PASSALACQUA, LAKE COMO, ITALY
Passalacqua, Lake Como, Italy. Italy’s finest craftsmanship and heritage are celebrated in a magnificent garden setting. One of Lake Como’s most spectacular private homes opened its doors in June as a 24-suite retreat after three years of restoration
Standing above the village of Moltrasio, with seven acres of terraced gardens sweeping down to the lake’s shore, this 18th century villa is steeped in history having played host to some of the world’s most brilliant minds in music, literature, art and politics – from Napoleon Bonaparte to Bellini to Winston Churchill.
Passalacqua is the passion project of the De Santis family, owners of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. The family’s aim was to bring the mansion and its park back to life with love, respect and thoughtfulness. Every aspect of the property’s interiors, including the meticulous restoration of the frescoes, handblown glass chandeliers and mirrored secret mini bars, has been overseen personally and carefully curated, with not one suite being the same.
The 21st century iteration of Passalacqua features 24 suites spread across three accommodation offerings – each with their own distinctive character and charm. The main residence, the villa, features 12 sumptuous suites that celebrate grand Italian baroque style and original frescoes, including a double height balustraded music room where Bellini played the piano.
The Palazz, or ancient stables, comprises eight suites with centuries-old, exposed beam work, glossy damask walls and a striking spiral staircase. Down by the lake, the intimate Casa Al Lago is ideal for exclusive use, with four suites, each appointed with a private garden and all sharing a beautiful dining area and fireplace.
Right: View over the restaurant terrace and giardino all’italiana at Passalacqua, Lake Como, Italy. © Stefan Giftthaler
The De Santis family worked tirelessly with local artisans and small, generations-old Italian companies to ensure that a sense of place, heritage and quality craftsmanship resonates throughout the property. For lighting in the villa, the family sought the skills of Barovier and Toso, a Venetican company established in the 17th century and renowned for its handblown Murano glass chandeliers. Standout pieces include a 5m-tall chandelier in the Sala della Musica and a special installation comprising six chandeliers for the entrance of the main staircase.
Metal artisan, Il Bronzetto from Florence, made brass lamps and Fortuny created traditional silk tiered lampshades for the Palazz.
More than 20 different types of Italian marble were sourced from caves in Verona and Carrara to clad the bathrooms, including the unique Breccia Pontificia also used in The Vatican, which looks more like art than stone. The impressive salons of the villa have been restored in the original Terrazzo Veneziano style using marble dating back to 1787. The bedroom floors have been laid with traditional Cotto Lombardo tiles or restored original wood.
All mirrors were made to measure by Venetian glass specialist Barbini, a small family-run company dating back to 1927 that has also custom-made mirrored chests to reveal in-suite minibars.
The bed linen was made by Beltrami in ‘fibra di legno’, a natural fibre derived from birch trees, which is softer than silk. Curtains were made from silk taffeta sourced in Como. For the rest of the soft furnishings, the family went to Rubelli, an historic company in Venice, to match the distinctive colour palette of each interior space – from the classical frescoes of the villa to the warm burgundy and green of the Palazz, and the fresh garden suites of Casa Al Lago.
The De Santis family trawled local markets and auction houses to source antique furniture, precious print and artwork and vintage carpets to suit the character of each space – from the grand Italian style of the villa to the more laidback comfort of the Palazz and the garden inspired interiors of Casa al Lago.
A traditional family-run studio, Bottega Conticelli, from Orvieto, crafted room details and objets d’arts from leather and wood, including vintage-style steamer trunks, which conceal televisions.
Bathroom amenities are scented with the villa’s own original fragrance, Aqua Como 1787, and discreet hotel staff are dressed in the chicest uniforms designed by Giuliva Heritage.
The terraced gardens, which overlook Lake Como, feature private hideaways and more than 15 enchanting water fountains. They are full of centuries-old trees considered to be some of the most historic, beautiful and well-maintained in all of Italy. The Italian Gardens are located at the highest point of the estate and have the vantage point of spectacular lake views, while the ancient Winter Garden looks out onto a 20m swimming pool, surrounded by vibrant parasols and sun loungers furnished in a vibrant patterned fabric custom made for Passalacqua by fashion designer JJ Martin.
Next to the Rose Garden, the Magnolia Garden is the perfect space for practising yoga under the trees. Guests are invited to collect freshly laid eggs from the chicken shed and forage for fruit. A game of bocce can be played in the middle of the vegetable garden.
Passalacqua eschews formal dining areas for a relaxed ‘home away from home’ approach. Guests will be treated to authentic and simple Italian home cooking, using fresh garden-to-table’ ingredients. They are encouraged to visit the kitchens and speak to the team to discuss their menu for the day, bearing freshly foraged vegetables to contribute to the meal or partake in an ad hoc pasta making session. All are invited to choose their own location to dine within the property, whether that is on one of the terraces, in the Rose Garden or down by the lake.
A spa will be located in what was the cow’s manager, with two treatment cabins offering Barbara Sturm treatments, a relaxation area with columns and vaulted ceilings. A hidden humid area with sauna and steam bath is situated within the secret tunnels of the villa.