A star-filled history of Europe’s lakes
A handful of Europe’s most picturesque lakes have claimed the hearts of some of the biggest names in showbiz, from George Clooney to Freddie Mercury. However, these A-list celebs aren’t the first. In fact, they’re just the latest in a long line of influential figures that have visited these luxurious European holiday destinations.
Framed against pine-swathed mountains, wishbone-shaped Lake Como is truly beautiful. This northern-Italian lake is popular among Hollywood’s finest, like George Clooney, but artists, writers and even aristocrats were drawn to the lake’s ‘dreamy sense of unreality’ way before Mr Clooney visited.
In 1815, George IV’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick, bought the Villa Garrovo in Cernobbio and changed its name to Villa d’Este. In 1873, it was transformed into a lavish hotel. The ornate décor and expansive gardens have since been enjoyed by visitors including Mark Twain, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. Alfred Hitchcock even made his first film, The Pleasure Garden, here. Today, it’s a popular celebrity hangout, with the likes of Kylie, Orlando Bloom and Robert de Niro chilling with a cocktail by the pool.
Across the water is Bellagio – dubbed the pearl of Lake Como. In 1963, President Kennedy flew here to spend a few days at the luxurious Grandhotel Villa Serbelloni. Stay here and you, too, can admire the high, frescoed ceilings and regal furnishings, or dine at the Michelin-starred Mistral restaurant, at a table where Theodore Roosevelt or Al Pacino once sat.
The largest of the Italian lakes, Lake Garda is the beating heart of northern Italy. It’s bordered by picture-perfect towns that are great for enjoying the local culture. It even became a firm favourite with former British prime minister, Winston Churchill.
On one holiday, Churchill stayed at a villa in Gargnano, on the western shore of the lake. Rumour has it that he asked to move rooms after finding out that Mussolini had once slept there. Another visit saw him spending many days painting the unbeatable views and relaxing at the nearby Grand Hotel Gardone. Base yourself here for a week to make the most of its elegant interiors, terraced gardens and lakeside pool.
Lake Garda has also captivated some of history’s most accomplished writers and philosophers. DH Lawrence is said to have finished Sons and Lovers beside its shores and, in 1880, Nietzsche spent a month in Riva, where he found the calm pace of life helped both his health and his work.
Every summer, the cosmopolitan lakeside town of Montreux on Lake Geneva buzzes with musicians playing at the world-renowned Montreux Jazz festival. Go back a good few years, though, and instead of the sound of trumpets, you’d hear the scratch of pen on paper.
English poet Lord Byron fell in love with the town after visiting the Château de Chillon, a rugged castle guarding the shores of the lake and the setting for his poem, The Prisoner of Chillon. His literary companions the Shelleys also found a haven in Montreux, with Mary settling down to write Frankenstein here.
It wasn’t just British figures that were also fans of the town, though. Ernest Hemingway set part of A Homage to Switzerland in the Buffet de la Gare on the station’s platform, while Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, spent the last decade of his life here. Take a wander around the beautiful Cemetery of Clarens to catch a glimpse of where Nabokov, among other celebrities, is buried.