Outside Stefano Sioli's villa in Cernobbio

Outside Stefano Sioli’s villa in Cernobbio

By Eileen Ogintz

LAKE COMO, Italy (Day Two) — How do we work the Espresso Machine?

Still jetlagged, we wake up to fabulous views of Lake Como from our Villa Traversi and all we want is coffee.

But we’re not in a hotel nor do we have a staff to serve us — that is the difference with renting a villa. So we have to figure out how to work what seems at first a very complicated Italian espresso/cappuccino machine but isn’t really as complicated as all that. Same with the burners on the stove.

Pretty soon, we’re congratulating ourselves at figuring everything out as we dig into breakfast and plan our day which we’re determined not to be derailed by rain.

Could the place be any more beautiful? The three-story villa is directly on the lake shore located in Laglio between Cernobbio and Tremezzo, with private dock and lake access. Down the stone steps, the beautifully landscaped garden is complete with a century-old Lebanon Cedar tree, a small fish pond with a waterfall and a bronze statue. If the weather were better, we even have a big gas grill.

And though this is a luxury villa —we are in George Clooney’s neighborhood after all — it is certainly more affordable for a group of six or eight than staying in a luxury hotel. I also like that we have places to gather without feeling compelled to order a glass of wine or a pot of tea within earshot of other travelers, as nice as they may be.

We take the top bedroom-lake views, of course, with its large walk-in shower and huge marble sink. Others in the family are equally pleased by their accommodations. I’m most happy we have so much room to spread out and spend time together in our own private space where we can have coffee—or a nightcap—in our PJs, raid the fridge or curl up on the couch to read (or catch up on email) .

Lakeshore view in Cernobbio on Lake Como in Italy

Lakeshore view in Cernobbio on Lake Como in Italy

Had we wanted it, a driver would have been dispatched to get us at the airport in Milan, about an hour away. My brother-in-law, familiar with driving in Italy, had volunteered to serve as our driver. We could have arranged a cooking lesson — very popular when kids are part of the equation — or someone to come in to prepare a “typical” dinner. Stefano Sioli, who owns and manages several villas here, says he arranges to act as a boat taxi for his guests whenever needed.   This all helps guests to “experience the real life” of a place, he explains

The 19th Century villa is owned by Manuela Nuti, a fashion designer, and it shows in her décor.

We share coffee and freshly made pastries with Sioli in the utterly charming village of Cernobbio, a short drive from “our” village, where he shows us his lake front villa as well as the local restaurants and shops — and how easy it is to be at home here where local shopkeepers great you with a smile as you buy just-made pasta and try to decide which balsamic vinegar you want.

“You have more contact with local people when you rent a villa,” Sioli explains, adding that the aim of Este Villas, the company he works with that is overseen by founder Luisa Castiglioni and her partner Beatrice Fontaine  is to create a group of unique villas with the same high standards of service. “We can’t control the weather,” he laughed. “But we can make it the best holiday.”