has opened an outpost just outside the small town of Blevio. The grand neoclassical villa, Roccabruna, once owned by the Italian soprano Giuditta Pasta is nothing short of stupendous. Built in 1799, she decorated this superbly proportioned villa in predictably dramatic theatrical hues including blood reds and rich purples interspersed with lashings of gilt.
Today its style and feel couldn’t be more removed, but it hasn’t lost an ounce of its elegant 19th-century identity – or some original features. On the contrary, interior designer Eric Egan has brought the property back to life, filling it with light and modern artworks while retaining a distinct air of decadence.
How adventurous to paper a wall with exotic oriental birds and hang it with a triptyque of deep brown metal spheres. And take glass clochens and fill them with delicate, dusty pink blossom twigs or place speakers in imitation “rocks” throughout the garden.
No area’s been overlooked to create a thoroughly refined yet relaxed environment.And what an environment. The Mandarin Oriental Lago di Como’s position occupies one of the top spots on the eastern shores. It may be secluded, yet it still feels part of the lakeside village municipality.
One can arrive at the villa by a steep road weaving down to the property via manicured gardens or by sleek, teak speedboat. Dotted among the gardens are semi-secluded resort-style buildings with modern apartments and two standalone villas.
The hub is the villa itself and the communal areas such as the bar with its original fireplace, high-beam ceiling and homely ski-chalet feel.
The Asian-themed library is a nod to Mandarin’s heritage, with laquered bamboo shelves holding tomes chronicling Italy’s fashion history and slim windows opening onto the lake.
There’s an intriguing guest list too. Of course, there are the loyal fans of the group keen to see how this new “resortstyle” hotel measures up. Americans, who love a grand European hotel, Asians more familiar with the brand, and loved-up Brits. There are 75 beautiful, elegant rooms and suites arranged across nine different buildings. Each is contemporary, some more modern than others. All except eight have stupendous lake views, all in neutral tones with hints of the outside in blues and greens. The Presidential Suite has its own pool (naturally) and bathrooms are superb with marble and gold galore, particularly in the main villa.
It never feels crowded. You can lose yourself in the gardens – in the spa complete with hammam and endless treatment rooms to be pampered and pummelled in; an indoor swimming pool with thalassotherapy jets or lounge by the extraordinary heated floating pool on the lake. I felt quite the movie star as motorboats slowed in the hope of spotting a famous face. Shades are de rigueur here.
By night, the subtly lit villa takes on a whole other aura, one of romance. Food plays a starring role and rightly so. It’s nothing short of extraordinary. Executive chef Vincenzo Guarino has re-imagined traditional Mediterranean dishes in the fine dining restaurant L’Aria. Hailing from a small town near Naples, his experience in Italy’s finest restaurants is now being showcased.
Dining is a multi-sensory experience.
Even the amuse-bouches, on china “mushrooms”, were sublime; olive mousse, wasabi wafers with tomato salsa and duck pâté. And the trout, marinated in bitter almonds and topped with anchovy tapenade or the risotto with watercress cream and smoked eel, were to die for.
More relaxed is the CO.MO bistro where you can try tuna tartare, grilled swordfish or a burger. If the weather’s fine, get a pizza from the adorable mobile oven under a canopy of cedar trees by the water as you watch the twinkling lights on the bank opposite.
Double rooms at Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como start from £670, B&B. (mandarinoriental.com). easyJet offer return flights from London to Milan from £52 (easyjet.com) Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) offer one week off-airport parking at London Gatwick airport, £69 per car in July (aph.com; 01342 859442). Italian tourist board: italia.it