Explore the Christmas spirit at Villa d’Este

5 December 2023
Written by
Nicky Swallow

Amidst festive decor, lakeside greenhouse and an indulgent Chocolate Room

For the second year running, Villa d’Este, an icon of Italian high-end hôtelerie, has extended its winter season to include the Christmas and New Year holidays. With its peerless position on the western shore of Lake Como just outside the pretty town of Cernobbio, this storied Grande Dame makes a brilliant base for exploring the Lakes without the summer crowds.   

To mark the Christmas season, the entire hotel (which this year celebrates 150 years of top-class hospitality), has been dressed to the nines in sumptuous decorations curated by Vincenzo Dascanio, one of Italy’s foremost experts in floral design. The exuberant installations give the whole place the feel of a huge fairytale stage set: Christmas trees, garlands and bows, myriad twinkling lights and gilded baubles decorate rooms,  hallways and gardens, outlining the elegant curve of arches, winding around neo-classical columns, weaving in and out and up and down carpeted staircases, cloaking shrubs, encasing the trunks and threading through the branches of trees, now almost bare of leaves. The numbers involved are staggering: 30 kilometers of green festoons, 20,000 golden baubles and 500,000 tiny white LED lights which took 10 days to install. 

A slew of seasonal activities are on offer, or you can just hunker down with a good book and wallow in the exceptional hospitality and magnificent lake and mountain views. Specially built for the winter season and warmly decorated in green and gold, the cozy lakeside wood-and-glass Greenhouse, is a good spot to retreat to and offers light lunch, afternoon tea and seasonal signature cocktails along with gourmet nibbles (including a caviar trolley) and live music. 

Or follow your nose to the elegant red-and-gold Chocolate Room, a Christmas pop-up, for a decadent cioccolato caldo, hot toddy or spicy vin brulé. Sweet temptations include Villa d’Este’s famous artisanal panettone and a host of melting ‘pastisserie’ along with an eye-popping  selection of pralines, dragées and chocolate sculptures all of which can be giftwrapped and taken home as presents. 

Vincenzo D’Ascanio set-design
Dining room at Villa d’Este

Executive Chef Michele Zambanini has devised a series of very special menus for the Christmas period, and the Veranda restaurant with its wide windows and dreamy lake views begs you to put on your glad rags and really sparkle. Christmas Eve dinner offers fish as per Italian tradition while for  Christmas Day lunch there are truffles along with lobster, squash-filled ‘plin’ pasta, confit goose with chestnuts, finishing up with home-made panettone. The seven-course New Year’s Eve feast includes king crab with caviar, white truffle risotto, lobster and foie gras, beef Wellington and a host of sweet treats along with Dom Perignon 2013 and other superlative vintages from Italy and France. The gala evening will be crowned by a fabulous firework display over the lake and dancing into the small hours. Still hungry? A restorative New Year’s Day buffet brunch with countless seasonal specialties is the final flourish.   

But it’s not all about eating and drinking. Weather permitting, you can explore the lake in one of the hotel’s vintage boats or spend an afternoon shopping for silk and cashmere bargains in Como. For rainy days, you can learn how to make a Christmas garland, to decorate a festive table or to bake Christmas biscuits. The Sporting Club has a large heated pool, Turkish bath and sauna plus a gym to help offload the extra calories, and massages can be booked in-room. WEBSITE

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