Your Own Private Villa d'Este

Across from Lake Como's most famous address, two very historic villas open their doors for the first time. SOPHY ROBERTS pays a visit.

I was staying at Villa d'Este on Lake Como when I first saw the villas Maria Taglioni and Maria Serena on the far side of the water. It was the middle of spring, the air still cool and the lake velvet-dark. Pretty balustrades surrounded the two neoclassical buildings and enclosed a garden of tall trees and bunches of Rosa banksiae "Lutea." The blossoms tumbled over rocks and intertwined with jasmine, ivy, wisteria. In front, boys were jumping off a makeshift pontoon bobbing on the water.

Here I was, standing at a window of one of the most perfect hotels on earth, and there on the other side of paradise lay what I liked to imagine as my own private Villa d'Este. For now, after a 16-year restoration by a passionate owner who had spent his youth on the lake, these two villas are available to rent.

There are other houses on Como with far richer histories. Villa Sola, for instance, built in the 18th century and still owned by the Serbelloni family, houses Gobelin tapestries and frescoes by students of Tiepolo. Then there is Villa Pizzo, which is truly one of a kind, and, of course, the Versace house. But villas Taglioni and Serena have a glamorous heritage as well. The main house is named for the Italian ballet dancer for whom La Sylphide was created. It was Taglioni's hideaway at a time in the 1840s when her fame was so extreme that a pair of her ballet slippers were cooked, garnished, and eaten by a group of ardent followers. Her son-in-law, Prince Troubetskoy, also came to live here, banished from Russia after being accused of conspiring against Czar Nicholas I.

What makes these two villas something altogether different is not so much their historical interiors and grand furnishings (less family heirlooms than an attractive mix of antiques picked up at local markets) but the fact that both houses are literally suspended over the water and that they enjoy total privacy—a rare quality on Como.

Nearly all the rooms have marble en suite bathrooms. There is central heating and air-conditioning, working fireplaces, and a hotel-trained staff that delivers dawn-to-dusk attention. A pool was added this year, and it needs time to grow into the landscape. But then, a house on Como is about so much more than simply lounging pool-side. I realized this quite clearly one morning last fall when I was awakened by the church bells in nearby Blevio. I peeled back the shutters of the master suite at Taglioni and watched the mist silently move past. There was total quiet—only the sound of petals dropping from a crystal vase of dusky pink hydrangeas.
Villa Maria Taglioni has seven double rooms, Villa Maria Serena has six. The two houses must be rented together. Price upon request; contact villasinblevio@aliceposta.it.