In northern Italy, the great lakes are a delight for the senses. Between the palaces and luxury villas, life is gentle, with snow-capped peaks and calm waters. Around Lake Como, the golf courses of La Pinetina, Carimate, Villa d’Este and Menaggio & Cadenabbia offer, in different ways, the tranquillity of an old-fashioned art of living…
Since 1971, Golf Club La Pinetina has made its home in the heart of the Pineta de Appiano Gentile park, south-west of Lake Como. Set in 70 hectares of woodland, on gently undulating terrain, Englishman John Harris created a narrow course offering fine views of Monte Rosa, the 2nd highest peak in the Alps.
Between the Scots pines – the Pinetina! oaks, birches, chestnut trees and fern and lichen-covered surrounds, the vegetation is dense along the fairways. Although the return is a little wider than the outward journey, the finish on the 18th, with its dogleg plunging down to the terrace of the clubhouse, looks very attractive. Close to Inter Milan’s training centre, it’s not uncommon to come across football aces on the greens or on the terrace of this pleasant club.
Since 1962, Golf Club Carimate has evolved in a 300-hectare park. Piero Mancinelli made the most of the slopes of this centuries-old park, taking advantage of the different species of trees to vary his decor between pines, oaks, plane trees, willows and other more exotic species, brought back to Italy by the former owner’s ancestors.
On a course of no more than 5,850 metres, the small elevated greens are a challenge. But at Carimate, some people go out of their way for the clubhouse ! It was built by Vico Magistretti, one of Italy’s greatest post-war talents. An architect, designer and visionary, he left his mark on the 50s and 70s. Facing the course, he built a white, spacious, modern building, with huge bay windows that let in light to create volumes with pure perspectives. A benchmark !
Although it does not adjoin the palace-hotel of the same name, Golf Villa d’Este enjoys the romantic setting of the Lombardy lakes. The course, designed by Englishman Peter Gannon on the shores of Lake Montorfano in 1926, has changed little since then; it’s just a jewel with a patina, like a Mellerio emerald on a princess’s finger !
Where the trees have grown, the slopes are still there, and the small, mischievous, English-style greens irritate, before the table in an elegant clubhouse reconciles us with life… The chef has mastered the recipes of Lombardy – and even beyond – to perfection. The soft leather armchairs in the mahogany panelled bar await you for a drink. Unless you prefer the terrace, facing this superb course which, for nearly a century, has learned to defend itself!
Since 1907 and its original design by John Henry Taylor, Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf Club has changed a great deal. In 1964, Antonio Roncoroni – founder of the Italian PGA – bought the club and called in John Harris to revise the layout and adapt it to modern golf.
In this Alpine arboretum of pines, oaks and beeches, close to the fairways and undulating, even steep terrain, the game demands a great deal of attention and strategy, with the emphasis on precision rather than power.
Between the undergrowth, the slopes and the steep greens, the charm of the game is experienced against the backdrop of the year-round snow-covered ridges. Once you’ve hit the last putt, the museum opens up to your curiosity. In a huge library, you can enjoy the largest collection of antique golf books in Italy, with over 1,200 works on display. A donation from a member dating back to 1923 – a gift from heaven !
Where to stay ?
Within the walls of the Relais Castello di Casiglio****, close to the Villa d’Este Golf Club, 700 years of history shine through the stonework and gardens overlooking Lake Como. With its 46 rooms divided between the castle and Villa Elena, carefully decorated with period furniture, this hotel exudes charm. A pleasure shared at the table of the Lécru restaurant, housed in the former armoury, where chef Michele Pedrazzini makes the flavours sing, adapting his menu to the seasons. In summer, the terrace is a delight to dine on. With the outdoor swimming pool and the brand new Spa, it’s hard to close your suitcases…
For those who want to jump from bed to tee, the six villas at Foresteria Golf Villa d’Este, along the outward bound holes, are ideal for making the most of your stay. From the bedroom to the lounge and kitchen area, overlooking the greenery, you’ll feel right at home. The clubhouse and restaurant facilities are open to residents.
Sleeping on a golf course is an indescribable pleasure… The 11 rooms at the Pinetina Golf Hotel, overlooking the 18th fairway, confirm this feeling. In addition to the clubhouse services, starting with the restaurant and its summer terrace, guests have free use of the golf course’s swimming pool and gym.
At the heart of Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf, The Club Guest House is a guest house offering its residents the tranquillity of the site and proximity to the course. In a very English style – in the 2nd oldest golf course in Italy – the service is of the highest quality both in the rooms and in the restaurant, where all meals are served. Pets are welcome, as they are on the course.
Although Rome is Italy’s capital, the country’s economy is based in Milan. Italy’s stock exchange is here, and so are fashion and design, despite the fact that the south of the boot is sometimes criticised for being underdeveloped !
But Milan can also be visited by looking up. It’s hard to resist the charm of the carved stone façade of the Duomo, the 14th-century Gothic cathedral, where the interior and stained glass windows are no match for the exterior of the 3rd largest cathedral in the world. In the Middle Ages, the Visconti family made the city prosper, turning it into a financial centre and endowing it with fine buildings and sumptuous churches such as Santa Maria, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, a major work by the Renaissance artist. The starting point for a stroll is the Piazza del Duomo, at the heart of the city. From there, it’s an easy stroll.
Beneath the glass roof of the nineteenth-century Galerie Vittorio Emanuele II, some of the finest names in fashion vie with each other in the elegance of their shop decorations. Just outside this rococo-inspired venue is La Scala and its theatre, with its operas and divas, the temple of Italian lyrical art. Between the thousand-year-old stones, the Sempione Garden offers visitors a breath of fresh air and a green stopover. But as is often the case in Italy, pushing open the doors of buildings and venturing into shady courtyards is an opportunity to discover hidden treasures, far off the beaten track, to experience the city as the Milanese do.
Milan, Lombardy and the Italian Alps are a land of good food, and the emblematic dishes are as numerous as they are tasty. But beyond minestrone, ossobuco and schnitzel milanese, there is one dish that is a benchmark among the best regional restaurants : risotto alla milanese !
Pearly with butter and onions, moistened with marrow and white wine, and cooked in a meat broth spiked with saffron, risotto has been around since the Middle Ages, when it was cooked by Italian Arabs and Jews, inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. Like gastronomy, the recipe has evolved over time. Legend has it that saffron was added when master glassmakers used it as a colouring agent to make the stained glass windows in the Duomo. Yellow and sunshine are still synonymous with wealth and success, as chef Gualtiero Marchesi now decorates his plate of risotto alla milanese with embossed gold leaf ! There are as many recipes for risotto alla milanese as there are mothers who prepare it with love and passion. Buon appetito !
Lake Como, with its characteristic inverted “Y”, is Italy’s 3rd largest lake, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. But it has always been home to a gentle way of life that has seduced the greatest families from the Renaissance to the 19th century, as well as the most prominent contemporary artists who own sublime villas. For those who will never have the chance to enjoy these magical places, the mere memory of a few scenes from an advert for a famous brand of coffee filmed in the garden of an American star in the company of a great French actor can give an idea of the tranquillity of these shores of the lake. The setting of this villa also appears at the end of the film Ocean 12, so we’re not sure it was by chance! There’s plenty to dream about in your living room… Fortunately, the most beautiful villas built between the 15th and 19th centuries are also open to the public. Given the crowds, it’s best to book in advance of your visit.
From Como, a road winds around the lake, the best way to soak up the beauty of the villages clinging to the mountains and the gardens falling into the water.
At Lenno, the monks built their monastery facing this exceptional view. It was intended to help them meditate in peace until, in the 18th century, a church dignitary made it his sumptuous residence. In the 1960s, Count Guido Monzino – a businessman who was not always popular in Italy – transformed the Villa del Balbianello to suit his rather baroque tastes. Beyond the furniture and the rather busy interior fittings, the view of the lake from the terrace overlooking the gardens is enchanting. A scene from Casino Royale in which Daniel Craig, alias James Bond, takes advantage of the site conveys all its magic.
A little further afield, in Tremezzo, the Villa Carlotta pays tribute to the sad fate of the beautiful Charlotte, wife of a German nobleman who died in childbirth here in the 18th century, aged 23. Faced with the mild climate of the Italian lakes, the villa’s garden features orange and lemon trees planted in espaliers right down to the lake. Higher up, on the mountainside, olive trees and vines have been flourishing for almost three centuries.
On the outskirts of the village of Varenne, the Villa Monastero cannot hide its origins. Today, it boasts the finest botanical garden on the shores of the lake. For more than two kilometres, cypresses, palms, wisteria, citrus trees, azaleas and rhododendrons grow between Greek columns and caryatids. The variety of plants is the same in every season.
In Bellagio, often considered the prettiest lakeside village, the Villa Melzi has been enchanting visitors since 1808. It was built for Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Duke of Lodi and Vice-President of the Italian Cisalpine Republic established by Napoleon Bonaparte. In the 19th century, it played host to many artists, including Franz Liszt and Stendhal, who was inspired by its beauty in his literary works. Brad Pitt is understandably fond of coming here to relax! We could also mention the villas of Cipressi, L’Oleandra, Olmo and many others… But there’s nothing like walking around, stopping off, visiting and having lunch in the villages to really get a feel for the quality of life on the shores of Lake Como.
Every year, the fashion world comes alive in February-March and September during Fashion Weeks. Designers unveil their work in Paris, London and New York, where one catwalk show follows another, as well as in Milan, the capital of Italian fashion. From 15 to 19 September 2023, the next Milan Fashion Week will take over the catwalks and streets of the capital of Lombardy. Look out, it’s going to be a wild ride! Influencers will of course be on hand, always ready – ready, I should say – to capture tomorrow’s fashion trends on their phones. While the sophisticated catwalks of major brands such as Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Vuitton and Chanel attract the stars and darlings of international fashion, the real show takes place in the street, where fashionistas, starlets and designers pass on their street style ideas to be copied, hijacked and inspired by budget-conscious shoppers. Striped and coloured fabrics, printed suits, perched boots, maxi skirts, blinged-out sunglasses, flashy jewellery and retro hairstyles – Milan Fashion Week is sure to impress! What will tomorrow’s fashion trends be? A trip to Milan in the autumn will give you some pointers if you want to stay on trend in 2024… Otherwise, you can always leaf through the magazines, which will have already sorted through the designers’ ravings.