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The Baroque Splendor of the New Passalacqua on Lake Como

Inside the Historic Villa Turned Jewel Box Hotel in Italy

BY Diane Dorrans Saeks // 01.31.23

The legend of the baroque beauty and rapturous Renaissance style of the new 24-suite Passalacqua hotel on Lake Como precedes one’s arrival at the ultra-glamorous destination. The host of Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, Passalacqua has been praised in poetry, music, and art for centuries.

After a one-hour drive through the foothills northeast of Milan and a fast curve through the pretty village of Moltrasio, guests arrive through an ancient stone archway into a seven–acre estate framed by cedars, statuesque magnolias, and glittering fountains. Dramatic mountains frame the scene, with mysterious Lake Como in the hazy distance. The De Santis family acquired this former residence in 2017 and spent four years turning it into an ultra-luxe hotel governed by their tradition of hospitality, opening its doors in 2022. Valentina De Santis and her parents, Antonella and Paolo De Santis, hired San Francisco interior designer Pamela Babey of BAMO to create an authentic residential feeling — like that of staying at the villa of a super-stylish Italian friend.

Babey is admired in Italy for her polished transformation of Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda. Working closely with Valentina, she and colleague Steve Henry leveraged their extensive Italian contacts and crafts specialists for bespoke Fortuny silk lanterns, Barovier & Toso chandeliers and sconces, and Rubelli document silks that enhance domed ceilings, frescoed walls, and acres of Breccia Pontificia marble. Extravagant curtains, lined and interlined, are made from silk taffetas sourced at centuries-old mills in Como. In one of the grand junior suites, periwinkle-blue damask curtains dramatically frame lake views. Sofas have linen slipcovers dressed in petticoats of inverted pleats, while voluptuous armchairs with floral chintz are finished with golden fringe. Rubelli wove brocades and jacquards in distinctive custom color palettes for each interior space, tying in painterly colors of the classical frescoes of the Villa.

Passalacqua-6 – View over the pool and lake © Enrico Costantini
The view over the Passalacqua pool at Lake Como. (photo by Enrico Costantini)

The De Santis family traveled throughout Northern Italy perusing antique galleries, markets, and auction houses to source furniture, precious prints and artwork, and vintage carpets that project character, from the grand Italian style of the Villa to the more laidback comfort of the garden-inspired interiors of Casa al Lago. Design studio Bottega Conticelli from Orvieto crafted the handsome vintage-style steamer trunks, which conceal televisions. In the double-height salon of the grand Bellini suite, a 12-foot-high Ca’Rezzonico-style chandelier glitters high into the domed rotunda ceiling.

“We designed a secret dining room with a tufted chartreuse silk sofa and pretty antique chairs and views of the lake, where a couple can be alone for a champagne celebration,” Babey says. “We wanted rooms to look like they’d been in the family for centuries.” Suites sparkle with handcrafted mirrors by the Venice company Barbini, while many baths are furnished with marble from Carrara and Verona quarries.

Life at Passalacqua, pampered and soothed, glows and spins in the sweet fragrance of oleanders and jasmine of this Leonardo-esque landscape. Each day, the hotel offers a program inviting guests to participate in pleasures such as collecting eggs from heirloom chickens in the rustic henhouse, or an afternoon learning to make bread or Italian sweets with the pastry chef. There’s tennis on a perfect clay court overlooking the lake, a bocce court, and sunbathing among the fragrant fennel fronds of the vegetable garden. Perhaps spa treatments — or il dolce far niente in the shade of the wisteria pergola. And, this summer, Passalacqua launches an outdoor cinema in the garden overlooking the lake. Visconti watching. Prepare perchance to dream. Passalacqua is skilled at enchantment.

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Passalacqua is closed from January 2 through February 28 and reopens in March. Rooms from $1,500. Passalacqua, Como, Italy, passalacqua.it.

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