A century ago, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo was the backdrop for some of Lake Como’s most fantastic love stories—romances that some guests recorded in heartfelt letters. At one point, some of these letters—penned by various authors—were hidden in the walls and only rediscovered in the 1970s behind nearly a century of wallpaper and renovations. No one truly knows who wrote them, for whom, or why they were left behind.
Verrai? Verrai come mi hai promesso? Hai riso quando ti ho ripetuto la domanda e rivedo i tuoi occhi adesso, mentre esco dalla mia camera e percorro il grande scalone in silenzio.
You will be there? You will be there just like you promised? You laughed when I asked you a second time and I recall your eyes now as I step from my room and descend the hotel’s grand staircase in silence.
On the western shores of Lake Como, at the base of the Italian Alps, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo is an exquisite, belle epoque–style establishment built by the Gondola family in 1910. Romance is at the very foundation of the hotel: Founders Maria and Enea Gondola were mad about each other and the venture was born of their love. It’s a rare tale in an industry saturated by giant chains and legacy companies.
The Gondolas were locals from the town of Bellagio, the daughter and son of small hoteliers on the lake. After they married, the pair embarked on a grand tour of Europe, staying in all the best hotels along the way.
“They had hospitality in their heart,” says Valentina de Santis, the current owner and operator of the hotel, whose grandparents (the Mallones) purchased the property in the 1970s. “When [the Gondolas] returned home, they wanted to create something that was the fruit of their love, their travels, and their passion for hospitality. They took inspiration from the hotels they [had] stayed in to create something that they could put all that into.”
In the early 1900s, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo hosted Italian high society, as well as French aristocrats and ballerinas, Russian royalty, German bankers, and American celebrities. It was a place of opulence and the perfect setting for love affairs.
Allora ti bisbiglio all’orecchio che mi ricordi i muglietti, piccoli e profumati come le tue dita, il muschio, fresco come la tua pelle, le pervinche, che hanno il colore del cielo quando ci siamo incontrati.
And so I whisper in your ear that you remind me of a lily of the valley, small and sweet-smelling like your fingers; moss, as fresh as your skin; periwinkles, the color of the sky when we first met.
After World War I, Maria fell ill and died. Her husband and three children felt that without their full, loving family unit intact, they didn’t want to run the hotel anymore, so they sold it to a group of local businessmen. But the love that the Gondolas infused into their creation is still evident in the hotel today, and it’s perhaps not surprising that yet another love affair sparked the hotel’s renaissance, when it was subsequently sold to the Mallones.
“My grandfather was from the north part of Lake Como and my grandmother was from Piedmont and had relatives on the lake,” de Santis explains. “Both of them were engaged to other people when my grandmother [visited] the lake for a funeral of a distant relative. There, she met my grandfather. It was crazy love and they canceled their impending weddings and married each other instead. We call it colpo di fulmine—love at first sight.”
The Mallones dreamed of returning the Grand Hotel Tremezzo to its original splendor. Their fascination for the place’s past spurred the two to research the history of the hotel and its stories. But much was lost over the years and through different owners, which made finding this collection of love letters during one renovation that much more special.
“As a young girl,” recalls de Santis, “I was fascinated. I was very touched when they would share the letters.” Some of them had dates, others didn’t. Some were signed, others weren’t. The collection was the fruit of someone else’s work, and it felt right at the time to keep it private as their own little family treasure.
E se non avessi creduto alle mie parole? E se non avessi creduto a te, a tutto di te, non crederei neppure alla tua mano che ora mi sfiora i capelli e mi accarezza la nuca. Sei tu.
But what if you hadn’t believed my words? And what if I hadn’t believed you—believed everything about you? Then I wouldn’t believe my senses now, telling me your hand is lightly stroking my hair, caressing my neck. It’s you.
De Santis and her family theorize that Maria collected all the love letters left behind by guests after their departures and hid them as a way of honoring the romantic sentiments exchanged over the years at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Only last year did the family decide to print them, selecting seven to share with guests, although there are about 10 in total. They leave copies of them—along with chocolates—on guests’ pillows for turndown service.
“I don’t know if [my grandparents] could think of other uses for the letters at the time,” de Santis muses. “During those years, [guests didn’t] expect to find love letters [or chocolates] on their pillows. Hospitality was very different back then.”
Like her grandparents before her, de Santis and her parents have a passion for the hotel and its history, and they want to share it with others, too. And while the letters remain mostly a mystery, now guests can get lost in romantic daydreams about the unknowns and hopefully live their own romantic memories in the present moment. She adds, “Something that was just private to us—our family—now is something just private to us and our guests, who are so special to us.”
E adesso che il sole è spuntato, so che sei bella come un’azalea, di un rosso intenso, perché è quello il colore della tua voce quando mi hai detto che anche tu mi amari.
And now the sun has risen, I know you’re as beautiful as an azalea, a bright red one, because that is the color of your voice when you told me you loved me too.