26 FEBRUARY 2014George Clooney, Madonna, Donatella Versace and Sir Richard Branson all own or have owned villas on northern Italy's idyllic Lake Como. Surrounded by roaming mountains that are dotted with tiny pretty villages and offering breathtaking panoramic views, it's no wonder this 28 mile-long, Y-shaped lake in Lombardy has always served as a tranquil paradise for the rich and famous.
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Lake Como was officially put on the map in 2002 when Gravity star George Clooney bought an £8million mansion in the lakeside village of Laglio, and now the handsome Hollywood actor spends up to four months every year amid the locals at his luxury 30-room Villa Oleandra. Sir Richard Branson is reportedly his neighbour, said to own the sumptuous Villa La Cassinella in Lenno, a quaint village on the western side of the lake – accessible only by private motor launch and available for hire with a pricetag of €90,000 per week.
The beauty of this picturesque setting which continues to draw in the celebrities is owed to the unspoilt little villages that hug the shore, the beautiful villas in their lush, green gardens, the mountainous hinterland (snow-capped even in late spring) and the relaxed, courteous locals who welcome visitors with a smile.
Como, the capital of the province and regarded the silk capital of the world, is home to some 80,000 residents and lies at one end of Italy's most popular lake. Built around its magnificent duomo – regarded as one of the best examples of 'Gothic Renaissance Fusion' – the bustling city has a cosmopolitan feel and wonderful café culture filled with charming piazzas.
Visitors have a range of pretty towns to choose from nestled in the hills of Lake Como. The pretty town of Bellagio, known as the pearl of the lake, is situated where the three branches of the lake come together. Here you'll also find The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, one of the oldest and most elegant hotels in the area and the only 5 star de-luxe hotel in Bellagio.
Villa d'Este occupies a pristine position on the banks of the lake, in the village of Cernobbio on the west coast, and, now a luxury hotel, is one of the most famous of Lake Como's villas.
Meanwhile, the well-known and idyllic village of Tremezzo – situated near Lenno – is home to Villa Balbianello, with its magnificent gardens and unmissable views. The 17th century Villa Carlotta is also found here. One of Lake Como's most visited villas boasts an immense garden offering more than 500 species and varieties of plants, trees and flowers including azaleas, rhododendrons and ancient cedars and sequoias, as well as a masterpiece by famous Italian sculptor Canova.