Passalacqua: The Italian Hotel Voted Best in the World with Viviana Varese's Cuisine

Giovanni Angelucci
copertina passalacqua

History, culture, art, exquisite cuisine, timeless beauty, and perfect hospitality. This place has it all and is without a doubt one of the highlights of Italian excellence globally.

Coef's cover photo and article's dishes: Azzurra Primavera

Hotel's photo: Ruben Ortis

The hotel

I've often begun by saying, "A true hedonist must visit this place," but this time, trust me, no self-respecting hedonist could miss experiencing the delights of Passalacqua, a stunning villa-home-hotel in Moltrasio, on Lake Como.

Passalacqua24 Villa Giacomo Albo
Giacomo Albo
Passalacqua1 View over the pool and lake Stefan Giftthaler
Stefan Giftthaler

Especially now that chef Viviana Varese has arrived to offer guests a culinary experience worthy of such beauty. It's an added value, as if the Bellini Suite (where the composer lived and wrote Norma), the Italian-style garden, the enchanting pool, and the most exclusive tennis court you've ever seen weren't enough. And what makes it even more unique is the team of young staff working together in this one-of-a-kind place. Let's take it step-by-step—or perhaps, beauty-by-beauty.

11 Sala delle Dame Stefan Giftthaler
Stefan Giftthaler
Passalacqua7 Main staircase Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

Everyone wants to try it and capture its essence, but only a few can, both because of limited availability and the difficulty in finding an open slot months in advance (there are only 24 suites), and because of the costs, which are not exactly budget-friendly. But everything is justified because a single weekend at Passalacqua offers a chance to experience something truly special, even for Italians who are already familiar with this beautiful spot on the shores of Lake Como. Foreign visitors, however, make up the largest part of the clientele (and it's no coincidence that, in the bar, the menus are only in English).

Passalacqua5 Restaurant and Italian garden Ruben Ortiz 2
Ruben Ortiz
29 Junior Suite in the Villa with lake view Stefan Giftthaler
Stefan Giftthaler

Does "Bellini's Norma" ring a bell? Well, it should. But if you don't feel like brushing up on your opera history, just come here and start to get a taste of this rediscovered treasure. In 1829, Vincenzo Bellini made this his home; it’s where he composed two of his most famous works, "Norma" and "La Sonnambula." The most important suite, dedicated to him, is a precious room-museum where guests can stay.

Passalacqua 10 Suite Bellini in the Villa with lake view Sala della Musica lounge area Stefan Giftthaler

"Built on land originally owned by Pope Innocent XI, Villa Passalacqua was designed at the end of the 18th century at the behest of Count Andrea Lucini Passalacqua, who assigned the project to architect Felice Soave and Giocondo Albertolli. The villa quickly became a gathering place for numerous prominent personalities of the time, hosting some of the brightest minds in music, literature, art, and politics, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill," recounts an enthusiastic Valentina De Santis. Along with her parents Paolo and Antonella, a visionary family of hoteliers from Como—who also own the Grand Hotel Tremezzo—she brought this incredible estate back to life in June 2022.

35 Suite Bellini detail Enrico Costantini
Enrico Costantini
Passalacqua 31 Grand Junior Suite in the Villa Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

It's no surprise that just one year after opening, it was named the world's best hotel in the first edition of The World's 50 Best Hotels. A grand tribute to Italian excellence, every exquisite detail that makes up Passalacqua speaks of the pinnacle of Italian craftsmanship, fashion, and design. However, this isn't the space to go into those details. Instead, let's focus on the latest significant news: starting in March 2024, the culinary offerings at Passalacqua will be overseen by the highly regarded chef Viviana Varese. After closing VIVA, her restaurant in Eataly Milano, following a successful 10-year run, she's making a fresh start here.

Viviana Varese Azzurra Primavera

Viviana Varese's Culinary Offerings

"I met Valentina De Santis in October during the WIF (Women in Food) forum, where we talked about potential consulting, which I don't particularly like because it's typically short-lived. Since I was closing my restaurant, why not take this on as my main project? It turned out to be a happy coincidence. I've been working on the project since December, about a month and a half of testing, and now we're ready.

Dinner Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

I'm thrilled to work with a large company and a capable staff (the chef brought along her longtime sous chef Andrea Abate, two chef de parties, and three sommeliers). Many people might not realize that there are multiple dining experiences here: the lavish breakfasts prepared by four of the seven pastry chefs, the dinner service, lunch that can be enjoyed outside the main restaurant, in-room dining, and customized menus for guests who choose to spend a day on a boat," explains the chef.

39 Didi Simone Lavecchia
Simone Lavecchia

16 savory dishes at lunch and 20 at dinner, 5 desserts at lunch and 6 at dinner, 47 menu items, about 30 dishes and seven pizzas on the all-day menu, plus various treats offered throughout the stay. It's an immersive experience for Varese, who, as if that wasn't enough, has also opened her new venue in Milan, Faak, "Natural Rebellion Food & Wine," an artisanal food factory with a focus on pastries, breadmaking, pizza, grilled dishes, and wine.

Dinner at the restaurant terrace Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

Determined, entrepreneurial, and capable, she's brought a bit of everything to Passalacqua, her formula for success that satisfies even the most indulgent guests who don't care much beyond what's on the plate—of which, unfortunately, there are many. But that's fine; a lot of people just want to enjoy themselves without too much fuss and storytelling. Several dishes trace the history of Viviana Varese, like her pasta and potatoes dish that changes depending on where she's served it—here with pistachio pesto, basil, and pecorino. There's her brioche, a baking section with superb bread, and the flaky potato with egg yolk, sour cream, and caviar setting the stage for a menu filled with taste and depth.

Viviana Varese La Brioche con zabaione caldo e gelato alla vaniglia Azzurra Primavera
Viviana Varese La patata sfogliata con tuorlo duovo panna acida e caviale Azzurra Primavera
Viviana Varese Lastice con crema di carote alla vaniglia e fondo di pollo Azzurra Primavera

The "overstuffed" ravioli del plin, because they're larger than usual, are filled with roast meat, its reduction, and 36-month Parmigiano Reggiano—sure to satisfy anyone with a passion for this kind of dish, like me. The risotto with peas, dandelion, mint, and sausage has great potential but could use a little more flavor and texture balance. And then there's the lamb, a pithivier with foie gras, cabbage, and stewed quince—an emblem of technique and true indulgence.

Viviana Varese Il Risotto zafferano animelle e fondo di manzo Azzurra Primavera
Viviana Varese I L agnello pithivier con foie gras verza e mela cotogna sciroppata Azzurra Primavera

"The goal was to bring less Viviana, the Michelin-starred chef, less of myself, and more of everything else into Passalacqua. So, I also took on the role of an actress, not to portray the chef that many already know, but the spirit of the kitchen in a grand aristocratic home," she says, emphasizing that this wouldn't be possible without a young yet well-prepared and charming front-of-house team.

Profiteroles bigne craqueline chantilly allitaliana e glassa al cioccolato Azzurra Primavera
22 Bar terrace Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

Outdoor spaces and the cocktail bar

Beyond the restaurant, you can indulge in other dining settings: comfortably in the shade of striped awnings on the panoramic terrace, under the umbrella-like plane trees in the bar area, in the intimacy of the Italian-style garden or the rose garden, or beneath the frescoes of one of the historic salons. Stroll through the orchard where happy chickens roam, contributing their eggs to the kitchen, explore the lush vegetable garden with its bocce court, and wander through the olive grove with centuries-old trees, which produce the estate's olive oil every autumn and hide both an indoor and outdoor gym in a winter garden (for when you feel a bit guilty). 

20 Pool area by La Double J Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz
37 Casa al Lago Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

Don't forget to stop at the small, bespoke cocktail bar where bar manager Edoardo Eusebio and bartender Andrea Lanzone will take care of you better than a loving girlfriend and delight you with a drink list inspired by the property's gardens, the scent of the rose garden, and aromatic herbs like lavender and mint and other ingredients that take shape within the recipes. Alongside these are the expertly crafted classic cocktails.

17 La DoubleJ lounge Ruben Ortiz
Ruben Ortiz

Before you return to reality and leave the estate, remember to climb up to the first floor of the villa, open the central window, and take one last look at the terraced gardens overlooking the lake, dotted with fountains, ancient trees, and hidden paths. It's an invaluable treasure that you'll find hard to forget.

Passalacqua Sala delle Dame detail Stefan Giftthaler
Stefan Giftthaler

Via Besana, 59, 22010 Moltrasio CO
Telefono: 031 44311
Email: /

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