Mandarin Oriental
Mandarin Oriental

Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como: Big fish. Small pond

08 Aug 2022 | Updated on: 07 May 2024 |By Richard Brown

The Hong Kong hotel group picks a top spot for its first European resort

They chose a better spot than George Clooney, you’d have to say. Sure, Clooney’s Villa L’Oleandra came with a private jetty and a stretch of lawn that would make the groundsman at Lord’s jealous. But it’s on the west side of the lake, where the hills are steep, so the sun’s almost gone by late afternoon. You can broil on the teak-decked floating swimming pool of Mandarin Oriental Lake Como, where the club sandwiches come Taschen-tome thick and the Aperol spritz disappears fast, until gone six – if you’ve not slinked off to your own private terrace by then (the hotel has 75 rooms; almost all of them have their own balconies).

Across the lake, it’s just about possible to make out Villa d’Este, the fêted wedding-cake hotel, which, until the Mandarin Oriental rolled into town in 2018 (Blevio, to be precise), really had only the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Villa Serbelloni with which to contend.

But Villa d’Este is old money and pearl necklaces and blazers-on-at-all-times after dark. The Mandarin Oriental is girls in Gucci bikinis reading Sally Rooney novels and guys in Orlebar Brown trunks re-reading Never Split the Difference. The crowd tilts younger here. The staff wear polo shirts by Paul & Shark.

The Hong Kong hotel group inherited a lovely pile, they’d have to admit. It was, briefly, the CastaDiva Resort in a previous life, before being acquired by London-based private equity firm Attestor Capital in 2017. Back in the early 19th century, the estate belonged to the opera singer Giuditta Pasta, who, according to legend, would serenade her composer neighbour, Vincenzo Bellini, from her lakeside loggia. Bellini would later write the aria Casta Diva (Chaste Goddess) from his blockbuster opera Norma with Pasta in mind. Hence, the CastaDiva Resort. Now, the Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como.

You can visit Pasta’s grave in nearby Blevio, if that’s your thing. It’s not far from Ristorante Vapore, an unassuming hotel-restaurant that has signed photographs of Harry Styles and Robert De Niro on the walls. It does bowls of excellent ravioli for €14 and plates of brilliant seabass for €18. But mostly it’s about the views, which are enough to make your eyes go misty after several glasses of chianti.

Back to the MO. Not only did the group inherit the world’s most Instagrammable swimming pool, it also acquired three historic Italianate villas (the oldest dates from 1799), six stylish stone outbuildings (the last finished in 2010), 6.4 acres of mature gardens, 50 species of plants, several hundred metres of prime Como lakefront, and a 200-year-old Lebanese cedar tree.

Mandarin Oriental then stamped its own identity on the place. Out went heavy velvet curtains and old-fashioned furniture (most of it). In came contemporary lighting and elegant Chinoiserie wallpaper and vases upon vases of orchids. It took the folks at Michelin just seven months to garland the hotel’s flagship restaurant, the Italian-Japanese L’Aria, with one of its asterisks.

There’s a spa, too. The largest on the lake. It’s in an underground grotto, that doubles as a boathouse, which feels like a setting from a James Bond film. There’s an indoor swimming pool that will massage you with hidden jets, and a Finnish sauna and a Himalayan salt room, plus a giant fish tank and something called an ‘emotional shower’ – presumably for when the absurd beauty of the place all gets a bit too much.

You can’t see Clooney’s pad from the pool. It’s around a bend, behind some trees. But you can rent a Riva from the hotel’s pontoon and pootle up there to see what I mean for yourself. There are worse ways of idling away an afternoon.

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A superior room starts from €640 per night in low season,