Just 45 minutes north of Milan, Lake Como has attracted celebrity residents since the first century. Today, a clutch of fashion designers and movie stars maintains the tradition. The most famous villas include the 17th-century Villa Carlotta (described in Stendhal’s “The Charterhouse of Parma”); the Villa Serbelloni, a study center managed by the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Villa d’Este, built in 1568 and later home to the estranged wife of British King George IV.
During a recent trip to Lake Como, I discovered three delightful shops.
Tucked away in an 11th-century monastery, the charming Abbazia di Piona near Colico sells goods made by the monks, including excellent limoncello and mandarin orange liqueur, perfume, and toiletries such as skin creams and beeswax soap.
You’ll spot Vanini olive oil at many of the best restaurants in and around Lake Como, since it is prized for its delicate artichoke-and-almonds taste. The Vaninis of Vanini Osvaldo in Lenno have been producing oil since 1850 and won a gold medal at the turn-of-the-century Paris Exposition. Demand has since invariably outstripped supply.
Run by the same family since 1856, Orefice in Cernobbio carries a superb selection of the finest Italian fabrics and has made bespoke suits for everyone from Clark Gable to European crowned heads.