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The quintet of lakes that makes up the Italian Lake District lays on small, singular delights. But where to find these hidden-away places? Interior designer Maurizio Pellizzoni grew up on Lake Como – Lombardy’s loveliest lake – before spending a decade on the creative team at Ralph Lauren Home and opening up his own design consultancy in London’s Chelsea Harbour. It’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about style, so we sat down with him to get the inside scoop on Como’s best bars, shops and restaurants. If it’s good enough for the Clooneys…

‘The modern fine-dining menu at Materia pushes boundaries,’ says Pellizzoni. In the commune of Cernobbio, to the south of Como’s Y-shaped shores, the restaurant is run by a young and ambitious team, headed by Noma-trained chef Davide Caranchini, who uses unusual herbs and vegetables from the on-site greenhouse for dishes such as marinated trout with fermented kiwi and fassone beef tartare with celery, black garlic and pickles. For home comforts, Pellizzoni loves Riva Café in Como town: ‘It’s the place I return to with family or friends whenever I go back. The pizza’s good and the prices are, too.’

Materia Ristorante, Cernobbio, Italy

The greenhouse at Materia Ristorante in Cernobbio

‘Como doesn’t do hustle and bustle,’ says Pellizzoni, ‘so make like a local and start your evening with a laid-back aperitivo.’ The designer nods to Pane e Tulipani, with its atmospheric, bottle-lined walls, as one of the lake’s best-kept secrets, on a quiet street in Como. ‘In Cernobbio, you can also sip negronis at Harry’s Bar,’ he adds, ‘known as a favourite of George and Amal.’ For a morning espresso – and discreet people watching – head to historic, recently restored Caffe Monti Como, at the waterside on Como’s main square, Piazza Cavour.

‘Milan-based designer Patricia Urquiola crafted every facet of Lake Como’s first contemporary hotel, Il Sereno, which just had its first season, overlooking the sunny eastern side of the lake in Torno,’ says Pellizzoni. ‘I love that she envisioned everything from the architecture and interiors to the custom-made furniture, rugs and bathtubs’. The hotel’s centrepiece infinity pool, which seems to float above the lake, is also noteworthy. Who said Italy couldn’t do minimalism?

Il Sereno hotel, Lake Como, Italy

Il Sereno hotel

‘Take the funicular from Como’s lungolago (lakeside road) up to the hilltop commune of Brunate,’ says Pellizzoni. ‘You can hike the steep streets of the old village and visit the Volta Lighthouse. There are stunning views of the lake, the Alps and even the duomo of Milan’. While here, he recommends La Polenteria for flavoursome, local food, including polenta, stews, deer and grilled onions from Brunate. ‘I have taken this trip many times – it’s probably the best way to combine nature with good food on Como.’

For man-made attractions, the designer points to Como’s parade of mansions, including Villa Olmo in Como, Villa Erba in Cernobbio and Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. Afterwards, extend your stay by checking into Grand Hotel Tremezzo or make like a duke and duchess at Villa Solo Cabiati – one of Como’s few palatial pads that you can rent out in its entirety.

View of Lake Como, Italy

View of Lake Como from the funicular; photo by Bric72/Flicker CC

With water, water everywhere it’s not hard to find places to dip into Como. But to swim like the locals, Pellizzoni recommends Lido di Moltrasio, for its sandy beach area, sunloungers and diving boards adjoining the shore. The lido’s restaurant serves pizzas and local Lombard dishes. ‘This has been one of my favourites since I was a teenager, having spent many weekends there. You can enjoy a full day at the beach and then cocktails with sunset.’

His second tip is Lido de Lenno, an elegant, isolated beach club between the mountains and the Venere Gulf – just around the corner from where Bond film Casino Royale was filmed – which has a smart restaurant and transforms into an alfresco bar at night.

After raising a glass, continue your lakeside lounging at Relais Villa Vittoria, with its waterside infinity pool and Como-view rooms.

Relais Villa Vittoria, Lake Como, Italy

Lake views from the restaurant at Relais Villa Vittoria

When it comes to shopping, the Italians don’t hold back. ‘Behind the old town walls, the picturesque lanes of Como are filled with charming shops and pavement cafes’, says Pellizzoni. ‘A stone’s throw from the Teatro Sociale and duomo is Vittorio Emanuele, where you’ll find independent designers, traditional ateliers and refined silks by A Picci. Few people know that Como is one of the silk capitals of the world.’ Now that we’ve been tipped off, we’ll be sure to leave plenty of room in our suitcase for souvenirs.

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