Mary Gostelow thinks cars, history and more by Lake Como

Girlahead visits Leading Hotels of the World's Grand Hotel Villa d'Este

Car lovers, prick up your ears. Last Saturday, 21st May, an Aston Martin Bulldog V8 Engine, 5300cc, 1979, was deemed Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este in the annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. It’s a one-off vehicle, built for an enthusiast who wanted to achieve 200 m.p.h. Currently being tweaked for owner Philip Sarofin, 35, a venture capital founder, it could once again speed up ‘next year’, though presumably Sarifin’s local Beverly Hills police won’t be happy.

Villa d’Este, the iconic Leading Hotel of the World three minutes’ north of Cernobbio on the west shore of Lake Como, is co-sponsor of this annual beauty competition for wheeled bods. Other sponsors are BMW, Sotheby’s, and the Champagne house Vranken-Pommery.

Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este

At the 152-room lifestyle resort, now run by CEO Davide Bertilaccio, there are seemingly nonstop happenings. Every year also sees a serious wine weekend, and, separately, the Davos-type Ambrosetti Forum, invitation only.

At all times, open your eyes to history here. There was apparently a convent on this spot mid 15th century. A hundred years later the Cardinal of Como asked local architect Pellegrino Tibaldi, Il Pellegrini, to whisk up a villa. Much later it passed to a Milan playboy, whose young widow, a ballerina, proceeded to marry a Napoleonic general (to stop him feeling battle-homesick she had a near-vertical cliff face behind the villa sculpted with steps and towers, today a super-fit workout challenge).

Cardinal Building, view from the Mosaic

Closer in, King George III’s estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick moved in, the villa became a hotel, and long-stayers included Empress Maria Feodorovna, Danish-born spouse of Tsar Alexander III. Continuing the real-life soap, in 1948, 32-year-old Italian Countess Pia Bellentani shot her lover dead at a special dinner for 200 high society fashionistas.

Enough of the past? Think today’s food. Lunch off just-cooked truffle fries, finger-eaten in lunchtime sun on the wood deck around the pool that itself swims in the lake. At dinner, in the main Fontana restaurant, look through all-wall windows at some of the glorious 18 hectares of grounds. Try Risotto Verdi, with asparagus, cheek lard and raw porcini – it was a highlight this 12th May at a musical feast honouring composers who loved Lake Como.

Hall and stairs, Cardinal Building

Shop Villa d’Este’s boutique (how to choose between five styles of Panama hats?). Work out, inside in the Sporting Club, reached via a Disney-type tunnel, or outside. Play golf, walk up 126 water-flanked grass steps to a pietà-type sculpture, or show stamina by attempting that ballerina’s assault course.

Start tomorrow. Already-warm breakfast sun, crisp white linens, delicate Bernardaud, locally-cured ham and fresh mozzarella, cappuccino – and gazing across the lake. If the peace is momentarily shattered, it could be an Aston Martin.

Mosaic and Mosaic House

Mary Gostelow publishes the daily and a unique weekly 15-minute industry Mary Gostelow Girlahead Podcast, both part of Almont Global.

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