Hotel insider: Lovers of Lake Como will come in elegant droves to this beautiful hotel.
A sprinkling of stardust at Lake Como's CastaDiva resort
Young men and women dressed in the style of 18th-century housemaids and manservants are on hand to welcome us at the main entrance of the neoclassical Villa Roccabruna, once the home of the soprano Giuditta Pasta, muse of the composer Vincenzo Bellini. A portrait of the diva dominates the elegant hallway and we're immediately offered a refreshing drink in a reception room overlooking the lake where the aristocratic glitterati of the day were once entertained. My suitcase is whisked away to my suite in Villa Dorabella, one of eight guest villas named after female characters of Italian opera and set in 26,000 square metres of lush botanical gardens.
CastaDiva is a brand new five-star resort, situated on the east side of Lake Como in the pretty village of Blevio, about an hour's drive from Milan. The area has always attracted royalty, showbusiness stars, musicians, poets and artists. Across the lake is the Versace villa, now owned by a Russian businessman; a short boat ride away is Villa Oleander, owned by the movie star George Clooney, and the Italian hideaway recently bought by the Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson. Also contributing to the exclusive atmosphere is the king of Saudi Arabia's villa nearby. The cobbled streets and markets of Como itself are just 10 minutes away; it's near St Moritz and Cortina for the skiing; and the designer stores of Milan, where the La Scala opera season opens on December 7.
Giancarlo Porcu, the manager, is clear about his ambition to make CastaDiva "the most exclusive resort in Europe". It's not a place for families and children, rather for monied couples looking for a romantic and relaxed spa break. Porcu says his staff try to accommodate the most demanding requests. I'm told that one guest wanted a Ferrari for a week, another asked for the latest high-tech gym equipment to be installed in their room. When I'm back late after a round of golf at the nearby Monticello Golf Club, a member of staff waits outside in a buggy until I shower and change, so that I won't miss drinks on the terrace before dinner.
All rooms and suites have views of the lake and each one is decorated differently, with the emphasis on luxury and comfort. My bathroom is all soft browns and gold with brushed aluminium surfaces and mirror surrounds, equipped with a huge circular bath, soft and cosy robes and the most divine-smelling Lorenzo Villoresi toiletries. Flat-screen televisions, top quality hi-fi and hands-free telephones are all to be expected, but they were still struggling with internet connections in the rooms during my stay.
At present there is only one restaurant, L'Orangerie, serving traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, but another haute cuisine restaurant is due to open. I try the "drowned egg in pea soup" (€24; Dh123) and the sea bass with a purée of celeriac and citric vinaigrette (€38; Dh195) is fresh and delicate. The average cost for a three-course dinner without beverages is €80 (Dh410) per head.
While other hotels in the area close during the winter, CastaDiva will stay open throughout the year. The place is humming with wealthy Russians and Germans the weekend of our stay. Clooney has already sprinkled a little stardust over CastaDiva by bringing his girlfriend and family here for dinner. The American model Tyra Banks has also dined here. Shy superstars can arrive unnoticed via a launch that slides into a mooring beneath their private villa.
The spa with its beautiful pool and VIP suites. I try the "Fire" suite with its sauna, steam room and rest area where a "two of us" 110-minute ritual includes a refreshing drink, strawberries dipped in chocolate and a massage for €230 (Dh1,186) per person.
Feeling foolish at not being able to work the bathtub taps immediately; the large overhead shower, hand shower and bath are all operated from one unit with an inner positioning ring that I failed to notice.
The overriding opera theme makes CastaDiva perfect for an autumn break with a visit to La Scala in Milan. While the sheer luxury and tranquility of the place cossets the body, the softly played strains of a Maria Callas aria floating in the air lifts the spirit. Lovers of Lake Como will always be looking for something new and I have no doubt that they will come in elegant droves to CastaDiva.
The bottom line
A double room costs from €450 (Dh3,600) per night, including breakfast. CastaDiva Resort, Via Caronti 69, Blevio, Italy (www.castadivresort.com; 00 39 031 32511).