By Debbie Silver
Can you fall in love with a hotel? After visiting the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, I do believe so. Set along Lake Como, the Serbelloni is pure enchantment! You'll want to plan a wedding ceremony, renew your vows, or like a few couples I met, return to the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni where they spent their honeymoon, 30 years ago, even 50 years ago.
A European Grand hotel conjures up images of the finest service, formal, perhaps a bit stuffy. However, the Villa Serbelloni is unique; it has the history and glamour of a grand hotel, yet strikes a balance, both elegant and relaxed. Built in 1850 as a private home for an aristocratic family, the property was eventually sold. The new owners added two additional wings and opened as a hotel in 1873.
Since 1918, the Grand Hotel Serbelloni has been owned and run by the Bucher family, Swiss hotel builders with multiple international properties. 2018 marked the family's 100th anniversary, a testament to the survival of a family owned and operated hotel, a rarity these days. Three generations have lived and worked in the hotel and along with the staff who have been there for 20, 30, 40 years, a lifetime of devotion to the Serbelloni.
When you hear the history of a family-owned grand hotel during World War II, it's a story for Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey for his next PBS series. During the war, the hotel became apartments for Milanese families escaping the bombing in their city. Bellagio was taken over with Nazi and Fascist headquarters set up at Villa Julia, a short distance from the Serbelloni.
The villa's owners were Swiss so the Bucher family had the grounds of the hotel recognized as Swiss property with an official certificate from the Swiss Government. Two Jewish families, one from New Zealand, and one English managed to escape into the Serbelloni. The hotel became their safe haven during the war under the protection of the Swiss Consulate in Milan in 1943. The police looking for the Jewish families were forbidden from entering. After the war, the hotel had to restart operations and rebuild.
Host to royalty, presidents and movie stars, there are two suites dedicated to two special guests, JFK and Churchill. It's wistful reading the plaque dedicated to JFK suite after his visit in June of 1963. I can't help but wish JFK extended his visit to the Villa Serbelloni and never went to Dallas that November. Tour the villa's cinematic surroundings-the frescoed coffered ceilings, the Murano chandeliers, each one an Italian masterpiece. The marble staircase descending to the ballroom could have been the set for the Von Trapp family children singing "So Long, Farewell" to the guests at the ball. I can't count how many times, I exclaimed, "Wow" during my stay. The breakfast Salon Reale is truly magnificent.The attentive staff, so professional, a testament to the art of service. No matter where you dine, from the casual La Goletta to the mastery and showmanship of Chef Ettore Bocchia's molecular cuisine at the Michelin-starred, Ristorante Mistral on the veranda, every restaurant is memorable.
It's hard to choose my favorite spot. I'd have to say relaxing on a chaise lounge on the villa's sandy beach sipping Prosecco looking out at the crystal waters of Lake Como. It's like you're on a floating Italian villa. Yet... I really love the late afternoon cocktail and aperitifs at the outdoor lounge, Bar La Darsena on the terrace. Explore the charming town of Bellagio, no need for a taxi, simply walk out the gates and you're there. Public ferries and boats are just minutes from the villa and the hotel can arrange private boat rides from the hotel's dock.
Once you've stayed at The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni you'll cherish your new connection to Lake Como and the history and staff of this grand European hotel. Opening April 5th-November 3rd for the 2019 season. Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni villaserbelloni.com