What It’s Like to Summer Like George Clooney
Think Lake Como, Italy is reserved for the celeb elite? Think again. JS contributor Emma Sloley shows us how we can summer just as well as the Clooneys (sans bottomless budgets and personal assistants, that is).
We might not have the cultural cachet, personal fortune or Dior-on-speed-dial wardrobe of George and Amal Clooney, but my husband Adam and I do share something with everyone’s favorite glamour couple: our deep and abiding love for Lake Como. This idyllic hideaway in Italy’s Lombardy region is the perfect place to get a taste of the Euro-Aristo life for a week or two, and we slipped away there recently to get a whirlwind dolce vita fix. Here’s how we did it:
Grand Hotel Tremezzo was made for grand entrances: this chiffon-lemon Art Nouveau beauty has a knockout setting in the tiny village of Tremezzo – close to where the lake forks into two – with dreamy views across to the town of Bellagio and its dramatic Alpine backdrop. On arrival, a doorman from the hotel literally stops traffic for us: there’s just one road around the entire lake, and crossing it can be a matter of hoping the stream of Porsches, Lamborghinis and BMWs decide to slow down. We do our best VIP stride as the doorman escorts us across the road to the hotel’s ivy-draped entrance.
Inside, the hotel is a delightful riot of color and texture, with decor that falls somewhere between Belle Époque and Hollywood Regency, all Rococo flourishes, gilded mirrors, and tufted sofas in macaron shades. Every corner of the hotel is an Instagram moment, from the fountain with its Mae West-style face mural to the red velvet room off the lobby displaying glass jars full of candy. We’re informed that the exquisitely-manicured English gardens were created by the same landscape designer that Clooney uses, which makes us feel closer to him.
Shortly after arrival I do what I imagine Amal would do to decompress and recover from jetlag: book in for a treatment at the hotel’s exceptional new spa, located in the Villa Amelia. Even the relaxation area is heavenly, with mosaic floors, a frescoed ceiling and circular daybeds heaped with cushions, all the better for lolling on while gazing out the tall windows overlooking the lake. Down a flight of stairs is the wet area, sporting onyx walls, a vaulted roof and slate floors, then the hammam, the most beautiful I’ve seen, covered in white Italian lazer marble.
The next day we decide to take a jaunt on the hotel’s custom Riva speedboat, a work of art in polished wood and chrome. Sea planes buzz overhead, a tradition on the lake since 1913, and still a sterling way to peep at the villas of the rich and famous from above – Richard Branson, Silvio Berlusconi and the Saudi royal family among them. Our boat captain drops us off at Villa Balbianello a fairytale 12th century villa set in brooding solitude on a peninsula in Tremezzina. The location, the villa, the gardens, are breathtaking, and it’s no surprise the place has starred in several blockbuster films, including James Bond and Star Wars.
After wandering around the villa and its gardens, we re-board for the quick trip to a slightly more humble, although no less storied, destination for lunch. Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is the place to lunch on the lake, whether you’re elderly Swiss tourists or Clooney himself. I get mesmerized for a while checking out the wall of fame inside the restaurant, plastered with snapshots of the flamboyant owner, Benvenuto Puricelli, and his many famous guests – Brad Pitt, Stella McCartney, Jennifer Aniston, Matt Damon. The food is simple and humbly presented but utterly delicious: plates of rustic antipasto and lake trout, simply grilled and served with lemon and olive oil. We sit on the terrace, watching the lake and sipping rosé, understanding deeply why this place has such a cult following.
On our penultimate day on the lake, we have to ask ourselves the very serious question: What Would George Do? The answer comes to me like a vision. We need to borrow the sporty red Alpha Romeo we’ve seen parked outside the hotel and nip down to Cernobbio, one of the lake’s most picturesque villages – home to that other celeb-magnet, Villa d’Este, along with a bar we’ve heard Clooney likes to frequent. The hotel’s concierge kindly consents (full disclosure: the car is available for day-trip hire, even if you’re not famous) and we rev our way along the lakefront as the sun glints on the water and palm trees nod in the foreground as snow-capped mountains brood in the background. It’s all improbably beautiful.
We wander around Cernobbio for a while, eating gelato and envying the languid pace of life here, and then we repair to Harry’s Bar, said to be a favorite of our dapper muse. It’s set back slightly from the waterfront, with a sweet terrace and a tiny, intimate indoors section (I suspect that’s what the paparazzi-hounded Mr. Clooney likes about it.) We have glasses of prosecco and watch the passeggiata begin (I’m not sure if it ever ended, actually), then rev off into the sunset and back to the hotel, where we dine on incredibly creamy saffron risotto sprinkled with gold leaf at the hotel’s soigné La Terrazza restaurant. Life doesn’t get much more dolce than that.
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