GRAND HOTEL VILLA SERBELLONI
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is a magnificent bastion of traditional values. I mean those values for which every traveller with any sense yearns: comfort, good service, enjoyable food and drink and that sense – so difficult to create and so easy to lose – of being surrounded by courtesy, good manners and civilization. I emphasize the last word because the Serbelloni is, at its heart, a beacon of what is best about human beings. That is why I keep meeting here good folk who have been returning year after year. And 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 (a violinist, a double-bassist and a pianist) create what is surely one of the most civilized atmospheres to be found in any grand hotel in Europe. I congratulate Mr 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 so is the hotel’s collection of art. I always make a point to seek out one of the interesting paintings which line the hotel’s corridors. 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 (pictured), whether he might have been a member of the Bucher dynasty, for the establishment is owned by the Bucher family and Gianfranco Bucher 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 Lake Como – 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 – of which I offer you a photograph – 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 – as I hope you can see from the pictures – 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.
For your accommodation, I can certainly recommend one of the spacious and elegant Junior Suites (which are called ‘Executive Doubles’) at 819€ - 918€ a night, according to season, bed and breakfast for two. Mine was number 212. As befits an establishment of old-fashioned standards, this junior suite was, indeed, a suite – with a sitting room, a bedroom, a bathroom and a shower room. The sitting room measured about 12 feet by 11 feet and was decorated with splendid wallpaper which suggested – at least to this observer – the flavour of 18th Century Chinoiserie. Tiny butterflies fluttered around its delicate white flowers. There was ample room for a three-seater sofa under the three-light chandelier. The carpet was rather busy and rather brown. I occurred to me that it should be replaced by carpet of plain green. High ceilings added to the sense of space. I was really delighted to find in my hallway that rarest of hotel items, a hat stand. I think my Panama was delighted, too.
The sitting room looked over a street, but the bedroom had the view which everyone who comes to Bellagio craves – straight out over Lake Como. This chamber also boasted some fine plasterwork on the ceiling, fitted wardrobes (with a private safe) and a bed made wonderfully soft for me. In the bathroom were a pair of wash basins and a bath tub, and in the shower room were a loo and a bidet.
From this comfortable 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 Antinino was in charge and ensured that all ran smoothly and well. And Luigi, one of the waiters, 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, lemon cake and croissants. 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, which is by the swimming pool. Here I found the cooking of Chef Ettore Bocchia (pictured), to be remarkably impressive. 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 (orchestrated by the charming Restaurant Manager, Carlo Pierato) is correct and attentive. Wine is poured into good Italian glasses, made by Rona.
The setting for my dinner, under the sky and next to the pool, 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 supportive, the napery was grey and the waiters wore black aprons.
I began with Parma ham and melon. But this was not ordinary Parma ham. It was Riserva Montali Parma ham, and it was full of delicious flavour. Next came fine ravioli, its meat within soft, translucent pasta. But the star of the evening was undoubtedly the fillet of beef, for this was beef of the very highest quality, as tender as it was tasty. With Béarnaise sauce, roasted potatoes and boiled peas, this was a truly enjoyable main course. I concluded with a well-executed nougat parfait with coffee sauce. (Allow 70€-80€ for four courses.)
The wine list, with 392 offerings, is largely Italian and French, and its prices are attractive - ranging from 23ε for the house white to 1,891€ for the 1988 Pétrus. Other bottles to catch my eye were a clutch of First Growth clarets and some lovely super-Tuscans: 1995 Margaux (601€), 2000 Haut Brion (400€), 2001 Latour (400€), 2000 Mouton Rothschild (616€), 2001 Lafite (601€), 2008 Sassicaia (157€), 2007 Solaia (191€), 2009 Ornellaia (154€) and 2009 Tignanello (90€).
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 civilized 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 the most delightful hotels in Europe. Long may it remain a bastion of traditional values.
GRAND HOTEL VILLA SERBELLONI
Via Roma 1, Bellagio 22021, Italy.
Telephone +39 031 950 216
Fax +39 031 951 529
Double rooms from 412€-510€ a night, breakfast included, according to season
Open from April to November
See the hotel website for special offers