Valentina De Santis is the third-generation owner of the celebrated Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Italy’s … [+] Lake Como.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

Valentina De Santis had a rather unusual upbringing. While most of her peers were busy galavanting through the streets of Milan, traveling around Europe with their families, or working a part-time job at the local gelateria, she spent her childhood summers running through the storied halls of the legendary Grand Hotel Tremezzo.

Perched atop picturesque Lake Como, the hotel has been a shining jewel of Northern Italy for more than 100 years. Throughout its history, it’s been a favorite destination of noble families, aristocracy, and world leaders, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill, and it’s turned beloved celebrities like Greta Garbo and more recently, George and Amal Clooney into regulars. To call Grand Hotel Tremezzo an icon would be the understatement of the century—and yet, to De Santis, it was simply the place she called home for three to four months a year. “The hotel was my castle,” she says, “and I felt like a princess.”

Though it was originally founded and operated by a local Bellagio man and his wife, Grand Hotel Tremezzo changed hands in 1973, when Valentina’s grandfather acquired the property. In the roughly 50 years since, the De Santis family has not only maintained, and enhanced, the hotel’s status as one of the best in the world, but they have also helped shape Lake Como as we now know it, the destination that marks so many bucket lists and Instagram feeds, the place where people near and far dream of someday visiting.

And while Valentina wasn’t exactly at the helm for much of the De Santis family tenure, she was always there, hiding in the kitchen and playing in the back of house, soaking in every bit of the hotel’s past and present. Even as she lived and breathed hospitality, though, behind the scenes at Grand Hotel Tremezzo and as a guest at some of the most beautiful hotels around while traveling with her family, it wasn’t clear that she would be follow in her family’s hotelier footsteps, let alone be the one to take the Grand into its next era.

“In some way I had it in my blood, in my DNA. While traveling, my attention and curiosity was so much focused on the hotels themselves and not only on the destinations,” De Santis says. “So, I can say that I have always been a hotel enthusiast! But if I must tell the truth, I did not understand by myself when it was the right moment to start.” In fact, it was her father who, while celebrating the hotel’s centenary in 2010, helped her to realize that moment was now. “‘We won’t see the celebrations of another centenary,’ he told me. ‘We need you by our side now. Grand Hotel Tremezzo needs a whole new energy to get older while feeling younger than ever,’” she recalls.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo is known for its sweeping views of Lake Como, visible from nearly every spot on … [+] the property.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

And so, with its first 100 years solidly in the rearview mirror, the legendary hotel found itself in new hands—for the first time in its history, a woman’s—when Valentina assumed the role of owner and CEO. Having spent so much of her life within the walls of Grand Hotel Tremezzo, studying the ins and outs of daily life on the property, she thought she knew precisely what she was getting into, but over the last 14 years, De Santis has gotten to know the hotel almost entirely anew. During that time, she’s realized that what truly makes the Grand what it is not its breathtaking views of Lake Como, its celebrated restaurants and bars, or even its buzzy clientele—at least not just all of that. Instead, what really sets the hotel apart is the people running it.

“For the past three generations, my family has been proudly making sure that our guests experience the true dolce vita,” she says. “We love to add our unique flair to every aspect of the hotel, from the décor and gastronomy to the service, and we put all our energy into make the dream of the Lake a reality, every day.” But what she’s come to learn since she began running Grand Hotel Tremezzo is that this sense of family extends well beyond the De Santis name. From the people who work at the hotel and ensure it functions as a well-oiled machine throughout the season, to the myriad guests who return with their loved ones each year, every person who touches the hotel and is touched by it is a part of the the Grand family. “People are really what make the Grand Hotel Tremezzo special. We are one big family composed of extraordinary humans and professionals who have worked for us for many years, and sometimes even generations, with one unique goal: making our guests feel at home,” Valentina adds. “There is no doubt about it: a stay with us is a stay with our family.”

Beyond preserving the hotel’s immense legacy, however, De Santis has also been tasked with bringing it into the modern age—a balancing act that may seem challenging but that she has nonetheless embraced without hesitation. With this goal in mind, she has expanded on Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s existing facilities and amenities to meet the needs and wants of travelers today. This includes the 2017 opening of T Spa, which houses the property’s first-ever wellness and fitness programming and includes an Italian white marble hammam and Turkish bath. De Santis also saw an opportunity for another wholly new offering in recent years: to dip the hotel’s toes in the world of fashion.

Building on the Grand’s reputation for timeless style and its close-knit relationships with the fashion elite of the past and present, not to mention her own passion for design, the owner launched “Sense of Lake,” a signature boutique with a presence on property and online. The shopping destination is inspired by the history and craftsmanship of Lake Como and is meticulously curated by Valentina and her mother, Antonella De Santis, to capture the unique experience and sensibility of both Grand Hotel Tremezzo and its new sister hotel across the lake, Passalacqua. Since its launch, “Sense of Lake” has collaborated with a collection of acclaimed designers and brands, including Bric’s, Borsalino, Superga, and Le Ninè, and this summer, the boutique will unveil new womenswear pieces in collaboration with celebrated New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead. Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s expansion into fashion has also led to the creation of Aqua Como, a line of signature fragrances dedicated to the two properties, whose products are available to guests not only during their stay but also for purchase so that they can transport themselves back to Como, and the memories they’ve made there, with just one scent.

“Sense of Lake” marks the Grand’s foray into fashion, building on a rich history of style with … [+] designer collaborations and original lines.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

But De Santis refuses to stop there. In addition to the launch of T Spa and “Sense of Lake,” as well as a recent renovation of 30 lakefront rooms and a new ultra-luxurious rooftop-floor suites, Grand Hotel Tremezzo continues to innovate its offerings with each new season, catering to the ever-changing needs of today’s travelers whilst maintaining its rich legacy. “I am extremely proud to have had the honor to transport our historic jewel into the new millennium,” says the hotelier. “I have always tried to uphold the elite tradition of vacationing on Lake Como, treating our guests, season after season, to the result of our long history, while at the same time surprising them with news and updates that make the hotel every year as popular as ever.”

De Santis envisions another 100 years, and hopefully more, of Grand Hotel Tremezzo, and although she doesn’t pretend to have all the answers right now, she looks to her father’s motto—you must always raise the bar—as her guiding light. “‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ is our motto,” she says. “And we’ll keep on dreaming and dreaming.”


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