When T+L readers voted Il Sereno Lago di Como the No. 1 resort in Europe, I had to go see what the hype was about.
Lake Como has lured me back to its idyllic shores a few times over the years. I’ve stayed in sleepy villages with nothing more than a church and a bus stop, as well as in tourist-favorite towns with glitzy shops and restaurants. I’ve gone on many a boat tour, stopping at historic sites such as the famed Villa del Balbianello (a filming location for Star Wars and 007’s "Casino Royale"). I’ve had traditional Italian meals highlighting ingredients and wines local to the area.
So I was taken by surprise when, on my most recent trip, I got to experience the lake in a whole new way.
Il Sereno Lago di Como, voted the best resort in Europe, the best resort in Italy, and No. 4 hotel in the world in Travel + Leisure's 2023 World’s Best Awards, offers guests one experience that no other Como hotel does: self-driving a Riva motorboat on the lake.
Il Sereno Lago di Como
A modern hotel on a lake full of historic villas, Il Sereno manages to blend into its surroundings while offering a stay that stands out.
The hotel has two boats that guests are able to drive themselves, no tour guide necessary — an experience you can't find at any other property on the lake.
The heart of the resort is a heated, freshwater infinity pool, an incredibly picturesque place to spend a day (or a few).
The hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant serves three different tasting menus, as well as an à la carte menu, so guests never run out of options.
A Riva is the Ferrari of the boating world (the two brands are actually longtime partners, often collaborating on speedboats). In 1822, Pietro Riva, the brand’s founder, was born on the shores of Lake Como in the town of Laglio. As Il Sereno’s website says of Riva, “There is no one on the lake that better understands the ebbs and flows of this sought-after destination."
Fast forward to August 2023, and I’m cruising up the lake with a friend in one of the hotel’s wooden Riva Jetto’s. Our hair whipping in the wind, every now and then we would let out an instinctive yell, fueled by the rush of gliding over the very body of water we had been marveling at since we arrived. It was just us and the lake — no tour guide facilitating the ride, no driver deciding the route. I felt free, immersed, present. (The bottle of Bollinger champagne we took on board may have played a part.)
As we headed back to shore (after giving ourselves “five more minutes” a number of times), my friend had a momentary panic: “Wait, where’s the hotel?” It wasn’t that we were lost — we were heading straight for the property — but the hotel has a way of blending into its surroundings, which is impressive considering it’s a seven-year-old modern building made of wood, stone, and metal on a lake full of historic villas that date back centuries.
Il Sereno markets itself as the only contemporary hotel on the lake, meaning it’s the only hotel that was an entirely new build, rather than being built into an existing villa. Some locals told me they were worried it would be an eyesore, but were pleasantly surprised by the finished product. That’s largely thanks to Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola, who seamlessly blended modern design with the natural surroundings.
On a lake that has some of the most luxurious hotels in the world, Il Sereno has found a way to give guests an experience that stands out. Read on for more about the best resort in Europe, as voted by T+L readers.
Il Sereno has 40 suites, all with a view of the water and a sleek, timeless design marked by dark woods and leather, caramel-colored marble, brass finishings, and pops of orange and green. You might even notice an unexpected iridescent end table here and there — one of my favorite details.
Food and Drink
The hotel has a number of dining options. Most notably, its Michelin-starred restaurant, which chef Raffaele Lenzi says is a tribute to his “Italian spirit,” serving three different tasting menus. Then there's the Lobby Bar, with a terrace that might as well have been built for aperitivo. Finally, a lunch restaurant serves everything from salads to fresh pasta, which guests can enjoy poolside or at a table next to the lake.
Activities and Amenities
A Como local once told me that you really get to know the lake by spending time on the water, and the hotel offers a number of ways to do just that. In addition to self-driving a Riva Jetto, you can also opt for a guided boat tour, either taking in the sights from the water or stopping to explore towns like Bellagio and Varenna.
If you’d rather stay on land, the hotel has cooking classes and wine tastings, as well as hiking excursions that will take you into the surrounding mountains. That is, if you can pull yourself away from the heated freshwater infinity pool. The pool — with views of the lake and mountains, nearby towns and passing boats — is perhaps the most beautiful I've ever seen.
Many Lake Como villas have old dàrsenas, or boathouses hidden below the building at water level. Il Sereno’s Valmont spa, as well as the 24-hour gym, has been built into the dàrsena that was part of the original property. The treatment room for my massage looked straight into the boathouse and through a grand stone archway leading out to the gently lapping water. Plus, the spa is just off the pool, making it easy to pop in for a quick massage or facial between dips, which is exactly what I did.
Accessibility and Sustainability
Looking at the hotel face on, one of the first things to catch my eye was the greenery — one vertical garden on the façade and another behind the building. Designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc and Italian landscape artist Flavio Pollano, the installations have almost 5,000 plants between them, and they're not just for show. Il Sereno was certified by CasaClima, an Italian quality assurance agency that recognizes organizations for energy-efficient and sustainable construction.
The hotel was also designed to ensure all common areas are wheelchair accessible, as well as one dedicated suite for guests with mobility needs.
Location is a key part of any Lake Como stay, though it's often overlooked, as many travelers don’t realize just how big the lake is. It takes over an hour to drive from the southern tip to the northern tip, and the coast is dotted with different towns, from the bustling city of Como to tourist-favorite Bellagio to sleepy Torno.
Il Sereno is located in Torno, and as someone who’s always trying to avoid the crowds, I think it’s one of the best locations on the lake. The architecture is postcard-perfect, and there are a handful of local restaurants, but you don’t have to worry about weaving through flocks of people. That said, if you want to be a short walk from bars, restaurants, and shops, this might not be the spot for you.
There’s a ferry stop in Torno with service to Bellagio, Varenna, and other charming villages around the lake, and the hotel is just an hour's drive from Milan-Malpensa Airport.
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