For some, Lake Como in northern Italy calls to mind sparkling blue waters, mountain vistas and perfect lakeside towns. For others, it means only one thing: George Clooney, who has a villa in Laglio
We all set off determined to find George Clooney – we knew the town (Laglio) and the house (Villa Oleandra). So exciting!
It was July 2009, and we were staying at the Hotel Brittania Excelsior in Cadenabbia, further up the lake. On the first day, we scanned every passing boat to see if it was him – but to no avail. The view from the hotel was picture-postcard: you woke up in the morning, opened your curtains and saw the glistening lake with the vista of the the beautiful town of Bellagio and the soaring mountains behind. It was a great way to start the day.
The Brittania Excelsior is a three-star, with rooms that are "compact" but with beautiful furnishings. We stayed on an all-inclusive basis, so I could try all the Italian speciality tipples such as limoncello and amaretto. There is a pool which meant that, this being Italy, you had to wear a groovy bathing cap. Hopefully, George would not see me like that!
On the second day, we weren’t sure of the exact location of Laglio – so we decided to hop on and off the ferries, thinking he would be in one of those areas or another. First it was Bellagio, just 15 minutes away – a dream of a town, known as “the pearl of the lake”. It has great lakeside cafés and windy cobbled streets that take you up into the heart of the village. We took the little train, which wasn't worth it because it could not get right to the centre of Bellagio. The Villas Melzi and Serbelloni are here, and worth a look if you have time.
Next it was the village of Varenna – so picturesque, but no George! The Villa Monastero is here and the peaceful gardens are worth walking through. The best cafés are to be found by taking the lakeside walkway to the right; the views are wonderful. The train comes directly here from Milan or Bergamo. You can also take a cookery lesson here by calling Chef Moreno at Il Caminetto restaurant (+39 0341 815225) where the cost in July was €34 per person. It was at Varenna that we found out where Lagio is – close to Como. Finally, we tried the village of Menaggio – a great promenade, but still no sign…
The following day, we decided to have a rest and went to St Moritz on an arranged excursion. It included a ride on the Bernini Express train – stunning and exciting as you travel next to the glaciers, with cameras rapidly clicking away. St Moritz was a bit disappointing. I'm not sure if it is meant to be a summer resort, as it does not look like it – but the train journey made up for it. If you want to take the train only, without the full excursion, travel from the train station in Varenna to Tirano and board the Bernini Express there. You can just go up to the mountains and back, rather than carry on to St Moritz – and the trains are very regular.
By now, we were determined we were going to find George. We went down to Como by bus, looking at every house, motorcycle, car… We took a sea plane from Como (€150 for half an hour) and the pilot agreed to get as close to the villa as possible. Seeing the lake from the air was great and gave us a totally different perspective. All was calm and serene, when suddenly the guide seemed transformed into a Spitfire pilot, nose-diving virtually into the gardens of a villa and shouting "George, George!" The cameras went wild, but we still didn’t see him – and it made me feel sorry for him that, probably every 30 minutes or so, a mad sea plane buzzed his house!
Still undeterred, we took the ferry back from Como calling in at every port – a relaxing way of travel that gives you the best vistas, especially of Villa Balbienello at Lenno and Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo. The lake featured in Oceans Twelve and we could see some of the clips in our mind.
It was a great holiday, but we found out later that George was there the week after us! Still, we were on wonderful Lake Como – drinking wine, eating pasta and ice cream. Life doesn’t get better than that – and don’t despair, Mr Clooney, we will eventually see in the flesh those perfect abs, the amazing smile and the salt-and-pepper hair…