Steam rises from the rooftop infinity pool which looks out across Lake Como as we enjoy a few lengths. A family is relaxing in the hot tub while a seaplane skims the still water and church bells chime. It is November but the sky is a shade of strong blue.
Italy was not an obvious choice for a long weekend break. The lively, somewhat chaotic scene that makes it so attractive ordinarily was not what we were after – relaxation was.
Yet after just a 90-minute flight from London to Milan and a 45-minute train ride to Lake Como, plus five minutes by taxi to the hotel, you can be sipping an aperitif and taking in views to die for.
There are ‘views to die for’ from Hilton Lake Como, The Mail on Sunday’s Sarah Hartley says. Above is the hotel’s stunning rooftop infinity pool
Hilton Lake Como’s ‘masterstroke’, says Sarah, is that it occupies prime space just back from the waterfront
Sarah recommends a boat trip on Lake Como – you’ll pootle past ‘jaw-dropping, unimaginably beautiful 16th Century villas’
George Clooney pictured on a boat near his Lake Como home, back in 2009
Como is known for giving visitors a sense of eerie calm, penned in as it is by hillsides and the Alps beyond. And in low season, everywhere is taking a deep breath out.
The days when Como was a global leader in silk production are over, but the heritage remains.
Hilton Lake Como’s masterstroke, built in and around a former silk factory in 2018, is that it occupies prime space just back from the waterfront with what feels like a modern Asian vibe around a glass lounge and internal gardens. And it has bagged every hotel’s post-lockdown craving: tip-top staff.
Cool loft duplex suites are popular with couples who can retract their glass roof and star-gaze in bed, says Sarah
Value: B&B rooms cost from €180 (£150) a night at Hilton Lake Como
Space is the buzzword. Cool loft duplex suites are popular with couples who can retract their glass roof and star-gaze in bed, while interconnecting suites with balconies are a bonus for families.
And it’s a hub for corporate functions and weddings – 1,000 guests descended on Como from India with a month’s notice for one summer wedding.
The hotel’s luxurious amounts of room immediately put you at ease, so it’s not hard to relax in the wide and spacious Satin restaurant at breakfast or stroll the light and airy halls – a relief for those with wheelchairs or buggies.
Unlike most hotels around the Lake Como, the Hilton is open all year
Hilton Lake Como’s Satin restaurant, above, is where Sarah ate breakfast
If clouds descend, says Sarah, retreat to the comfort of the Hilton’s adults-only spa with pool (above), sauna and steam, where treatments include the signature Silk Touch massage
Unlike most hotels around the lake, this place is open all year (as is the rooftop pool) and must be spectacular at New Year – although, according to locals, it’s just as stunning in April when azaleas light up the hillside.
If clouds descend, retreat to the comfort of the adults-only spa with pool, sauna and steam, where treatments include the signature Silk Touch massage.
Wend your way down the few minutes from the hotel to the lake to find the elegant Villa Olmo, where dogs scamper through ornate public gardens and its statues run to the water’s edge. Follow the path past swans, feed ducks with leftover focaccia, spot herons and take part in the passeggiata, Italians’ staple evening stroll, along the beautiful waterside.
Hilton Lake Como’s ‘luxurious amounts of room immediately put you at ease’, writes Sarah
Reaching Hilton Lake Como is a cinch – the journey from London involves a 90-minute flight, a 45-minute train ride and five minutes in a taxi
With any luck you’ll catch sight of a seaplane gliding gently down – or take a trip yourself with Aero Club Como (from €240, aeroclubcomo.com). Want to hop on a Vespa? The hotel can arrange it, alongside picnic bike rides and private boat tours. Further along the marina, a flotilla of yachts marks the elegant Yacht Club Como, one of the oldest in Italy.
Besides Hollywood star George Clooney, who bought Villa Oleandra in 2001, the other luminary at Como is Alessandro Volta, the city’s favourite son and pioneer of electricity, credited as the inventor of the electric battery. This explains the extravagant lighting everywhere, from the parks to the flowery clusters in the hotel.
Looming over the lake shore is what looks like a concrete water tower but on closer inspection is a monolithic First World War memorial, commissioned by the fascists in the 1930s.
For a chilled Lake Como experience take the slow boat to Torno, pictured. Its church and villas are romantic, says Sarah, and in low season it’s quiet
The Volta Temple is a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta, Como’s favourite son and pioneer of electricity, credited as the inventor of the electric battery
Sarah’s verdict: ‘While the big-ticket hotels [at Lake Como] such as Villa D’Este and The Mandarin Oriental are knockout for one night, Hilton Lake Como’s low-key luxury makes for a longer no-stress, no-drive escape’
Sarah Hartley was a guest of Hilton Lake Como, where B&B rooms cost from €180 (£150) a night. EasyJet flies to Milan Malpensa from Gatwick, with one-way fares from £29.50. Trains from the airport to Como San Giovanni station cost €16 (£13) return.
From the quay, choose from fast or slow boats that call at stops up and down the lake, passing dozens of jaw-dropping, unimaginably beautiful 16th Century villas. Buy tickets first – you’ll soon be reminded of the Italian style of queuing, so get them early.
Bellagio, arguably the area’s most enchanting town, draws dawdling hordes to its maze of cobbled streets, so for a chilled experience take the slow boat to Torno. Its church and villas are just as romantic, but in low season it’s quiet so you can step on to the quayside at Piazza Casartelli and linger over an aperitivo at the Il Belvedere hotel, or join locals for pizza at Bar Italia next door.
Back in Como, instead of tea, have a gelato before browsing designer boutiques such as Armani and Fendi in the streets surrounding the 14th Century Duomo, which is the real star here. Take time to admire the tombs, paintings and startling blue ceiling which mirrors the blue of the lake. Stroll back for dinner at the glass Terrazza 241 rooftop restaurant and bar, run with brio by Vincenzo. His special creation is the smoking Negroni (don’t try making it at home!), and don’t miss Lago di Como gin served with rosemary and dried orange.
Jaded taste buds will be refreshed with a short menu, including seafood gnocchi with black squid ink. The children’s menu may be predictable, but the pesto pasta and penne al ragu were fine-dining good.
It’s a mellow place to kick back. Live guitar or saxophone add to the low-light vibe at dinner, where couples and families mix easily, although babysitting is offered.
While the big-ticket hotels here such as Villa D’Este and The Mandarin Oriental are knockout for one night, Hilton Lake Como’s low-key luxury makes for a longer no-stress, no-drive escape.