Bella Figura: Lake Como’s Casta Diva


An almighty clap of thunder rolled down from the hills, through the mist and onto the lake. It echoed with grand furore. With our feet on the mahogany floor of the drawing room, we peered out from the thick red curtains that framed our view of heavy raindrops now falling onto the darkened water. Behind them, the sky was flecked with white lights that twinkled from Como’s western shore, and the bolt of electricity that the clouds would imminently bring provided a certain drama to our recent arrival. Mother nature was about to do her beautiful worst.

Elegant drama is not an unknown concept on Lake Como. For years this magnificent landscape has inspired poets, prose writers and composers alike, and the location of one of its newest residences, Casta Diva resort and spa, is no exception. Villa Roccabruna, the palatial 18th century building that forms the centre-point of this estate, was once home to opera singer and soprano Giuditta Pasta. In her lifetime she was more commonly known for being composer Vincenzo Bellini’s muse for his ‘Opera Norma’, where she sang first soprano at Milan’s famosissima La Scala. It was here on the shores of the lake that the ‘hymn to the moon’ from this opera, one of Norma’s arias, was written. At the time, and since then, the villa has been home to many a visiting high society name, and today under its new guise it continues to attract a similar crowd of globetrotters – both those who demonstrate this clearly (despite hiding behind mirrored sunglasses), and those who are in the more subtly acquired, well-qualified know.

From its original incarnation as a family home, years later the 13,000sqm complex has been picked up for use as a luxury hotel and resort (though an intimate one at that), undergone an intricate ten year renovation project, and now boasts 73 guestrooms and two completely private villas. The piece de resistance is Villa Norma, a space that commands up to €6000 a night for which, alongside luxuriant accommodation, you’ll receive your own private boat dock away from the rest of the hotel, and an enormous downstairs games room; international playboys and girls have never been happier.

Throughout the rest of the complex, attention to detail on the design front certainly seems to be de rigueur, and overall, the hotel commands some excellent use of space. Not least with the swimming pool, taking up residence in the lake on its own floating island. This comes complete with coloured lights and fountains and, when the occasion requires it, can also be cleverly transformed into a platform that rises from the depths of its blue bottom, to transform into the ultimate of cocktail party venues. Renowned Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov who now owns the villa opposite (it used to belong to Versace) has no doubt watched such gatherings with green-eyed envy.

In keeping with the immediate environment, the hotel’s spa concentrates on elements of the ethereal, using green stem cells from vegetables to form the base of a wider selection of their exclusive treatments – the facials and firming treatments are of particular note. The spa has a nautical theme to it, suspended over a 19th century boat dock, but modern twists on the old shell include soft purple lights that extend out under the glass flooring of the relaxation room, a large plasma screen at the far end of the indoor pool, tropically scented showers, and a Himalayan salt-cave room. All of these and more add to the spa’s intentional arrest on the senses. And that doesn’t stop here.

When I stayed at Casta Diva there was a tangible feeling of romance to the air. In the late afternoon sunshine a beautiful wedding took place in the grounds, which try as they might, the other hotel guests couldn’t help but ignore. The happy couple arrived by boat, a vessel not unlike the one we too enjoyed sailing around in on the lake the following day (one of the activities that the hotel can help organise). It was a carefully crafted piece of bella figura that culminated in a stunning candlelit evening event, but the affection that the wedding planners helped evoke was not misplaced. This too was aided by the staff, dressed in their uniforms of white shirts with huge ruffled collars and wing-like sleeves.

Casta Diva excels in creating an affable romance of yesteryear, so whether your affliction is creating music, penning fairy tales or simply relaxing into someone else’s, you’re almost guaranteed that if you come here, you’ll find your next muse.

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