The Villa D'Este hotel on Lake Como.
Sitting at the outdoor restaurant at the Villa D'Este hotel on Lake Como, I watched the lights twinkle on in the village on the far shore. The green hillsides that rise steeply from the lake were turning purple as the sun set. The evening temperature was a delightful 59 degrees. I was thinking life couldn't get any better. And then it did, as George Clooney walked by!
Before leaving our room at this fabulous, world-renowned hotel, I had read online that Clooney was "nursing his wounds" at his Lake Como villa after breaking up with his girlfriend, an Italian actress/model. And now, there he was, striding briskly about thirty feet from me. Joined by a male friend and wearing a natty dark suit, Clooney smiled and greeted a couple of waiters who walked in front of him delivering orders of lobster, sea bass and pasta.
"George Clooney to your right," I whispered to my companion, Jeff. A few other guests noticed Clooney, but this being Villa D'Este, where movie stars and other celebrities are farily commonplace, no one seemed as excited as I was.
It turned out Clooney was headed to the hotel's more informal restaurant, located up the hill on the property. I hate to admit it, but after our dinner, Jeff and I wandered over to The Grill to stalk him, but only in the most subtle, sophisticated way.
The Villa D'Este grounds are breathaking.
Even without a Clooney sighting, my stay at Villa D'Este would have ranked as one of my best hotel experiences ever. Villa D'Este has been pampering guests for more than 100 years in two historic buildings that overlook the lake. The ambience is old-fashioned elegance, with tuxedoed waiters and bellmen scurrying to meet your every need. But the mood is not at all stuffy. The staff is friendly and charming, and the guests seem caught up in the romantic beauty of the surroundings.
I certainly was after arriving exhausted after an overnight flight from JFK. We reached the hotel at 9 a.m., but were able to check into our lakeview room right away. I headed straight for the sumptuous breakfast buffet, then lay by the huge floating swimming pool that rocks gently in the lake. I kept falling asleep, and would wake up with a start to stare at the staggering views of the blue water and the mountains. Was this real, or some jet-lag induced dream? I wondered at first.
That's me in the hotel's floating swimming pool.
Thanks to my wonderful travel agent, Kathleen Sutter at Landings Travel, we got a room upgrade because of her connections. She also told the hotel it was my birthday, so chilled champagne and a beautiful floral arrangement were delivered the first night. With great fanfare, room service also brought in a spectacular birthday fruit tarte, complete with candles, which had been arranged by my friend Barby. I'm not saying which birthday it was, but it was big enough to justify staying at a swanky place like this.
On the second day, we signed up for a hotel-arranged tour of Bellagio, Lake Como's most famous town. A motorboat picked up eight of us from the Villa D'Este pier, and our guide, Susie Gustavus, explained the lake's history and pointed out some of the notable villas (including Clooney's, which is surprisingly accessible) during the one-hour ride. Gustavus, a German native who has lived on Lake Como for decades, told me she had been to Siesta Key once to visit a friend. Well, the friend turned out to be Judy Veale, the prominent Sarasota resident who has an apartment on Lake Como.
We spent two hours in enchanting Bellagio, a tourist hotspot which was fortunately not yet overwhelmed with crowds, so we could easily explore the shops and admire the views of Como at its widest point. We're scheduled to return to Bellagio today, unless George Clooney calls with a better invitation, of course.