The Hotel du Lac is coming to life after COVID. It’s idyllic now. Apart from one thing: not enough guests. Yet.

7 July 2020 By Paul Martin

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By Paul Martin and Anne Casimir in Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy.

Daniele Leoni, 29, is serving drinks and canapés on the open-air terrace of his parents’ Hotel du Lac. Displayed on his calves is a Union Jack and an Italian flag – a graphic picture not only of how important British visitors have been to this tourist haven, but also revealing his own family roots: his mother Jane is Welsh, and his father Luca is a local Italian. 

We are staying in room 12 – with majestic views of the lake and its rolling hills on either side. It turns out to be the very same room where Jane’s parent s had stayed in their honeymoon. More than two decades later Jane, then 19, and Luca, had met at this hotel after Jane came on a family holiday to this idyllic location.

Together, they have transformed this delightful 3 star hotel (it’s the best 3 star I have ever stayed in). The other one they own, the nearby Hotel Bellagio, is still closed.  Still, after months of Covid lockdown,the Hotel du Lac is already coming back to some sort of normality.

Fewer than half of its 40 rooms are occupied.  But last weekend Italians, Swiss and Germans drove in and the whole place was full.  So last night the owner Luca — who rashly promised to skinny-dip in the lake if his hotel was filled to capacity again for even one night – happily fulfilled his pledge.

About 1800 years Pliny the Younger, the famous Roman writer, used to compose his books and hunt around here.  He noted that he would also fish from his lakeside villa’s bedroom window. 

Bellagio was ‘discovered’ by the British in the early 19th century as a tourist resort.  But they are not here today. 

Fara, 42, from Harrow, north London, was the only British tourist we met in three days alongside Lake Como.  The Brits have been kept at bay by a misplaced fear that, as the lake is in Lombardy, coronavirus must be rampant.  It isn’t, though in this gorgeous little lakeside village of 3,800 souls, the death toll from Covid was officially 20.

“That is just a myth,” avers Luca Leoni, 60, who owns two hotels here.  “The truth is only one person died of covid, the rest were ill anyway and it can be said they died with Covid, not of Covid.”

When walking through the lakeside streets or up the cobbled alleyways people usually still don facemasks – though these too are sometimes worn dangling from the ears.   In truth, they are not really essential any more.  The Covid figures for Lombardy are dropping daily, so it’s probably safer to be in Lombardy than most of Britain, says Luca.

Getting on to any of the open-air ferries, let alone inside a hydrofoil, the crew carefully monitor adherence to the facemask rules. The carbinieri have been so strict they have tracked down those who breached the rules by the lockdown with parties, by tracking their boastful photographs

At the sumptuous hotel breakfast (speciality: the omelettes) Fara agrees. “We deliberately chose to come to Italy, Its reverse psychology.  I feel safer here than on a London tube train,” she says. “It’s the perfect time to visit places that are usually overcrowded, like Venice or even here.  And they are very careful here about safety.”

The only disappointment is that hoteliers and restaurants are not dropping their prices – unlike the cut-price deals they got when SARS hit Asia.  “Yesterday we tried next door at the famous Hotel Villa Serbelloni but it was 650 Euros a night for us.  We asked for 600 and they refused.”

Mind you, it is a unique location for those for whom money is no object.  The Serbelloni, which was one of three lakeside establishments to get electricity in the 1880s, also boasts an under-hotel boat garage and a huge swimming pool alongside the lake.  (By the way, the lake itself has pure water for swimming in.)

We far preferred the unpretentious but still delightful Hotel du Lac, even though it turns out the prize-winning book by the same name is actually in Switzerland, and in any case we discovered another Hotel du Lac in a nearby village on Lake Como too.

“Well it has been wonderful being in our hillside home with our three boys during the lockdown.  But of course from a business point of view it’s been a very worrying time,” says our hotel co-owner Jane as we sip a typical Italian drink, an Aperol spritz, on her magnificent Terrazza Leoni.   She points wistfully to their 29-room sister-hotel, resplendent in white as the sun begins to set over the deep blue lake.

“We won’t own it soon,” says Luca displaying his dry sense of humour. “The bank will.”  I think he was at least half joking.   The Hotel du Lac staff have been returning gradually from the Italian version of furlough (considerably less generous in its hand outs than the British version).  The receptionists and waiters are full of smiles and eager to help.

Already another of their sons  is making a success from a new elite catering business, arranging what he has dubbed ‘pic-unique’, essentially arranging and cooking high-class picnics in the lush gardens of the private villas that bejewel the lakeside or perch on the lake’s steep tree-studded slopes.

MUCH MORE TO FOLLOW, PLUS PICTURES

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