Like many travel enthusiasts with a passion for history, I’m enamored by the early days—minus the fact that taking a grand voyage wasn’t nearly as accessible to everyone then as it is today. From the adventure to the exoticness to the glamour, in another life I would have loved to have had a steamer trunk covered with stamps from around the world, in a time when places, destinations, and people were less exploited. But since time travel isn’t an option, I strive to seek out places that celebrate the past, while catering to the present in a classic fashion. The Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como, Italy, definitely fits the bill.
This stunning lakeside villa dates back to the early 1900’s, a period when Lake Como was considered a must-stop destination for the elite, long before anyone even heard of George Clooney. Travelers came by the droves from nearby countries, including France, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland—even Tsarist Russia, up until the Empire was abolished after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Tremezzo.
The hotel’s inception, however, would not have been possible without the moxie of Enea Gandola and his wife Maria Orsolini, residents from nearby Bellagio. The well-traveled duo aspired to create a luxurious playground on one of the world’s most awe-inspiring lakes for the well-heeled, curious consumer. Their target location also happened to border one of the most scenic destinations in the area: the gardens of Villa Carlotta. So on July 10, 1910, The Grand Hotel Tremezzo opened its doors, complete with a fête of epic proportions.
The carefree, bon vivant lifestyle took a back seat with the outbreak of World War I—which was, some say, the impetus behind the vacation as we know it now: a need for serious R&R. During the war, the hotel was temporarily used as a military hospital; this period was followed by an interim lull. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the hotel really became a tourist destination. With this new phase came new owners: the Sampietro family, who ushered in a new era of grandeur for the Tremezzo. If you’ve ever seen the 1932 film Grand Hotel, then perhaps you remember Greta Garbo referring to Tremezzo as “that happy, sunny place.” It’s safe to say that the vibe hasn’t changed over the years.
Photo courtesy of Grand Hotel Tremezzo.
Despite the hardships endured in World War II, Tremezzo never closed its doors, and to this day, is still a family run, five-star establishment—one of the oldest in the Lake Como area. This past July, the jewel of the lake celebrated its 105th anniversary, and while it’s held on to much of its historic past, it also has all the modern-day amenities that one could ask for, including: five restaurants helmed by the famous Italian Chef Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi; a private beach; three distinct swimming pools; a newly expanded spa offering ESPA treatments; and suites that pay homage to the hotel’s history and distinguished guest list.
While I could go on about all of these perks in greater detail, I’m choosing to do so after my upcoming trip to the Como area this fall, so stay tuned for a trip report—providing I decide to come home, that is.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Via Provinciale Regina 8, 22019 Tremezzina CO, Italy; +39 0344 42491.
I have been a professional writer my entire adult life. I am not, I don’t think, given to hyperbole. Much of my career has been devoted to observing, attempting to separate the essential from the non-essential, and presenting it, succinctly and rationally, for readers.
The incident in question aside, I cannot remember the last time I ran into something, within reason, that I couldn’t explain. Maybe when I was with my Grandma and we walked into a Detroit bar she hadn’t been in for about 30 years and, one by one, about half of the people sitting on stools turned around and casually waved to her and called to her by name—a la The Shining.
However, what occurred to my wife and me on the second night of our honeymoon in the Amalfi Coast potentially eclipses even that oddity.
My wife had booked us a wonderful villa in the cliffs, about a mile east of Positano, between Positano and Praiano. We loved it. High in the hills, it had a private deck looking out at the sea and included a lap cat, Ricky—scarred, as the owner would later tell us, “over a fight with a woo-man”—who would visit as we sipped wine on the porch.
On our first night, we slept like babes, with the open windows ushering in the beautiful, ancient sea air. I can’t remember exactly what we did on our second day in Amalfi, but no doubt it involved a fair amount of hiking, dining, and wine. We came back to the villa that night and hit the air-dried sheets for another long, restful night.
And then, as we dozed off, it happened: some sort of deep, guttural, woman’s voice drifting through the open kitchen window across the villa.
As one might reasonably conclude, this in and itself did not cause me excessive cause for concern. While our apartment was somewhat isolated, on a private path, the owner did live above us, and there were other apartments not too far away, scattered throughout the cliffs in their own private enclaves, on all sides.
Still, there was something about the tone—incantational is the only way I can describe it—that was odd enough for me to get out of bed and walk to the kitchen.
It’s true that the wind was blowing hard off the sea. It is also true that, besides Ricky, there are untold numbers of outdoor cats in the area, and, of course, they tend to howl and fight. However, neither of these—unless I am completely, abhorrently, crazily mistaken—is what I heard.
Standing by the window, however, that is exactly what I expected to experience—an “ah-sigh” moment. The point in the story where one realizes that the noise is just a drunk tourist stumbling up the stairs, laugh, and go back to sleep.
That is not what happened.
I heard the voice again, but louder and more aggressive this time, and—this is very important, and I swear—swirling up, with the wind, in some sort of swelling, nefariously lyrical chant.
Have you ever seen a Dario Argento movie? One about witches, like Suspiria or Mother of Tears, which culminate in a coven of witches ripping a young girl into ribbons?
This sounded like a scene from one of those movies. It was a long, drawn-out, deliberate chant—and from the sound of it, right off of our porch.
It was at this point I went into what I guess might be described as Stage Two of the Stages of Realized Horror Film Panic—waiting for it to go away.
Something very bad has happened. You’ve acknowledged this. You can’t deny it. Now you just want it to go away.
Except it didn’t.
It happened again—louder, nastier, more theatrical, the chant whipping with the wind through the cliffs. I don’t know if the language was Italian or some sort of long-dead strain of Aramaic found only in three cursed books scattered at secret locales across the world.
What I was fairly certain of—am fairly certain of—is that, at approximately one in the morning, outside our apartment in the cliffs between Positano and Priano, a woman was standing outside our porch chanting what sounded like some sort of mendacious appeal to the spirit world.
After the prolonged third bout, it finally stopped. My wife had come out to the kitchen to hear the tail end of it.
Panic ensued. We locked the windows. Double-locked the door. Talked about switching locations. We finally resolved to consider moving if it happened again the next night, and went to sleep.
The next night I ended up sleeping with a large stick under the bed. But it never happened again. We couldn’t ask the owner about it because she couldn’t speak English very well. Exhaustive Google searches of witches in the area or some kind of ancient late-night religious ceremonies proved fruitless.
I have no idea what I heard that night in Amalfi, one of my favorite places in the world. But if I were to ever encounter a book, travel guide or local winkingly making light about ancient legends of witchcraft in the area, I do believe I could contribute unique insight on the subject.