Part blow-dryer and styling tool, the Dyson Airwrap sells for $600. It inspires almost pornographic lust among beauty-lovers of all persuasions. It’s the kind of thing that is found almost exclusively in the cupboards of the very rich. It is also found in every guest room—in a custom leather case—at Passalacqua, a new, 24-suite hotel that just opened in Moltrasio, on the shores of Lake Como.
There’s so much grandeur and beauty at Passalacqua that to even mention a personal-care device feels almost wrong, but the Dyson Airwrap is a metaphor of sorts for everything that 39-year-old proprietor Valentina De Santis has created at her first hospitality project. It’s so much more thoughtful and luxurious than even the fussiest guest could have envisioned.
There are the marble bathrooms that rival the bedrooms in size, the ceilings studded with chandeliers draped in Fortuny silk, the dapper and unfailingly friendly waiters wandering around the property in custom Giuliva Heritage tuxedos, offering up fishbowl-size spritzes with abandon.
Health nuts will enjoy the indoor-outdoor Technogym gym, which has a rowing machine, treadmill, and bike artfully interspersed with olive trees. And then there’s the food—Italian classics done right and served festively, without any fuss. Even the fill-your-own-cannoli station, which is set up in the open kitchen during breakfast, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The details are spot-on, but Passalacqua is just as remarkable on a grand scale. The hotel occupies an imposing palazzo that dates back to 1767; its terraced gardens are studded with magnolia trees and cedars of Lebanon, some of which are hundreds of years old. It took only three and a half years of renovations (and $21 million) to turn the building, which was formerly the private home of an American banker, into one of the finest hotels in Europe.
The hotel occupies an imposing palazzo that dates back to 1767.
But De Santis has plenty of experience in such things. A native of Como, she is the daughter of Paolo and Antonella De Santis, who have owned and operated the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, also located on the lake, near the town of Bellagio, since 1975. Larger in terms of both capacity and day-tripper traffic, Tremezzo could very well be the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. The European cognoscenti flit in and out of its jewel-toned salons to take a dip in the swimming pool that floats alluringly in the lake. It’s a big and complex operation. Valentina De Santis has spent the past decade training there, and it shows.
The De Santises are not only experts in the fine art of hospitality, but they have also become serious art collectors, to the benefit of their hotels. At Passalacqua, this means an awful lot of prints and paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, offset by chandeliers and sconces from the Murano glassblowers Barovier & Toso. Guest rooms do have televisions, but they are discreetly tucked away in leather trunks located at the foot of each bed. They can be summoned only by remote control, but trust us—there’s really no need.
Although it’s tempting to read in one’s room or book a treatment in the spa, which is kitted out in vintage rattan chairs, the lake beckons. Take it in from the six levels of terraced gardens, studded with tennis and boccie courts, rose and vegetable gardens, and ample gazebos. Boating trips are arranged easily and often. And those who fancy hiking should tap into the knowledge of Giulio Bazzi, the exceptionally helpful general manager who knows the region and its trails intimately.
Passalacqua’s center of gravity is the outdoor swimming pool and its adjacent solarium, known as the Winter Garden. It’s the first design project from La DoubleJ’s J.J. Martin, who has decked out chaise lounges and banquettes with richly patterned textiles. After this, there will probably be more.
There are a lot of wonderful hotels in Italy. But thanks to its intimate culture and grand scale, and the fact that it’s populated by some of the friendliest hospitality staff around, Passalacqua feels more like a private club. We would suggest booking now, but rumor has it that summer ’22 is almost fully booked. But that’s really O.K. De Santis is ready whenever you are.
Ashley Baker is a Deputy Editor for Air Mail. She was a guest of the hotel at its opening festivities