Before the pandemic, there had been a growing trend of people celebrating holidays at hotels instead of in their living rooms. Since the pandemic, there has been a rise in family and friends traveling together as a group, a result of both our “pod” experience and the realization how important it is to spend time with those we love. These two trends are likely to come together in a big way for the next winter festive season, and it is not too early to start planning – especially if you want to be one of the very few to enjoy a wonderful and unique Italian fantasy.
Italy has long been the number one dream destination for Americans surveyed about travel, and the country is home to a stunning array of fantastic hotels and resorts, from one end of the boot to the other. But few are as globally famous as Villa d’Este, a true legend. The word iconic is now greatly overused in travel writing, but Villa d’Este is an actual icon, and when it opens its doors seasonally in about three weeks (March 3, 2022) it will be doing so for the 150th consecutive season. In that time the family-owned property on the shore of Lake Como, Italy’s most famous lake (Bellagio, George Clooney, seemingly half the Bond movies, etc.) has been home away for home for everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra to Bruce Springsteen and Jennifer Aniston, not to mention plenty of royalty.
The really big 150th birthday news is Festive Season. Traditionally Villa d’Este (and other top Lakes Region resorts) has closed for the winter, usually in mid-November. Not this year.
The only other time in its storied century and a half history that the resort stayed open through the holidays was to celebrate the end of the last millennium, and I recently spoke to someone who had the historic honor to have been there for that New Years, and let’s just say, they partied like it was 1999. 23 years later, Villa d’Este is staying open into January, an extension which covers Thanksgiving, Channukah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Year’s. Spending the holidays here may just be a once in a lifetime opportunity, buy it is also sure to be a wonderful time, as the hotel is justifiably famous (I’ve been) for its accommodations, service, grounds, facilities and food. For the rare December opening, the resort will drape itself in lights and holiday decorations with little expense spared.
As a hotel, Villa d’Este may be “just” 150, but it began as a Cardinal’s sumptuous villa in 1568, and this delivers guests another three centuries of atmosphere, art and history. There are few hotels in the world so connected to their outdoor spaces – it occupies a park-like landscape, 25-acres of stunningly manicured gardens, full of temple and castle-like structures.
The resort has four private villas in addition to 152 rooms and suites, multiple bars and restaurants, a large tennis center with clay and hard courts, all manner of powered and unpowered watersports, indoor and outdoor pools, plus its famous and oft-photographed floating pool in Lake Como, a large lavish spa and wellness center, even its own 18-hole golf course, ranked one of the best in Italy.
This holiday season is very new and very big news in the world of luxury travel, and the hotel has not even finished drafting its extended opening press release yet. When the holiday packages go on sale shortly they will likely disappear quickly, so if you want to be part of an unforgettable holiday season, especially after a long two-plus years of pandemic living, I suggest you contact your travel agent or advisor as soon as possible.
If this winter is not the right time for you, it’s worth noting that the 150th season will be a long, ongoing series of celebrations. The big birthday will be celebrated on June 28th, and anyone staying that night will be in for an evening to remember. But there are special events and concerts all year long, from the internationally renowned Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este car show in May to the celebrations of Italy’s Festa della Repubblica (June 2), America’s July 4th, France’s Bastille Day (July 14th) and so on.
One other thought: I am a huge fan of European ski vacations, as the food and cultural experience is far superior to what we have here. Villa d’Este sits very close to the Swiss border and is an easy jumping off point for some of the most famous ski resorts in the Alps, most notably Gstaad and St. Moritz, the birthplace of winter sports. With very easy transfers, combining a holiday stay here with skiing and fondue sounds like about as good a winter vacation as I could imagine, and one that has simply not been possible until this year.