Lake Como’s appeal is constant. Verdant mountains reflect in calm turquoise waters, burnt-orange rooftops speckle lakeside villages, and, at water’s edge, noble villas stand as proud neoclassical monuments. Behind this facade of eternal sameness, however, much has changed over the last year. The biggest news on the lake was hard to ignore: A contemporary outlier of wood, glass, and steel carved into a lakefront cliff, Il Sereno Lago di Como opened in August with modern, minimalist—and not at all classical—interiors by the Milan-based designer Patricia Urquiola.
Satisfying traditionalists, Urquiola took a more authentic approach in her restoration of Il Sereno’s neighboring Villa Pliniana, a 16th-century estate with original frescoes and Venetian floors. Not one to be outdone, Grand Hotel Tremezzo—a 107-year-old grande dame—acquired a villa of its own, opening the historically significant Villa Sola Cabiati to the public for the first time. The villa is adorned with museum-quality art and antiques, including a collection of Stradivarius violins painted black for the funeral of Marie Antoinette.