For the ultimate in waterfront luxury and a trip back in time to old-world elegance, look no further than the high priestess of Lake Como hotels. Built as a private estate in 1568, Villa d'Este is one Europe's most legendary resorts and boasts an impressive pedigree of past guests from Mark Twain to Madonna. Villa d'Este delivers not only with its stunning position, palatial accommodations, and impeccably maintained 25-acre Renaissance gardens, but with world-class, personal service that many other, and even more expensive, five-star properties lack.
Rooms vary in size and layout, but all are sumptuously appointed in aristocratic Italian fashion—think tassels, brocade, curlicues, striped velvet armchairs, gilt chandeliers, and an unabashed used of the kind of saturated colors that show up in Baroque paintings. Not swanky enough for you? VIPs can avail of the ultra-fabulous suites, which come with more square footage, more over-the-top antique furnishings, ornate fireplaces, and huge lake view terraces. The James-Bond-like property overflows with refined facilities, including seven glamorous restaurants and bars, and the splendid grounds include a floating pool (it literally sits in the lake), tennis courts, even a helipad.
As a guest here, you will gawk not only at the physical plant but at your fellow guests, who are more often than not captains of industry, entertainment executives, pro athletes, and other celebrities, which is part of what makes a stay at Villa d'Este such a giddy and transporting experience. This is an unbelievably picturesque, no-holds-barred property that preserves the look and feel of centuries past with palpable elegance and sophistication—but you'd better have a defibrillator handy when they slide you the bill upon checkout. Cost aside, the atmosphere at Villa d'Este isn't for everyone. Some younger and hipper travelers may find all that retro luxury a little stiff and uncool—it is, after all, practically a history museum. Even if you don't sleep here, consider stopping for a drink and a walk around the grounds if you're in the vicinity of Cernobbio.