Originally built in 1568 as a summer residence for an Italian cardinal with a penchant for expensive art, the Villa d’Este later transferred hands to the Princess of Wales and wife of King George IV of England, Caroline of Brunswick. It was converted to a hotel in 1873 and has remained one of the premier vacation spots for the rich and famous ever since. Villa d’Este’s fleet of boats is available for guests to rent if they wish to visit various towns around the lake. Along the way, the residence of George Clooney and Gianni Versace’s former home line the shore, and guests can hire a guide to show them around. Guests climb the grand marble staircase from the entrance foyer and arched-ceiling lobby to reach many of the rooms in the historic wing. From this vantage point, the sparkling Murano glass chandeliers, immense floral arrangements and massive, gold-framed works of art are on full display. Guest rooms boast the finest silk fabrics, starched and ironed bed linens, and antique furnishings that demonstrate a variety of styles that make up the hotel’s 140-year history. The most prized rooms have furnished balconies with full-frontal views of Lake Como. The largest is the Cardinal Suite on the first floor, where reservations are booked up years in advance. Once you step onto the largest balcony of any of the accommodations here, you will quickly understand why it is so popular. Its living room has hosted many of the most well-known guests including Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Ralph Lauren and George Clooney. Alfred Hitchcock created one of his first movies, “The Pleasure Garden,” while at the hotel. With so many windows, natural light streams in throughout the day and majestically illuminates the mountains across the lake once the sun begins to set from behind the hotel. Even the Double Executive rooms are quite spacious, with small ensuite sitting areas boasting Queen Anne-style pieces and windows that open to either garden or park views. The blend between historic and modern is obvious with flat-screen TVs from LG placed next to restored armoires dating back more than a century. Villa d’Este has 55 junior suites, many with small furnished balconies with views of the lake. Décor can vary between rooms and suites with different fabric hues and patterns. Some guests may enjoy the serendipity from one room to the next, which is a result of the hotel’s meticulous refurbishment that takes place each year. Closed between mid-November and mid-March, when most of Lake Como hibernates for the winter, Villa d’Este removes all furnishings including those from this junior suite. Accommodations are deep-cleaned, examined for necessary maintenance updates, and many are redesigned completely. The result is a unique collection of room layouts and décor that keeps all return guests pleased; no two rooms or villas are identical. Some even have working fireplaces, and repeat guests often have their favorite options with junior suites facing the park costing nearly $1,000 per night in low season. Four villas surround the property and provide more living space and the utmost in privacy. Among them, the Mosaic House demonstrates some of the accommodations with a more contemporary style. Bathrooms boast marble surfaces with extensive vanity space stacked high with towels, bespoke toiletries made locally, and warming towel racks. The hotel’s crest is etched on the glass shower stalls and embossed into the towels. The Queen’s Pavilion, a separate building of accommodations, joined the hotel later and has rooms and suites, almost all of which have lake-view balconies. Many travelers like these rooms because they are closer to the marina where expensive boats bob in the waves. It is also closer to the floating swimming pool. Through many of the guest room windows, views of the manicured gardens that surround the hotel are commanding. The gardens have a palatial look with winding pathways, melodic fountains, and a colorful, recently restored mosaic wall that frames a hillside path that leads to a statue of Hercules. It is said that the 25-acre gardens, designed like colorful fortifications, were built by a former countess that resided here and wanted to keep her military veteran husband entertained. Close to 100,000 flowers are planted around the hotel grounds annually, and the chef has his own garden where he grows herbs and spices. Cuisine is a highlight here and is best enjoyed on the panoramic lakefront terrace where tuxedoed servers deliver choreographed service using plates, silverware and glassware bearing the hotel’s crest. Many pieces were designed exclusively for Villa d’Este. Elton John dined here and was so impressed with the service that he sent his personal chef to take cooking lessons here. Guests, too, can take one of the hotel’s cooking classes. With a staff-to-guest room ratio of nearly two to one, service is impeccable. Even the kitchen employs four dozen chefs to prepare everything from its signature white truffle risotto (remember, Italians never use cream in risotto!) to fresh seafood catches of the day prepared tableside. Chef Michele Zambanini’s garden grows many ingredients in the menu like rosemary, parsley and oregano among other herbs and vegetables. The hotel’s floating swimming pool sits gracefully on the edge of the lake and has its own boat dock and whirlpool. Now a staple of the finest hotels in Lake Como, Villa d’Este was the first hotel in Europe to create a floating pool for its guests in 1966. If sunbathing by the lake is not paramount, climb the grand staircase to the resort’s spa for a massage or beauty treatment, or visit the private Sporting Club for a workout or swim in the indoor pool. This high-brow club has a handful of local members that pay for the privilege of relaxing here. Each spring, the hotel clears its lavish, lakeside terrace for the Concours d’Elegance, a vintage car show that draws a worldwide audience. Collectors swarm around expensive cars to potentially purchase and add to their fleet. The four exclusive, multi-bedroom villas at the hotel are popular with celebrities or couples seeking the most privacy. Built in 1833, the six-bedroom Villa Garrovo is one of four that come with their own outdoor patios, kitchen, and private gardens. Villa d’Este is a longtime member of The Leading Hotels of the World collection (LHW), which recently relaunched its Leaders Club loyalty program with new perks like the Sterling elite level with confirmed suite upgrades and fewer date restrictions for redeeming earned points at other LHW hotels. Sibling property 16th-century Medici Villa La Massa on the outskirts of Florence (also a member of The Leading Hotels of the World), provides a Tuscan villa setting on the banks of the Arno River. Here, guests can relax poolside with views of the rolling hillside or take part in numerous activities like wine tastings in the 15th-century wine cellar or biking around the gardens. The newest addition to the property is Casa Colonica, a remodeled farmhouse that dates back to the mid-1800s, which now boasts four suites with a private kitchen and courtyard featuring a historic 16th-century oven. Villa La Massa produces its own olive oil and even offers truffle hunting excursions with two Italian princesses, Natalia and Irina Strozzi, descendants of the woman who inspired Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Mona Lisa.” While an hourly transfer can whisk guests to the Ponte Vecchio in central Florence, many choose to take a break from touring to enjoy a Chianti-infused oil massage at the Arno Spa or soak in the riverfront pool. Villa La Massa is planning yet another expansion to restore two more historic buildings and add 13 more rooms and suites plus a new restaurant and swimming pool in the coming years.