Passalacqua: The Fascinating History Behind The World’s Best Hotel

Built in the 18th century, the property was once the grandest private villa on the shores of Lake Como. Now, it’s officially the best hotel in the world.


For centuries, Passalacqua has been known to have lured luminaries to its well-manicured grounds. Located strategically on the shores of Lake Como in the sleepy village of Moltrasio, just about an hour’s drive from Milan, it was here that the famed Italian opera composer, Vincenzo Bellini wrote two of his masterpieces, Norma and La Sonnamba on site. 

Other familiar names to have walked through its doors include Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, although, from different eras, each one of these guests was drawn to this magical spot that originally stood on land belonging to Pope Innocent IX.

The villa’s story can be traced back to the 18th century, when Count Andrea Lucini Passalacqua, an aristocrat from a leading noble Como family, acquired the land and set about renovating the original structure built by the Odescalchi family. 

A Colourful Past 

Intending to build a private retreat, the Count commissioned famed Milanese architect Carlo Felice Soave in a renovation project resulting in the neoclassical structure as we know it today. The Villa remained under the ownership of the Lucini-Passalacaqua family until the last living Count passed away in 1890 without a heir.


The Suite Bellini in the Villa.

In the years following, the Villa’s fate ended up in the hands of different owners and quite a remarkable cast of characters including a Hungarian anthropologist, a Swedish baroness and in more recent times, a Wall Street trader who subsequently put up the villa for auction on Sotheby’s in 2018. 

Enter the De Santis family, who acquired the property (rumoured to have cost a cool €20 million) and set about reviving the private residence into a chic 24-room boutique hotel. Passalacqua officially opened its doors in June 2022, and in just over a year was awarded the number one spot on the World’s 50 Best Hotels list.  


Valentina, Anotonella and Paolo De Santis.

A New Era

For a property under the helm of the De Santis family, (owners of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, the sister property of Passalacqua located just a stone’s throw up the lake), the exceptional services here probably come as no surprise, considering the family’s legendary status in the realm of hospitality. 

Third-generation hotelier Valentina De Santis and her parents Paolo and Antonella spent over three years restoring Passalacqua, a grand project armed with a strong reverence for Italian hospitality. 


The Sala delle Dame. © Stefan Giftthaler.

Pay close attention to the details in the decor and you’ll notice the strong nod to Italian artisanal craftsmanship. The minute detail placed on the hotel’s design is remarkable with appearances by Venetian artisans from Barovier & Toso to Fortuny and even the Giuliva Heritage staff uniforms.

For a place filled with grandeur, the dining here is down-to-earth with a focus on the simplicity of Italian cuisine. The open cucina and warm, friendly staff make it feel like you’re dining at the home of a close relative. 


The view over the pool and the lake.

As for the rooms, Passalacqua spreads out over three buildings, with 24 characterful suites. The setting here is unmistakably refined luxury without the stuffiness. The main residence, the Villa features twelve opulent rooms, ranging from double rooms to grand suites.

For breathtaking lake views, the four rooms at Casa al Lago promise a private enclave perfect for couples or the recluse. 


One of the main showpieces of this property is the pool terrace. Lined with J.J. Martin parasols, the charming decor adds a hint of cheekiness to an otherwise stately landscape. 

Visit Passalacqua for availability and bookings.

Images courtesy of Passalacqua. 

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