The dotted Swiss curtains billowed like spinnakers, borne by the breeze from Lake Como. They filled a corner of our room as if a puffy cloud had been snagged as it drifted by on its way south from the Alps.
Beyond the window there were bird songs and the gentle lap of a boat pulling up to the red-and-blue-striped palli , those distinctive Italian posts used in Venice to moor the gondolas. Sophisticated laughter rippled by.
At the time it seemed like a dream, our stay at Villa d'Este. Part of that was jet lag, part was the juxtaposition of this calm and pristine resort with the headline pace of a newspaper conference in San Francisco.
My husband and I had flown directly from that Northern California meeting to Milan, where we rented a car to drive the 45 minutes to the village of Cernobbio and its fabled lakeside villa.
It was April, and Villa d'Este had just opened for the season. The mood of fresh beginnings was reflected by a discreet yet attentive staff. We were welcomed quietly, as if we were the owners of the manor who had returned from an extended stay abroad.
We were led down wide corridors, past noble portraits and glittering chandeliers and graceful double staircases.
And then we were left alone, to rest and relax in a setting of languorous beauty.
The main building is a classic white 16th-Century villa that was designed by Pellegrino Pellegrini. A villa of terra-cotta stone was later added to the park. The two were opened as a luxury hotel in 1873.
For us, exploring the grounds at sundown became a private ritual. Paths along the shore lead to stately campaniles. Gardens rise in green terraces with rows of cypress guarding stair-step cascades.
An old mosaic wall, which is an Italian national monument, flanks a massive 500-year-old plane tree and a sleek sporting club that hides a squash court and swimming pool.
Such exercise proved almost as inviting as the risotto with asparagus and mushrooms.
The freshness of Villa d'Este is not just an illusion of the crystalline mountain air. Its lavish public rooms are redone each winter while the resort is closed. Bedrooms and suites are painted every two or three years.
A Fantasy Room
No two guest rooms are exactly alike in size or shape or decor. Our room--No. 329--was a fantasy of pale cream walls and tawny velvet chairs. The beds and a small desk were white with gilt trim. Baths were of marble.
A vase of golden daisies caught the morning sun when we opened shutters. Some days that was later than others.
And then there were the bed linens, which are just that--linen. A card on the writing desk explained that linen is a noble and virtuous natural fiber that maintains a thermal climate and is physiologically correct for good rest. A night's sleep is a rare privilege, it concluded.
Well, so is an afternoon nap.
Maybe it was more than jet lag that stripped me of all care. Maybe it was more than the shimmering lake and the northern Italian sun. Maybe it was the sensuous touch of those fine linen sheets and plump pillows.
I often dream of Villa d'Este, of strolling down the vaulted halls, of sipping Soave wine and hearing the music of Scarlatti played on a grand piano. I dream of dining in the glass-walled Veranda Room with its banks of deep blue cineraria. When I awaken I'm wistful.
All things being equal, which of course they rarely are, I would drive through those gates next April and refuse to leave until the golden halos of forsythia had faded from the land.