For travellers who seek the finest that the world has to offer

Villa Passalacqua is the World’s Best Hotel for 2023

For the first time, 50 Best has launched a hotels category – the brand’s first global launch since 2009 – and of the World’s 50 Best Hotels, Lake Como’s Passalacqua in Moltrasio won the award for the Best Hotel in Europe, and the World’s Best Hotel for 2023. Located in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region, Lake Como has a way of casting an intoxicating spell over visitors. Perhaps the greatest seductress of all is the newest villa to grace her shores, Villa Passalacqua. Natasha Dragun takes us inside the World’s Best Hotel for 2023.

There’s a moment as I enter my suite, La Sonnambula lilting from the stereo when I imagine the clock has been wound back a couple of centuries to a time when musicians composed opera instead of hip-hop, and couples declared love after a flute of prosecco sipped under the spell of a full moon.

My suite’s signature scent is all roses and romance, and it wafts into the balmy night through whitewashed shutters that open to dreamy views of Lake Como, dusted in the reflection of stars. A symphony of dusky pinks, my enormous room is like a shrine to Italian design. Think etched Barbini mirrored cabinets, Como silks, original stucco and ceiling carvings. In the bathroom, meanwhile, I discover white-and-rose Dover Aurora marble from the quarries of Louis XIV topping the vanity, hung with etched mirrors beside a luxurious window-side tub and silk taffeta curtains. You can see how one’s imagination starts to drift soon after checking in to Villa Passalacqua.

Staircase and gardens © Ricky Monti.jpg
Views of Lake Como © Ricky Monti

Passalacqua Lake Como has hosted composers and socialites

Like so many painters, philosophers, musicians and poets of his time, Count Andrea Lucini Passalacqua found himself seduced by Italy’s prettiest lake back in the late 1700s. Naturally, the World’s Best Hotel has an interesting history. With the assistance of Swiss designer Giocondo Albertolli who crafted the interiors, he built the now historic 1787 Passalacqua villa on its banks, and promptly went about entertaining the who’s who in its generous-sized quarters. Among them was composer Vincenzo Bellini, who visited in 1829 and couldn’t bear to leave: he wrote two of his famous operas, Norma and La Sonnambula, in the home’s music room, today Villa Passalacqua’s Bellini Suite.

Suite Bellini in the Villa with lake view Sala della Musica lounge area © Stefan Giftthaler © Enrico Costantini
Suite Bellini - Image 1: © Stefan Giftthaler | Image 2: © Enrico Costantini

The De Santis family

For most of the property’s 235-year history, Passalacqua remained a private abode. Until 2018, when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s. Enter the De Santis family, who immediately understood that Passalacqua was too beautiful not to show off.

The De Santis family is like hospitality royalty in this pocket of Northern Italy, known as the force behind Lake Como’s Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Opened in 1910 for Belle Epoque society elites, Tremezzo has – since its beginning – set new standards for luxury hospitality. Today, it’s still a family-run business, and it exudes glamour from its 90 rooms, each with ravishing views of Bellagio and the Grigne mountains tumbling into azure waters. Perhaps the best view of the spectacle is from T Beach, a stretch of real sand beside the hotel’s floating pool over the lake – think of this as a waterfront throwback to the 1950s and 1960s Italian riviera, complete with orange-and-white sun umbrellas and custom loungers.

Roseto © Stefan Giftthaler
Lake views © Stefan Giftthaler

Passalacqua’s designer interiors and modern amenities

The De Santis family’s time spent on the banks of the lake put them in a prime position to lovingly restore Passalacqua’s layers of history over three years. The property is, after all, just 30 minutes’ drive from Tremezzo. They collected hand-blown Murano chandeliers, slabs of Carrara marble, Fortuny lamps and hand-painted Bordoni leather ottoman tables.

Fitted rooms with Bottega Conticelli vintage-style steamer trunks that conceal in-suite televisions, and Beltrami linens that are made with the natural fibres of Norway’s white birch. They are softer than silk. At reception, jars of candy sit atop a Breccia Pontificia marble mantle, flanked by antique objets d’art and carefully restored frescoes. Gilded mirrors come from Venice’s family-run Barbini; couches and chairs feature textiles by Rubelli; bedroom floors are laid with traditional Cotto Lombardo tiles. It’s elegant details such as these that earned Villa Passalacqua the title of World’s Best Hotel 2023.

But there are plenty of modern touches befitting of this new hotel. Dyson hairdryers and straighteners sit in each of the 24 rooms, which are spread between the main villa, converted stables and the four-bedroom Casa Al Lago. Downstairs, within a century-old greenhouse, a restaurant has upholstery by La Double J’s JJ Martin; hotel employees are dressed in uniforms designed by cult-Italian cool girl brand Giuliva Heritage. The bathrooms are perfumed with the Villa’s original scent, Aqua Como 1787, and the state-of-the-art gym sits amid an olive grove. And oh boy, those gardens.  Villa Passalacqua is exactly what you’d expect of the inaugural World’s Best Hotel 2023.

Breathtaking Lake Como views

As you’d expect, the World’s Best Hotel 2023 has superb gardens cascading toward the cyan lake. The grounds are primped, terraced perfection – filled with silvery olive trees, mimosa, roses and magnolia. Centuries-old cedars of Lebanon lend shade to winding paths cobbled with smooth pebbles. Profuse banks of meticulously pruned jasmine waft their aromas through the sleepy air. An in-house florist picks flowers from the gardens daily, and they end up in rooms or tucked into rolled-up waffle towels by the pool. Walk far enough down the steps and you’ll find yourself at Lake Como’s shore where Passalacqua Lake Como’s private dock harbours two vintage boats. Giumello is a traditional wooden boat with a unique shape, and Didi is furnished with Loro Piana fabrics.

Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed heart-stopping lake views (is that George Clooney’s seaplane gliding overhead?). And then, after your excursion, ride back to the Villa in a Fiat 500-turned-buggy the colour of an Aperol spritz. I do just that, arriving at the villa just as the chef is bringing our tiered platters of canapés. One bite is an arancini ball puffed with local perch – salty and surprising, just like Lake Como in a mouthful.

This article originally appeared in volume 45 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

Read more inspiring stories from Signature Luxury Travel & Style…

Post Tags