Casta Diva Resort & Spa
Lake Como, Italy
The azure waters of the lake framed by the Alpine mountains, the lush green woods, and the year-round ambient Mediterranean weather – the vistas around the huge Y-shaped Lake Como, or Lago di Como, is pristine nature in all its glory, and along with the famed Italian lifestyle,the place defines luxury. This is where the jet set hangs out.For centuries, the upper crust has been coming here to holiday and relax. The shores of Lake Como are dotted with palatial mansions and exotic baroque villas set amidst Roman gardens with fountains, owned or rented by the rich and famous, European aristocrats and nobles, Swiss bankers, Hollywood celebrities, global billionaires. Not surprising that the likes of Richard Bronson, George Clooney, Sylvester Stallone et al own large estates on the waterfront. Hollywood has used the backdrop to represent the ultimate luxury destination to retire to with the Billions eg. Ocean’s Twelve, Casino Royale to name a few.
On the eastern branch of Lake Como, in Blevio stands the grand luxury hotel, Casta Diva Resort & Spa. My stay here was magical. Casta Diva is a great blend of classic and contemporary, the history alive in its décor and walls, the lore and legend shared in whispers, some playfully with a hint of scandal, and some with pride. All this mingled with old world hospitality and grand welcome – we fell in love and never wanted to leave.
It is important to tell the history and the juicy gossip about the original owners of the Villa Rocca bruna, because the interior designers and architects of the Casta Diva Resort, Mr Erasmo Figini and Ms Alice Fratti Lucinihave incorporated the references to the two ladies who owned the property at various times. In around 1797, the ‘Casino Ribiere’ was set up here by a wealthy French dress-maker Madam Ribiere, whose client list of wealthy women included Empress Josephine Beauharna is, the first wife of Napoleon-I. Madam Ribiere, it is said half in jest and a shake of the head, indulged in‘dressing the ladies in daytime and undressing their men at night’.She was wealthy. Subsequently, in 1827 the new owner, the famous opera soprano Giuditta Pasta acquired it and renamed it Villa Roda. It was here that the composer Vincenzo Bellini wrote his two famous works ‘La Sonnambula and ‘Norma’. The famous aria in Norma, Casta Diva, lends its name.
In 1906, a Swiss cotton magnate hired the renowned architect of Milan Carlo Formenti, who made huge repairs and rebuilt the Villa Roda in the then popular, Liberty or Art Nouveau style. It reopened in 1910 as Villa Roccabruna. It is the heart of the Casta Diva Resort & Spa, with new additions made around it. Modern day Casta Diva Resort & Spa has recreated the 19th century renaissance style interiors with sweeping staircases, the classic furniture, satin and silk drapes and upholstery. As an ode to Madame Ribiera, there are canvases of women of the era in assorted stages of dressing up or otherwise. The beautiful gardens and the grand view of the lake reminisce the setting that inspired famous compositions. The entrance lobby has a huge portrait of Giuditta Pasta.
Set against the mountain rock face and the lake, the approach to the arrival porch of the Casta Diva Resort gives a sweeping view of the grand vistas, and most eye-catching is the lighter shade of blue of the heated swimming pool floating above the lake.
We explored the property, walking around the pathways that run along gardens and waterfalls, connecting the nine villas. Interestingly, each of the nine villas are named after women characters from the composition of famous composers. Mozart’s main characters from ‘Cai fan tutte’, Fiodiligi and Dorabella, are Villa Fiodiligi. Giuseppe Verdi for Villa Leonaora, and Villa Gilda and Villa Violetta, Richard Wagner’s Villa Isotta.
Luxurious, spacious, each different from the other, floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the lake, private swimming pools, outdoor Jacuzzis, roof gardens with large terraces overlooking the lake, each different with its own signature features.
There are two private villas, named after composer Vincenzo Bellini’s characters Villa Amina and Villa Norma. These can be rented entirely for a short while, with provision for all services such as housekeeping, on call butler, chef. This is the kind of place to escape to for the ultimate romantic holiday, totally private or in party mode when desired, surrounded by all things beautiful. Each of the villas are unique and have their own USP. An en-suite bathroom with a round bathtub overlooking the lake, or an outdoor lakefront Jacuzzi. Indulgence of another kind!
Besides the villas, there are 73 suites and rooms, most with a lake view. In fact some of the rooms are in the villas. The Suite Roccabruna and Casta Diva Suite nearly bigger then an apartment in Mumbai, at 1,614 sqft to 2,2625sqft. For someone is search of absolute privacy, I would recommend Suite Fiordiligi. Its huge private terrace with a sundeck and private swimming pool, a day kitchen and private dining area provide for a privacy of a kind, without being holed up in the rooms.
Rested and restored, it was time to discover the restaurants. The famous 2 Michelin star winning Chef Gennaro Espositooversees the kitchens at CastaDiva. Naturally, the expectations were high. We lunched in the private banquet room, Il GiardinodeiSapori, surrounded by tall glass windows, overlooking the lake.The Executive Resident Chef Massimiliano Mandozzi and his team gave us a taste of fine dining Italian style. There is also the ‘Orangerie’ lake restaurant, set at the edge of the garden and accessed by a glass-roofed passage in cold weather, where we headed for breakfast and dinners.
Would it be indelicate to call it a hog-fest? I got my introduction to such classic Italian dishes at the five-course lunch, paired with different wines as we went along. The delicately flavored Zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese for starters are a pan Italy favorite for posh parties. I had the best Italian white chocolate Namalaca, with extra virgin oil ice cream. When in Italy, eat ravioli pasta stuffed with artichoke. Ample wine was consumed and the rest is a blur.
For the guests who might need a break from living the high life of deep luxury, there is the cookery master class organized by the Chef. An hour of learning how to make a quail egg and nettle omelet, and beetroot fagottini, further reinforced my observation that the key similarity between an Indian and Italian is that we are as passionate about food. Just as in India, in Italy too each region has its own cuisine and specialties. The Bellini Bar located in Villa Roccabruna is open all day, and opens to the garden terrace overlooking the lake in good weather (May to October).
The SPA is the other highlight of Casta Diva Resorts. Spread over a huge 1,300 sqm, it is equipped with the latest in fitness gear and all the treatments and therapies expected of a luxury Spa, such as the salt room, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, Mediterranean bath, Finnish sauna etc. The specials were the chromo-therapy showers, with their scented mist, a Vertical Kneipp, emotional showers with chromotherapy. There are four Spa suites in various sizes. Always make bookings ahead.
The resort organizes boat excursions along the shores of the lake, with a stopover in Bellagio (our choice and hugely recommended) or Comacina Island. For the musically oriented or inspired by their stay at this ‘temple of opera’ at Casta Diva, the resort’s guests are on the priority list to attend the exclusive summer festival ‘Como, Cittàdella Musica’ held at Villa Olmo etc.
The resort also offers professional 18, 9 or 36 hole professional Golf courses at a short driving distance. A shuttle service to and from the resort to Como downtown is available for guests free of charge.
Ask for cooking classes with the Chef. Also ‘Ferrari driving experience’, water skiing, sailing, canoeing, diving, trekking, seaplane trips, gambling and some more. If planning a destination wedding or a special landmark celebration, I hugely recommend Casta Diva Resorts & Spa. There are four very high-tech modular rooms for private events and top meetings, for upto 300 people.
When to Go – Any time from March to November, but best weather prevails from June to October. In winter, most of the resorts wind down and everyone goes on vacation. Mind you, the Italians take their holidays very seriously.
How to Get There
|Airport||Distance from key towns|
|Milan Malpensa (MXP) – 38 miles||Milan – 34 miles|
|St.Moritz (CH) – 93 miles||Lugano – 22 miles|
|Lugano LUG) Switzerland – 16 miles||Turin – 103 miles|
|Bergamo Orio al Serio (BGY) – 58 miles||Venice – 193 miles|
|Railway Stations||Rome – 391 miles|
|Como S Giovanni 4 miles – FFSS(from Milano Centrale)||Verona – 124 miles|
|Como Nord Lago 2.5 miles – FMN (from Milano Centrale)||St.Moritz (CH)-93 miles|
|A9 AutostradedeiLaghi, Exit: Como Sud-08 miles|
CastaDiva Resort & Spa website – www.castadivaresort.com