Top of the lake
What makes a truly great hotel? A five-star rating helps, but it doesn't guarantee the X-factor fairydust that turns a stay from enjoyable into unforgettable.
For me, that extra-special something doesn't come from starched linens, heavy silver cutlery or outsized floral displays in the lobby. It comes from service - from the staff and from the attention to detail.
After a long weekend at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo beside Lake Como, I feel bathed in a hospitality glow. Yes, it's a luxury hotel; yes it's in one of the world's most catch-your-breath locations; and yes, the lobby gives good florals.
But what makes Grand Hotel Tremezzo unforgettable is the charm and obvious pride of the people who work there.
The hotel hums with the buzz of a well-run and welcoming team. It has that elusive fairydust by the bucket load.
Now, before the cynics start pointing out that staff are primed to be extra-nice to hotel reviewers, let me assure you it wasn't just me being impeccably well looked after.
Observing the way the waiters interacted with breakfast guests, how the reception team welcomed new arrivals and how the comments book overflowed with praise for the staff, as well as the Lake Como views, I know I wasn't a special case.
But enough about the exceptional service, what about the five-star details?
Built as a hotel in 1910, this lakeside palace is one of the area's oldest check-ins. Its art noveau architectural details and smart orange (the hotel's signature colour) awnings bright against the pale stone make it instantly impressive.
Add in a gilt and mirrored entranceway that leads you to the lift from street level to lobby, and the sense of occasion starts the minute you arrive.
But there's a sense of modernity, too. This isn't a hotel pickled in heritage aspic. Alongside the old school glamour, there are playful decorative touches that stop any stuffiness in its tracks.
In the music room, for instance, velvet button-backed sofas and chairs are upholstered in a rainbow of lime green, orange, pink and purple. Set against the room's yellow walls, the whole place glows with dazzling colour. It shouldn't work, but it does.
And in the grandly lofty main reception area, any sense of formality is offset by a table of giant jars of lollies, sitting there to tempt guests young and old. Some fizzy sherbets or Smarties as you head to your room? Why not.
Perhaps the most impressive non-art nouveau addition to the hotel is the floating swimming pool and man-made beach.
For trophy sunbathing views, this is the place to head. Cream sunloungers sit on perfectly raked sand, facing a floating deck and pool. (Prime spot, if you can nab one, is one of the giant beanbags on the actual pool decking, but you have to be quick.)
Lying back and watching the lake life go by - ferries, speedboats and sailing boats - is strangely hypnotic. While the floating pool's glamour can be enjoyed by all the hotel's guests, there is a new addition to the Tremezzo experience that is more exclusive.
Take the lift up to level 5, and you find yourself at a private concierge's desk. You have reached the hushed world of the rooftop suites. These eight rooms, built last year, offer the ritziest of lakeside experiences.
With private outdoor jacuzzis and expansive decked terraces, they are the ultimate in Lake Como five-star living. If money were no object, I'd want to check into the Greta Suite.
Named after Greta Garbo (because she mentioned Tremezzo in the 1932 film Grand Hotel - a slightly tenuous link, but I'll forgive them), the suite is old-school glamour at its best.
Even better, it has a 30-square-metre terrace, complete with two loungers and a table for lake-view dining.
Lake Como is, of course, the hotel's reason for being, but away from the water views, there's another side of the property that is equally stunning.
All 20,000 square metres of it. The hotel's gardens are breathtaking, and provide a contrasting ambience to the busy buzz of the lake.
While my afternoon on a waterside beanbag is pretty hard to top, I also loved the tranquillity of the Flower Pool.
Surrounded by banks of jasmine, white roses and banana palms, it's a fragrantly peaceful point. And make sure you save some energy for the climb up to the hotel's highest spot.
The Panoramic Trail winds up through parkland, taking you among magnolias, azaleas, tulips, geraniums, rhododendrons and wild grasses.
It's difficult to leave the elegantly polished world of Hotel Grand Tremezzo. Real life doesn't come with sparkling lake views, a retinue of charming staff and jars of lollies. If only.
The writer was a guest of Hotel Grand Tremezzo.
"Any chance I'll spot George Clooney?" I asked as I checked in to Hotel Grand Tremezzo. The actor is, of course, Lake Como's most famous resident, with a lakeside palazzo in nearby Laglio. Well, not that nearby actually. I Google-mapped it prior to arrival and was disappointed to discover Laglio was 17km south. "He sometimes goes past on his motorbike," the staff told me.
Suffice to say, I never got my George moment. But if you do get a sighting, tell him I said "Buon giorno".
WHERE Hotel Grand Tremezzo, via Regina 8, 22019 Tremezzo, Italy. Park view rooms from €320 ($523.66) + 10 per cent VAT per night; rooftop suites from €650 ($1063.68) + VAT.
TOP MARKS Impeccably charming staff and a floating pool.
BLACK MARK It pains me to criticise anything about this superb hotel but my dinner in La Terrazza was disappointing. Expensive but slightly bland food.
DON'T MISS A cocktail hour Campari Spritz on the terrace of T Bar. Lake Como glamour at its best.
MORE INFORMATION grandhoteltremezzo.co.
Sydney Morning Herald