Lake Como’s Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & SPA
By Mark Sissons
Long before modern celebrity A-listers like George Clooney, Richard Branson, Gianni Versace and Madonna owned posh waterfront villas here, Lago di Como, the jewel in Northern Italy’s crown of glittering mountain lakes, was a popular retreat for Europe’s wealthy and famous. As far back as ancient Roman times, the well-heeled came here to appreciate the region’s scenic beauty and soak up the sunny summer weather while staying in one of the picturesque villages surrounding Italy’s deepest lake.
During the Belle Époque in the late 1800s and early 1900s, opulent waterfront resort hotels sprang up around Lake Como hosting affluent, noble families from across Europe and Russia in Art Nouveau, neoclassical and baroque splendor. One of the finest of these glitzy retreats was Grand Hotel Victoria on the outskirts of the charming lakeside village of Menaggio. It first welcomed vacationing English, German and Russian aristocratic families in 1892, and they often stayed to play for the entire summer season.
In 2018, the Italian family-owned R Collection Hotels Group purchased the faded Grand Hotel Victoria and embarked on a two-year, 20 million euro renovation. Local architect Franco Pè was hired to oversee the restoration of the original five-story, 19th-century neoclassical villa containing thirty-four spacious and well-appointed rooms and suites of varying sizes offering spectacular views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Original Belle Epoque features like grand staircases lined with stucco and stained glass windows, ornate columns and friezes, glittering chandeliers, and marble fireplaces adorning the public areas now blend flawlessly with contemporary design elements. And in keeping with the made-in-Italy theme, local craftspeople, and boutique textile manufacturers supplied everything from handmade furniture to exquisite bedding fabrics.
A glass-enclosed walkway connects the Villa to the new six-story Palazzo’s more contemporary rooms, the outdoor pool, and the lavish underground ERRE Spa designed by celebrated Italian wellness facility specialists, Starpool. The largest five-star wellness facility in the Como region, it is divided into a series of rooms surrounding a 20-meter-long central pool and offers everything from multi-temperature immersion rituals and Finnish saunas to an actual ice room, various steam baths and traditional Turkish and Roman styled-treatment rooms.
Hotel guests can dine on sumptuous Italian cuisine prepared with fresh local ingredients at the upscale Lago Restaurant supervised by executive chef Martin Vitaloni, enjoy more casual delights like pizza at Gourmet 1827, and gather for aperitifs, fine local wines, and delicious snacks and at Bar Griso or Bar Griso or Bar Manzoni.
With all of this in-house pomp and pampering on offer, it would be too easy to simply retreat into the soothing embrace of Grand Hotel Victoria’s amenities. That would be a mistake, considering the variety of local excursions available, easily arranged through the hotel’s concierge. Most popular are private boat tours across the lake to visit traditional neighboring villages like Bellagio, Varenna, and Tremezzo, with their breathtakingly beautiful waterfront villas, gardens, and castles perched on steep mountainsides.
Sitting at a waterside cafe table and sipping prosecco as you gaze at vacationers crisscrossing across Lake Como’s sapphire water, it’s easy to appreciate what makes this gorgeous part of Northern Italy so popular among travelers who’ve been flocking to oases like Grand Hotel Victoria for well over a century. You don’t have to be George Clooney to fully appreciate this supremely photogenic slice of la dolce vita.
Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & SPA will reopen for the 2023 season on March 10th. Rates start at EURO 460 per night.
Mark Sissons has explored seven continents and dozens of countries on assignment as a travel writer and photographer specializing in adventure and family travel. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Robb Report, National Geographic Traveler, the Globe and Mail, the San Francisco Chronicle, Men’s Journal, NUVO Magazine and the Dallas Morning News. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.