Call them cliches or basic desires, but when it comes to envisioning a dream gateway to Italy, there are must-haves on any traveler’s bucket list: sunny panoramic views, majestic natural scenery, great food, historic sites and all-around style (not to mention a little shopping time).
The new Passalacqua luxury hotel on Lake Como tops it all off with the warmth of a family that embodies the quintessence of Italian hospitality.
A private villa since 1787 nestled among centuries-old cypresses and olive trees and overlooking the village of Moltrasio, the historic estate has been restored and transformed into a sumptuous 24-suite retreat by the De Santis family. They have been an institution in the luxury hotel world since the 70s, when the family bought the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and transformed it into one of the most sought-after destinations in the region.
Opened last month, the sister of Tremezzo aims to offer a completely different experience, intimate and even more tailor-made. Despite its rooms decorated with breathtaking frescoes, its magnificent gardens, its clay tennis court and its superb swimming pool overlooking the lake, rediscovering the beauty of simple pleasures is the mantra of the owners.
“People tend to think that luxury means something extravagant and very elaborate, but that’s not the case,” says Valentina De Santis, who represents the third generation of Como-based entrepreneurs. She highlighted the “return to simplicity and authenticity” as the main secret to the success of luxury hospitality today.
“Of course, mine is the point of view of an independent hotel industry, which is very different from that of hotel chains, but I think that, especially for hotels located in Italy, one of the keys is to be promoters of authenticity and ‘Italianness'” she says. “Customers come here because they want a truly Italian experience, so the idea is to try to be authentic above all else, offering the best you have in the territory and on your own property.”
De Santis argues that guests want to “feel at home”, which is easier if the hotel is family owned. The location in this case reflects the character of the family and it has “a soul, it’s not just beautiful”.
De Santis differentiates between Tremezzo and Passalacqua, as the former “is a grand Belle Époque hotel in all its facets, from structure to services”, as she lists the establishment’s five restaurants, three swimming pools and huge spa. , among other amenities. “Passalacqua is our home: there is a varied gastronomic offer but it’s really up to the guests to decide, because they can tell the chef directly what they want to eat and even where, because very often customers ask us to set a table at a particular corner of the garden, for example. It’s their house, so they can do whatever they want.
“So you live the villa life. Every day there is a small program also inviting guests to participate in tasks such as collecting eggs from the chicken coop, cooking with the chef, learning how to make bread or ice cream with the pastry baker or walking around the city of Moltrasio to discover its hidden waterfalls. says De Santis, reiterating that these are all experiences reflecting a desire for simplicity. “For example, for me, it’s priceless to get your own tomato from the vegetable garden and have a chef make you a fresh bruschetta right away.”
To that end, strolling through Passalacqua’s charming tangerine-colored kitchen is encouraged as much as spending time in the hotel’s lavish rooms, and engaging in conversation with executive chef Mauro Verza, who doesn’t hail from hotels or restaurants. upscale but has served as a private chef for many prominent Milanese families for over 25 years.
The restyle process was an all-Italian affair, with De Santis partnering with local craftsmen and historic companies, including 13th century glassworks Barovier & Toso for the majestic Murano chandeliers in the villa and the brass specialist based in Florence Il Bronzetto for lamps and furniture throughout the mansion and gardens. The assortment of over 200 textiles featured on the site are by Fortuny, Dedar and Rubelli – who also created the exclusive “Voile de Como” pattern – while the linens are by Beltrami, who developed exclusive linens for Passalacqua in a fiber derived from birch and claimed to be softer than silk.
Other highlights include unique handcrafted mirrors by 1927 Venetian firm Barbini; bespoke leather and fabric trunks by Bottega Conticelli di Orvieto used to hide televisions in bedrooms; bathrooms furnished with marble from the caves of Carrara and Verona, and furniture, rugs and works of art scattered throughout the property handpicked and acquired by the De Santis family at fairs and sales at international auctions.
After all, De Santis defines the acquisition of Passalacqua as a “love at first sight” situation. After the Grand Hotel Tremezzo was completed, the family decided to double down on their presence on the lake and stumbled across the historic villa. Built by Count Andrea Lucini Passalacqua with the support of architect Felice Soave and designer Giocondo Albertolli, they acquired it at the end of 2018 at a private auction.
“When we walked through the doors of the villa, we felt that it was truly a unique and magical place, with its vast spaces, gardens and halls, and that it had the potential for a hospitality project” , recalls De Santis. The family has managed to turn “a dream into reality”, beating competing foreign investors who are increasingly targeting the region for real estate projects.
Over the years, the property has hosted eminent personalities from the worlds of music, literature, art and politics, ranging from Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill to Vincenzo Bellini, who lived in the mansion and has composed two of his most famous operas, “La Norma” and “La Sonnambula”, there.
The property spans three buildings and only the main villa was in pristine condition, while the family made structural changes to the other two.
The main building now houses 12 suites, all different from each other, including a 2,700 square foot cinema room billed as the largest suite on Lake Como. The old stables of the Palazz and the Casa al Lago, located directly on the lake, have eight and four suites respectively. The first also houses the spa, offering Barbara Sturm treatments in two cabins, a sauna and hammam and a relaxation area with oriental accents.
Exterior renovations included a redesign of the lush gardens – designed as separate little terraces, each dedicated to olives, roses and fruit and vegetables, and the construction of the lakeside and poolside tennis and bocce courts, to which De Santis collaborated with JJ Martin’s La Double J.
The brand’s first interior design project, this part of the property has been brightened up with vibrant prints and colorful patterns splashed across bamboo and rattan furniture, cushions, aprons, tableware as well as umbrellas and retro lounge chairs evoking La Dolce Vita. .
“The project with JJ was a bit off the beaten path,” admits De Santis, which fits with his goal of creating a sense of wonder in every corner to “surprise guests” with unique spaces.
Also in the field of fashion, the Roman clothing brand Giuliva Heritage was asked to develop the uniforms of Passalacqua staff.
The same clientele likes to hang out at Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Passalacqua, De Santis says, because the experience is different at each location.
“That was the initial goal: we wanted to do something different, also compared to the rest of the hotel scene in the region,” she adds. Still, when asked about the growing competition in high-end hotels on Lake Como, the entrepreneur sounded positive. “Very nice facilities have opened in recent years, but this increase in supply has simply generated an increase in demand. Each guest can find their favorite place. It’s healthy competition,” she said.
While whimsical experiences such as helicopter tours are increasingly in demand in the region, boat tours remain the top demand and Passalacqua has this need covered with its private dock featuring vintage Giumello and Didi boats – refurbished in Loro Piana fabrics.
However, unique client requests include replicating the hotel pool in their Miami home, for example. “It’s the height of a trend: when customers fall in love with a place, they want to take home a piece of it,” says De Santis, also mentioning the demand for umbrellas, linens, tableware and even from the hotel playlist. , among others.
To that end, in 2020, when the hotel industry as a whole was hit by travel bans, De Santis launched the Sense of Lake e-commerce site featuring a selection of Grand Hotel Tremezzo items and memorabilia, ranging from books to capsule collections developed with the likes FRS for restless sleepers. One of the most popular categories is the exclusive Aqua Como range of beauty equipment, which has now been expanded to offer a signature scent for each hotel.