Where the stars enjoy the Dolce Vita

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Lake Como and Como seen from above – what a beautiful view from the seaplane. © Bernhard Krieger / dpa-tmn

Italy’s third largest lake is a tip for Germans and a glamorous travel destination for Americans. A scenic flight over Lake Como.

Como – Two more hops and the skids of the Cessna are already coming out of the water. A wave shakes the seaplane for the last time, then climbs into the sky above Lake Como.

A breeze blows into the cabin through the side window, wiping the sweat from the anxious natures’ brow. Many passengers safely board the fragile-looking “Bird Dog” vintage plane with a nauseous feeling.

“Don’t worry,” reassures Cesare Baj. The US Air Force used this powerful machine as a reconnaissance plane in the Korean War, he says. It was subsequently taken over by the Italian Air Force. “In 2013 it ended at Aero Club Como”.

The white-haired pilot has almost as many hours of flight behind him as the seaplane built in 1946. “The flying experience should not be missing,” jokes Cesare Baj.

Seaplane pilot
The white-haired pilot Cesare Baj has almost as many flying hours behind him as the seaplane built in 1946. © Bernhard Krieger / dpa-tmn

Baj is the author of numerous specialist books and vice president of the Aero Club Como. Founded in 1930, the club is the oldest seaplane club in the world. In addition to the old days, it has numerous modern aircraft in its fleet. Countless pilots have been trained here and even more guests have been taken on scenic flights.

Aired as a Y – upside down

After take off, Cesare Baj flies in a wide arc over Como. The view of the labyrinth of alleys and the dome of the cathedral is magnificent. The city is framed by forested mountains.

Coming from the air from the south, the third largest lake in Italy looks like an inverted “Y”. Halfway up – in Bellagio – Lake Como, 51 kilometers long, forks. The eastern arm ends in Lecco, the western one in Como.

Baj heads north. In the cockpit of the two-seater, the experienced pilot is surrounded by ancient instruments and levers. The most modern part of the “Bird Dog” appears to be a red fire extinguisher. But even without the high tech, the fan gun is safe in the air. The surfers sail below her.

A motorboat competes successfully with the wheeled steamer “Milano” and tries the same unsuccessfully with a hydrofoil motorboat of the company Gestione Navigazione Laghi, which also connects banks with car ferries.

The villa that brought world fame

Cities cling to steep slopes along coastal roads, while others huddle in narrow bays. Building land is scarce and expensive. After clerics, nobles and industrialists from rich Lombardy, it is now AC and Inter footballers, as well as celebrities from all over the world, who are driving up prices. Villas cost many millions, some are simply inaccessible.

These include the eighteenth-century Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, now a museum with an imposing park, and the even older Villa d’Este in Cernobbio.

The first stone for the subsequent Renaissance residence was laid in 1442. It was the home of cardinals, kings and tsars before being transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873. For Cesare Baj the Grand Hotel with the floating pool in the lake is the highlight. of his panoramic flights, for Danilo Zucchetti the highlight of his career. The Milanese is the director of the Villa d’Este, which has made Lake Como known throughout the world as a holiday resort with “grandeur”.

Sinatra, de Niro, Lady Gaga, they were all here

Zucchetti’s most important task is to preserve the myth of the villa without letting it expire over time. His motto is therefore: “I constantly develop, but nothing changes.” And it seems to be successful: once Gary Cooper, Liz Taylor and Frank Sinatra arrived, today Robert de Niro or Bruce Springsteen are regular guests here.

“After the dates for her film” The House of Gucci “, Lady Gaga has recently stayed longer than expected,” reveals Zucchetti. The hotel rightly bears the nickname “Hollywood on Lake Como”.

The charisma of Villa d’Este and its illustrious guests from the world of cinema and music have made Lake Como in the United States the epitome of the Italian summer “Dolce Vita”. Here you can sunbathe, paddle across the lake in the elegant Riva di Como Classic Boats yachts or play golf in Menaggio and at the Club Villa d’Este. It does not belong to the famous hotel, but it offers one of the most impressive golf courses in the country.

Clooney and Lake Como

In Germany, Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore are better known than Lake Como. Although the actor George Clooney, owner of Villa Oleandra in the town of Laglio not far from Como since 2003, can also be seen in the photos of Lake Como in German gossip newspapers and thus brings advertising to the Lake.

Villa d'Este
The Villa d’Este and illustrious guests from the world of cinema and music have made Lake Como the epitome of the “Dolce Vita” in the USA. © Bernhard Krieger / dpa-tmn

Laglios mayor Roberto Pozzi goes to great lengths to protect his honorary citizen from prying eyes. However, he can’t stop boaters from spying on his property on the lake. “The poor guy has very little privacy,” says Cesare Baj as he flies the Cessna over Clooney’s mansion.

Clooney is a great ambassador of Lake Como, says Marco Montagnani. «But the Villa d’Este here was the initial spark of tourism», admits without envy the director of the brand new luxury hotel on the lake. The Victoria in Menaggio is not one of the classic grand hotels, but a successful combination of an ancient historical building and a modern extension. The noble Vista Palazzo di Como is brand new. The list of luxury hostels around the lake gets longer.

Director of the Villa d'Este
The Milanese Danilo Zucchetti is the director of Villa d’Este. © Bernhard Krieger / dpa-tmn

The affluent have a lot to choose from on Lake Como, while the average income tends to opt for holiday apartments. Campsites are rare. There is one in Menaggio that looks particularly inviting when viewed from the Cessna. While other spots on the steep west bank are already in shadow at the start of the day, the campsite square with bars and restaurants is still illuminated by the sun. The cut into the mountain range behind the village makes it possible.

Bellagio is the stage

Varenna on the eastern shore and Bellagio on the promontory that extends to the lake are bathed in warm light until sunset. Behind the often snow-capped peaks of the Veltliner Alps rise. Bellagio is the stage, Varenna is the grandstand.

Especially from the Royal Gourmet terraced restaurant in Varenna, which slopes down towards the lake, you have a splendid view of Bellagio opposite. Due to its narrow streets, which wind steeply up to the lakefront with its luxuriant blooming oleanders, it is considered the “Pearl of the Lake”. The immense botanical garden of Villa Melzi also contributed to the fame of Bellagio.

Cesare Baj prefers to fly over Bellagio from Varenna in a wide arch. The view of the enthroned Villa Serbelloni above the village is the most beautiful.

The 16th-century palace has long been owned by Princess Ella Walker, who was born in the United States. The lady, who is still revered today as a benefactor in Bellagio, bequeathed it to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1959. Since then, the foundation has made the villa available to artists and scientists.

When the then President of the United States John F. Kennedy was a guest at Villa Serbelloni in the summer of 1963, there was a real crowd.

The Americans brought the wealth

Bellagio is always lively in the summer. The Caffè Bar Sport of the Basilica San Giacomo is no exception. It has been run by the family of the brothers Augusto and Emilio for more than 100 years. “We are the news exchange for the locals and a magnet for tourists,” says Augusto, who is over 80 years old.

Above all, the happy-to-spend Americans enriched the village. The fact that the famous Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas got its name from the city on Lake Como further fueled the boom.

Hotel Villa d'Est
Hotel Villa d’Este has made Lake Como known throughout the world as a holiday destination with “Grandezza”. © Villa d’Este / dpa-tmn

Ms. Tiziana personally experienced the climb and also contributed a little to shape it. She runs the Belvedere boutique hotel together with her mother Lucia and daughter Giulia. “The hotel was founded in 1880 as a modest inn by a woman and has been run by women for five generations since then,” says Tiziana. Instead of glitz and spectacle like many grand hotels, the three Belvedere ladies score points with their eye for detail and a great restaurant.

Seaplane view
A breathtaking view on the seaplane of Como. © Bernhard Krieger / dpa-tmn

From the terrace of their restaurant you can see the small port of Pescallo. There Carlo Tettamanzi awaits guests with his sailing boats. The lawyer was a professional skipper, racing and crossing the Atlantic before returning home to offer tours on Lake Como under the name of Bellagio Sailing.

Where Robbie Williams has paid too much

Tettamanzi is a fascinating storyteller who knows God and the world. “Clooney was interested in that mansion because he could offer more privacy,” he says. And he also knows where singer Robbie Williams hit. “The 40 million euros for his villa was too much” smiles Tettamanzi, then sets sail on the classic 13-meter yacht “Dama di Bellagio”.

Room with a view
Rooms with a view: The rooms of the Hotel Villa d’Este also attract attention. © Villa d’Este / dpa-tmn

The skipper, who, like so many people on the lake, speaks perfect English, naturally has countless restaurant recommendations in store. Restaurant guides list dozens of important addresses in the region.

One of the best is the Cernobbio kitchen, where the young Sicilian Andrea Casali excels with an imaginative cuisine but attentive to the quality of the ingredients. Its creamy red prawns with fermented almonds or pasta filled with parmesan and foie gras have earned a Michelin star.

The summer residence of the first Chancellor

Cesare Baj flies over the kitchen, just past Cadenabbia, where the first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, spent many summer holidays at Villa La Collina.

“Today the villa is part of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation,” says Baj. Under his car, traffic slows down on the west bank road, Queen Street. “If the locals at the lake are too crowded, they flee inland for the weekend.” There are numerous farmhouses in the countryside.

First a bath in the forest, then a water bath

A very special agriturismo is Tenuta De L’Annunziata near the Swiss border. Bathing in the forest instead of splashing around in the lake is the motto here. Behind the castle-like palace, high in the hills, is a forest with 40 marked trees. “Each one has a different bioenergetic effect on people”, explains Elisabetta Guffanti, who runs the farm with her sister Arianna.

The cherry energy field is said to help with heart problems and the chestnut energy field with stomach problems if you stay close to them for at least ten minutes. A question of faith. It sure doesn’t hurt to be near a tree for a while.

After swimming in the woods, guests can bathe in the water in the large spa center of the farmhouse. In the restaurant, the connection with the surrounding woods and fields is also very important. All the ingredients and even the wine come from our own production or from other farms.

Cesare Baj saves the extra ride at the farmhouse, which is located about 15 kilometers west of Como, and starts the approach to the landing. With a view over the historic center of Como, his “Bird Dog” slowly sinks and lands softly on the lake. dpa

Lake Como

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