Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy

Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy

Once George Clooney is no longer seen on his Indian motorcycle, braving hair-raising, roller-coaster roads on Lake Como’s wishbone-shaped shoreline, other “regulars” at this famed hideaway like Springsteen, John Legend and Madonna also disappear. But so do the crowds, making autumn a fine time to take in the emerald-green waters fed by trout-filled Alpine streams and enjoy the pervasive hedonism.

This is especially true at Italy’s Villa d’Este, the palatial oasis located only one hour north of Milan. Blessed with views of the Alps, 25 acres of majestic, terraced gardens, and offering sumptuously furnished accommodations with Murano-glass chandeliers and antique sculptures, the Italian Renaissance–styled Villa has been enchanting guests since 1873.

U.S. presidents, European royalty and movie icons come for a refuge promising pampering and indulgent, unabashed extravagance. But they also crave its serenity against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and jewel-like hillside towns.

Winston Churchill, who savored Romeo y Julietas in the Villa’s Canova Bar, gushed over its tranquility and humor. Its cozy intimacy remains, but Romeos have been replaced by Upmanns, Cohibas and Montecristos and smoking now happens on the terrace. 

Dining is equally delightful. After a Bellini, there’s the jacket-and-tie Veranda or the more casual Grill. DeNiro prefers spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil. Clooney also goes for pasta. Autumn is also the time to celebrate fish specialties, whether at the Villa or two exceptional restaurants, Materia in Cernobbio and Locanda dell’Isola Comacina, found on a tiny, bewitching island.

“Fish aggressively go hunting in autumn and that means it’s the best time for catching purple-hued Graylings (the salmon family) and trout,” says Tom Whieldon, who organizes fly-fishing tours.

The adventurous will be similarly charmed (and frustrated) by the four nearby, hillside golf courses. With their views come devilishly narrow fairways. The severely sloped Menaggio & Cadenabbia is the greatest test of courage, reachable only by negotiating one-lane roads, steep inclines and hairpin turns. 

So instead of driving, opt for the memorable luxury of a classic Riva wooden boat taxi to a nearby port. “There’s nothing like sitting on the sundeck of a high-powered boat, a glass of Champagne in hand, watching the glassy waters glide by,” says Duilio Reina, the owner of Como Classic Boats. “It’s living the dream.”