CastaDiva steals the spotlight from Como’s venerable grande dames.
By Laurie Kahle, August 09, 2011
Last summer, CastaDiva Resort made a dramatic entrance onto the Lake Como stage as the first five-star hotel to open on the lago in a century. Located in Blevio, just outside Como, the property is the former home of 19th-century opera diva Giuditta Pasta. Pasta modeled her lakefront home, the extravagant neo-Baroque Villa Roda, on Milan’s legendary La Scala opera house, where she debuted in Norma, which Vincenzo Bellini composed for her. The production features a challenging aria titled Casta Diva (chaste diva) intended to show off the soprano’s remarkable vocal range. A gathering spot for early-19th-century glitterati—including Bellini, Gioachino Rossini, and the French writer Stendhal—Pasta’s home has been painstakingly restored and rechristened Villa Roccabrunna, which now houses 10 of CastaDiva’s 75 expansive suites. In addition to the main villa, eight historic and new villas—all with stunning views—are sited throughout the terraced 6.4-acre property with towering trees, some of which are said to date back to the singer’s era.
Pasta’s theatrical life inspired interior designer Erasmo Figini to distinguish each villa with a bold color scheme, such as Roccabruna’s palette of plum, persimmon, chartreuse, gold, and black. He ups the drama quotient of his contemporary design concept with custom Como silks and sumptuous velvets, modern furnishings, and generous hits of gilt. Reproduced portraits of Pasta and Bellini are prominent throughout the public and private spaces. “I wanted to reveal the world of Giuditta Pasta, but not create a museum,” says Figini, a Como native. “I wanted to bring new life to the building with her as inspiration. It is homage to her life, which was a dramatic, theatrical life.”
The enormous spa, which spans the main villa’s lower level, is dramatic in its own right with original treatments designed to complement the thematic couple’s suites labeled Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. Finnish and Mediterranean saunas, a Turkish bath, and Himlayan salt room offer relaxing diversions, though it is hard to resist the floating pool on the lake, which transforms after dark into a stage for a fountain and light show synchronized to opera music.
From the enormous rooftop terrace of my suite, I watch the setting sun slip behind the mountains across Lake Como, mesmerized by the way the water shifts from smoky navy to shimmery silver as the light changes. I gaze over the rail and picture Bellini coming across the lake in a small boat from Moltrasio to meet his beloved Giuditta—his inspiration, confidant, creative collaborator, and, some say, lover.
“My favorite aspect is the view—this place has special energy,” says general manager Gian Carlo Porcu over dinner at the resort’s L’Orangerie restaurant. Porcu moved from Tenerife, Spain, where he ran Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque Resort for CastaDiva’s Spanish co-owner. Chef Paolo Casagrande, who worked in Martin Berasategui’s three-Michelin-star restaurant, manages to compete for our attention with his signature dish: black lobster ravioli in a fennel and star anise emulsion.
Over a nightcap, Porcu relates stories about the locally beloved Pasta, who was unknown to him before CastaDiva absorbed his life. “She has to be happy looking down to see the beauty of the villa where she spent the last part of her life,” he says. “I feel her presence very strongly—the spirit of Giuditta is here.”