The town of Menaggio is one of Lake Como's most popular destinations and well worth a visit, but drive 10 minutes further north along the coast, and you'll discover something altogether different – Santa Maria Rezzonico. On the western edge of Lake Como, this former fishing village is tucked away and well hidden from the crowds of tourists that populate the shores of the Italian lake. In fact, driving along the main road, you could easily miss it completely. But it's there that we discovered Villa al Castello, a charming lakeside home with dazzling views that's the perfect place for a group of friends to gather in and enjoy this amazing location.
Rezzonico is said to be one of the least-known villages of the lake, which only adds to its charm. Quiet and slow in pace, it's built around a 14th-century castle tower and has its own secluded beach. It's a little piece of Italy the way it's meant to be, very different from the tourist towns.
From Menaggio, it's easily reached by car, but if you feel like a real adventure, you can take the slow route, following the Antica Strada Regina along the lake. A pathway which runs from Nobiallo to Rezzonico, it was built during the last days of the Roman Empire and is still paved in parts with cobblestones. On foot, the journey takes three hours, but there's plenty to see along the way.
Whether you arrive on foot, by bike, or in a car, we recommend staying at Villa al Castello, an early 20th-century villa in the heart of the village. When we visited, we parked near the ancient church of Santa Maria Assunta and walked to the house through the alleys lined by old stone houses that are occupied by local families. The house sits right beside the grounds of the imposing Castello di Rezzonico, sharing the castle's grandeur and its views.
Once inside the villa, you discover little pieces of the house's history – the original tiled floors, the wood beamed ceilings. In between, however, the house has been completely remodeled with decor by Persi.Co STILE in nearby Lenno and all the luxuries of a small hotel. The deck offers stunning views of the lake and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Each bedroom has its own bathroom, and up in the attic is a room full of beds with plenty of space to play, which is perfect for children. In fact, this is a great house for a big family or friends with kids.
Follow a short footpath down the hill from the villa, and you'll reach the beach of Rezzonico, a quiet spot for lounging and playing with the kids. Alternatively, take a morning run or an evening stroll along the narrow road by the lake.
Katharina, who owns Villa al Castello, recommends spending those days making the most of the water. "In front of our villa you will see surfers, kite surfers and sailors especially on the weekends," she says. "The wind is particularly good in our area." But she also recommends renting a boat from one of the larger hamlets, to get a real feel for Lake Como.
Alternatively, she says, head for the trails. "There are wonderful hikes around the lake with varying difficulties, for families as well as for experienced hikers. And there are great mountain refugios with local cuisine that invite a rest."
Beyond that, Katharina says visiting one of the villas on the lake, with their magnificent grounds, is a must. Choose from Villa Balbianello, Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta, or Villa Monastero. The town of Bellagio is also unmissable, and the undisturbed town of Varenna on the lake's eastern shore, she says, is a well-kept secret.
We really fell for Lake Como on our visit, and Rezzonico makes a great base for discovering all the Italian region has to offer. We loved Villa al Castello and are already dreaming of returning. Book a stay here, but make sure you do it quickly. The villa fills up early each year – and it's very easy to understand why.