From growing up sneaking around the kitchens of Grand Hotel Tremezzo to opening this summer’s most eagerly anticipated hotel, Valentina De Santis is Lake Como. For the past decade, she’s been at the helm of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, the palatial Grand Hotel dating back to 1910 and owned by her family since 1975, which, under her wing, has established itself as northern Italy’s place to be seen. Like Italians to antipasti, the Tremezzo draws wanderlusters from all over the world with its promise of the laid-back luxury. Don’t be surprised if when dining at their iconic poolside restaurant overlooking the Lake, you find yourself rubbing elbows with George and Amal. Put it this way: anyone who is anyone stays at the Tremezzo.
Until this summer, that is. Now anyone who is anyone will be staying at Passalacqua, an 18th Century villa once beloved by Napoleon Bonaparte and Vincenzo Bellini painstakingly transformed to become the latest gem in Valentina’s crown. As la dolce vita goes, this beauty is hard to beat. In two words? È bello. Despite all the grandeur, Valentina has conjured her Bain-trained business chops and innate mama-bear magic to turn this most magnificent of settings into a precious jewel box that feels intimate, secluded, exclusive. The Moltrasio locals would say she was born to do it.
Which, of course, she was. “I always knew I was going to end up in family hotels,” says Valentina. “I spent all the summers of my life in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. As a little one, I really enjoyed running around the kitchen. My passion was spending all my days at the hotel front desk, pretending (or thinking) that I was actually helping. I always loved it.” On the Tremezzo’s 100th hotel anniversary Valentina’s father asked her to join the family business, and to shepherd the historic space into the 21st Century.
“We wanted to create a place of wonder – something that is a joy for the eyes. We move so fast nowadays. Passalacqua has a slow rhythm and a lot of space for yourself.” – Valentina
Searching for another property that made their hearts soar, the day the De Santis stepped into Passalacqua, they fell in love – “it was a vision,” Valentina says – so much so the family assumed the only way they’d be able to get hold of it was in their dreams. “The villa was famous for being put on sale with the highest price tag in Europe. We arrived at the day of the private auction in 2018 with very little hope,” she explains. That spark of hope soon grew into another De Santis flame that this summer is setting the hospitality world alight – from How to Spend it to US Vogue, raves are rampant about Valentina’s exciting lakeside paradise.
For Valentina, Passalacqua is more than just about creating a buzz. “All the most historic villas pass from Italians to globe-trotters but the reverse is true here. An American owner is passing it back to an Italian owner from Como.” You can feel the significance in everything from the Italian furniture Valentina’s parents sourced from auction houses and antique dealers to the chandeliers crafted in Murano glass from Barovier & Toso. “It’s a national monument,” Valentina says.
Connecting to Passalacqua’s romantic past was central to Valentina’s vision of what Italians call ‘villeggiatura’ – or, as Valentina puts it, reviving the lost art of travel. “The viscount who first opened the villa would invite poets, and painters – Bellini stayed there for three years writing some of his most famous operas,” she says. “Holidays were different back then. They were about admiring a place, enjoying the little things, the food, the vista, a fresh egg from your chickens. We move so fast nowadays.” The beauty of villeggiatura lies in the surprising touches Valentina sprinkles throughout the property. With just 24 rooms, the property feels more intimate than exclusive, and every detail from the Orvieto-crafted leather notebook on the bedside table to the silver coffee carafes delivered to the room each morning feel lovingly considered (which, of course, they are.)“We want to help the modern luxury traveler find a different way to create new memories. We wanted to create wonder everywhere, something that is a joy for the eyes.”
Naturally, she turned to J.J. Martin, a woman well-versed in peppering wonder throughout her world. Bringing our own maximalist print platter to the visual feast, Valentina commissioned J.J. to deliver her signature La DoubleJ magic to Passalacqua’s pool area and bar, after the pair’s serendipitous first connection in Como years earlier. “I have always admired what she does,” says Valentina of J.J. “La DoubleJ is one of the most extraordinary and surprising brands I’ve seen in my life. From a plate to a dress, she always brings joy.” It is this particular ebullience that sets the vibrant solarium apart from the grandiose classicism of villa itself, an explosion of color and playfulness in an otherwise supremely sophisticated space. Meanwhile, J.J. says everyone who meets Valentina falls in love – “It’s so beautiful for us to partner with someone who has the vision and follow-through to bring this uniquely magical paradise to life. Over the past week of Salone, everyone I have spoken to has wanted to come here.”
La DoubleJ’s first hotel takeover, everything in the Passalacqua solarium has been enveloped in J.J.’s unmistakable brand of joy and our hallmark heart-pumping prints, from rattan chairs to cushions, umbrellas, linens, lamps, and tabletop pieces. Get a taste of Passalacqua’s lakeside magic with the cushions, placemats, napkins, and aprons that we custom-created with Valentina for the space, so you can bring some of that Lake Como color into your own home.
“If I could pick one place to live for the rest of my life, Passalacqua might be it.” – J.J.
“Moltrasio, the lakeside town where Villa Passalacqua sits was to me this quite unknown place, not super touristic, this magical world. I love that I’m still able to discover its enchanting little corners.”
GELATERIA LE GUIGGIOLE: “There is the loveliest gelateria run by an amazing woman who had a totally different job before she fell in love with Como (and with gelato!). She moved her whole life here and opened her own shop. The flavors and the passion she puts in are just extraordinary.
TRATTORIA LA MOLTRASINA: “This is a beautiful little trattoria just behind Villa Passalacqua run by a young team, that I love. All the food is sourced locally from the nearby valley or the lake.”
UNA PASSEGGIATA: “This isn’t a “spot” as such, and it doesn’t have a name, but I recently discovered this beautiful path through the Moltrasio landscape, which takes you to waterfalls and natural pools that look like being in love. Not once have I seen a tourist there.”
Grazie Valentina! Ti vogliamo bene x