Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como, Italy
by Richard Jones
Il dolce far niente is an Italian phrase which describes the sweet essence and enjoyment of doing nothing. Although it is effectively untranslatable into English, we came to fully understand the concept during a short break on Lake Como.
No more so than when our two daughters Isla, 12, and Evelyn eight, splashed around in the pool, as my wife Rachel and I stared out over the lake’s turquoise waters towards the pastel-coloured buildings in the distance.
The four of us were at Europe’s largest floating lido, just across the road from Hotel Britannia Excelsior in Cadenabbia on the western shore of Como. Like most of the small communities on the lake, Cadenabbia, is sheltered by the tree-lined foothills of the Alps, and boasts a stunning view of famous town of Bellagio, where the 46km-long stretch of water branches into a Y.
Despite it being a favourite with Queen Victoria back in the day, there doesn’t seem to be much to the resort – it comes across as another sleepy and picture-perfect village on the lush Lombardy lakeshore. However, when you throw in the hospitality of the Britannia Excelsior, you soon realise why Cadenabbia has become a favourite for holidaymakers from around the globe.
Checking in on a steamy August evening, we were immediately struck by the old-worldly feel of the hotel’s grand ceramic-tiled reception, classic Italian furniture, turn-of-the-century style marble column-lined dining hall and hypnotic fountain in the foyer.
The four of us were booked into a deluxe family room with a lakeside view. Kitted out with a double and two single beds, a satellite TV, refrigerator and stylish bathroom, we felt instantly relaxed after an evening flight into Milan Bergamo airport.
However, the best thing about the suite, and perhaps the Britannia Excelsior as a whole, became clear the following morning. Drawing back the heavy curtains, we were left gobsmacked by the sheer beauty of the vista from the balcony, with the sun rising over the serene lake and illuminating the golden houses of Bellagio.
After soaking up the views for a short time, we headed down for breakfast in the hotel’s Grand Dining Room. Round-the-clock eating and drinking at the Britannia Excelsior means you can dine out in a different restaurant for each meal during a three-day mini break.
We were given platinum wristbands for our stay and had full all-inclusive access to the restaurants and bars as well as a few other treats in Cadenabbia and the surrounding area. Lunch and dinner are served at the Lido 50 metres down the street.
The restaurant boasts an impressive à la carte menu, with delectable Lombardy-flavoured choices like sausage tartare, calamari and seafood tagliatelle. Upstairs at the Lido is the Rooftop Pizzeria, which offers a whole range of succulent pizzas with views of the stunning lake.
Drinks-wise, the all-inclusive option also means that you can hydrate freely in the hotel’s three bars, including the Lido, and at the Brazilian barbecue speciality restaurant, the Churrasco Grill, by the floating pool.
Another big pull for the Britannia Excelsior is that owners Ross and Doriana Whieldon and their staff go the extra mile to make guests feel at home. And not only that, the family clearly has a significant influence on and knowledge of the area, which guests can tap into.
They run the nearby Bazzoni hotel, just a short walk past the beautiful botanical gardens of Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. We stopped off at its chic restaurant, N26 Bistro, which serves up excellent seafood including mussels, clams and sea bass.
Then, the next morning, we met up with Ross and Doriana’s son Thomas who runs a heli fly fishing business in the mountains. He gave us a few handy tips on what we should see and do during our short time in the area surrounding Italy’s third largest lake.
The 18th-century Villa del Balbianello where filming took place for the James Bond movie Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a must for film fans, while history buffs can visit Giulino where Mussolini was arrested and executed. And, of course, there is George and Amal Clooney’s Oleandra sumer residence in Laglio.
For walkers, there are plenty of longer hikes, including from Griante to the hillside chapel of San Martino, while the 10km Green Way Roman road from Griante to Lenno passes through some of Italy’s most picturesque villages.
However, on our second full day we fancied popping over to the ‘Pearl of Lake Como’, Bellagio. Although the hotel runs its own shuttle boat three times a day, we headed down to the nearby ferry port to purchase day tickets (€15 for adults, €7.50 for kids) which allowed us to use the ferries in the lake’s central zone all day.
The four of us happily wandered around Bellagio’s quaint cobbled streets, before stopping off for lunch and sheltering from the heavy rain at Silvio’s. This shoreside restaurant may be a bit on the expensive side, but it is well worth the euros if you have something special to celebrate.
“Pure Italian relaxation”
Then, after a gelato on the lakefront, we hopped on the ferry to another picturesque village, Varenna, with its narrow streets, mysterious alleys and lively piazzas. That night, we joined the other hotel guests in the popular bar Bubbles, to chat about our day out over a game of cards and a few ice-cold Birra Morettis for mum and dad.
On our final morning, before departing for the airport, we took a stroll to Menaggio towards the Swiss border, before spending one final hour gently bobbing up and down on Britannia Excelsior’s floating pool and raising our umpteenth glasses of Prosecco.
Our own version of ‘dolce far niente’ was undoubtedly inspired by Italy, but thanks to the Whieldons and their staff’s hospitality, there was a comforting UK feel to it.
As we expected beforehand, Lake Como is a place of pure Italian relaxation, and the fact that the Britannia Excelsior rules the waves on this small corner of it, make it even more welcoming.
TUI offers seven-night holidays to Lake Como staying at the 3T Hotel Britannia Excelsior on an all-inclusive basis from £874 per person when booked online. Price is based on two adults sharing and includes flights departing from Manchester on June 6, 2020, and transfers. To find out more about this holiday go to TUI.co.uk.
Alternatively, Shearings offer nine-day ‘Summer in Lake Como’ coach trips from the UK, staying at Hotel Britannia Excelsior for seven nights, from £559pp. See shearings.com.
For more information on the Hotel Britannia Excelsior visit: hotelbritanniacadenabbia.com