Follow Madonna, Clooney to Italy's Lake Como - TheStreet

LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- When people think of a lake vacation, tents, dinners cooked on propane stoves and late-night campfires come to mind. But Madonna, George Clooney and Donatella Versace do it differently. We're talking Lake Como in northern Italy.

Lake Como is hardly a new concept. It's a popular getaway for the Milanese elite where even James Bond was seduced. Your own Italian adventure is best begun in Milan. Hightail it to the

Hertz

(HTZ) - Get Report

counter to pick up a new Lotus Exige from the company's "fun collection" that shows off your eco-consciousness while not having to sacrifice the show-off factor. This is Italy, of course.

With a zippy sports car in hand, it's a one- to two-hour drive to Como, depending on traffic and your ability to navigate Italian highways. Once at the lake, it's best to ditch the sports car and use your feet to get around, as traffic is severe and parking even worse.

With the euro still hovering at multiyear lows, the sticker shock of Como's better hotels won't be as wounding as a few years back. For those who frequent the luxury circuit of the world's greatest hotels, a stay at

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

or

Villa d'Este

in Cernobbio is a must. Truly from another time, Villa d'Este is the better of the two and pre-dates even modern Italy itself.

Today, a glorious lakeside palace awaits, looming over 25 acres of gardens with 550-year-old trees and terraced lawns leading to two outlying private villas and a floating pool that's one of the world's jet-set landmarks. Sadly, most of the southern lake's swimming happens in floating pools due to pollution. Better waters can be had, though, at the northern end of the lake near Domaso and Gravedona, where waters tend to be safe for swimming throughout most of the summer.

Arrival to Villa d'Este comes through baronial hallways with plastered buttress ceilings and Grecian columns opening to elaborate drawing rooms that command whispered conversation among an art collection that could humble most public collections. Despite such architectural grandeur, much to do at the hotel happens outdoors along the terraces of the two in-house eateries and lively pool bar that's a virtual social club for villa-owning neighbors of the area.

Days hover around lake activities such as canoeing and windsurfing. Day trips should be taken by boat to Bellagio, where the 1-star Michelin

Ristorante Mistral

is located. Those looking for more of a supper-club experience can travel farther to

Lido de Lenno

, which offers a lido experience of sushi dining and a Balinese dance floor surrounded by VIP banquettes and a lakeside lounge of draped cabanas home to summertime DJs.

But to experience true Lake Como, it's best to stick close to the upper echelons, which means a visit to the D'Este club back at Villa d'Este is in order. The scene marries privileged nightlife with the new guard of Como that includes summertime princes from little-known European principalities to famous faces that recruit their Hollywood friends for the summer.

By 3 a.m., you're ready for bed, but, as with most aristocratic residences, your entry-level double superior at Villa d'Este room can feel small and claustrophobic with its matching floral curtains, headboard and bedspread. Far better are the hotel's Lakeside Double Corner Rooms, which feature chic terraces. Even better is the 7,000-square-foot Villa Clima, which has a private lake garden that serenades you to sleep with whispering winds and singing nightingales.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.