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A Family Friendly Winter Escape with The Luxury Travel Book: Villa Dolce, Lake Como

For us, 2024 started with a very special, family friendly, winter escape. January, which is often low-key, bleak and, let's face it, rather long after a busy festive season, prompted us to plan a getaway to lift our spirits and set the tone for how we hope this year continues to unfold…

Having always heard wonderful feedback from others about their holidays to the famous Italian Lakes, we were fortunate enough to arrange a trip with The Luxury Travel Book and head to the heart of picturesque Lake Como - a destination which had consequently been on our wish list for quite a while. We stayed in the exquisite Villa La Dolce, a luxurious property, full of history and character, nestled in the hills of Santa Maria Rezzonico - an ancient village in the upper Lario area of the lake which is 40 kms from Como.

The beginning of the year is usually a time for resolutions, gym subscriptions and cutting back, but before any of that truly set in, we decided to fully embrace the local culture. This of course meant indulging in (and carefully sampling) every pasta, pizza and tiramisu option available (because fully experiencing Italy wouldn’t be immersive without tucking in to the local cuisine). It did not disappoint.

Our trip unfolded against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and the tranquil waters of Lake Como (which of course us adults had to have a quick dip in, not once, but twice…chilly but refreshing!). We were incredibly fortunate to have some fantastic weather (11-12C and sunshine) and although I haven’t visited the area in Summer to offer a comparison, we spoke to many locals who assured us that winter was the perfect time to visit - less hustle, quieter crowds and freedom to explore at leisure. 

Booking Experience

The Luxury Travel Book strikes an amazing balance between personalised travel concierge and a self catering accommodation booking platform. Unlike Airbnb or similar rental DIY sites which can be exhaustive (in all the wrong ways I find) The Luxury Travel Book experience is premium - but still very much value for money, particularly when arranging a family trip, where there are so many nuances and details that you don’t want to miss.

I can honestly report that the responsiveness and attention to detail from The Luxury Travel Book team was exceptional, creating an environment where our needs were not just met but exceeded, before, during and after our visit, 

As an example, when we first came across Villa Dolce we noticed a picture of the spiral staircase on the website - which for our 1 year old, would have been a fairground (for us…maybe not as enjoyable extracting her from it daily). Very quickly, we were reassured that this was not the main access staircase and could be easily secured and child proofed. As promised, when we arrived it was incredibly well blocked off and she couldn’t have gained access (even with her steadfast determination). This small detail was a huge plus for us as it really instilled trust. 

All accommodation which forms part of The Luxury Travel Book is thoroughly reviewed in person prior to becoming part of the group, which means the properties are hand picked and personally assessed by the team, giving you full peace of mind when booking that all details in the description are 100% accurate and verified.

A huge plus of arranging your trip via The Luxury Travel Book is their bespoke app. We gained access to this prior to travelling and it was incredibly comprehensive. Not only did it have all of the key details of our booking, including the property layout, check in instructions and contact numbers should we need them, but our flight details were integrated and we received regular push notifications and updates. Not only this, there was a catalogue of local recommendations, restaurants, days out and activities and an online map of the local area. This was both super useful and fun - my 7 year old really enjoyed looking through it with us and choosing places she wanted to see, so it was a lovely touch to give the children some insights into the destination beforehand. 

Accommodation

Villa La Dolce stands as a testament to true Italian opulence and refinement, seamlessly blending timeless architecture with contemporary comforts. The views from the villa were astounding as it was nestled up high in a fantastic position - waking up on day one (having arrived late the night before) was so special. The air was fresh and clean and the mountains and Lake could be seen from our bedroom windows. 

Villa La Dolce had some beautiful outdoor areas to relax - which although not perhaps synonymous with winter, they actually lent themselves well to mornings, sipping coffee in the sunshine of the glass orangery overlooking the garden. Come the Summer months, this spot would be fantastic for family gatherings next to the outdoor pool. 

The interior of Villa Dolce reflected Italian elegance. Each room was warm and cosy, had comfortable beds and luxurious bedding, with fresh fluffy towels provided and tasteful, classic furnishings. There was a real sense of it being a home from home, with stunning antiques and the odd family photo dotted around (we later found Villa Dolce was the holiday home of a Milan based family) - a detail which actually made it all the more special. 

The living room boasted a wood burning stove which was perfect for the evenings, as well as a TV and games area on the lower ground floor which lends itself to younger guests (and snooker loving adults!)

The kitchen was comprehensively equipped, complemented by modern (large) appliances which lent themselves to entertaining groups or for multi generational stays. 

Service - The Luxury Travel Book

When we arrived, we were met by our wonderful concierge Iolanda, who was the epitome of professionalism and incredibly kind and helpful. A locally prepared lasagne and quiche had been provided for us which was nothing short of delicious, as well as drinks and breakfast items for the following morning. If you know you know - arriving somewhere with hungry children is rather cortisol inducing for parents! It took all of the work out of night one and the following morning, allowing us to totally relax straight away.

We were left comprehensive print outs of the ferry timetables and any seasonal closures we needed to be aware of, which honestly saved us a huge amount of time and googling. We also had a folder of local insights and recommendations which really elevated our experience - genuinely every restaurant we tried on the list was exceptional. 

A lovely touch was a list of all of the child friendly activities going on in the area (The team went as far as to select only age appropriate activities for our girls.) This again, meant we had a wonderful starting point and some invaluable local knowledge to set us up. It felt so personalised and this meticulous planning of our travel arrangements, activities and dining reservations showcased their dedication to ensuring a memorable experience. This went above and beyond any villa rental we’d ever experienced and really set The Luxury Travel Book apart.

It is worth noting that The Luxury Travel Book has a plethora of local contacts in each location - we had access via our concierge to arrange beauty and spa treatments, haircuts, personal shoppers, jewellers (!) private helicopter and boat tours and babysitting. Everything was at our fingertips and Iolanda was responsive and helpful via Whatsapp throughout the stay. 

Lake Como

January in Lake Como was still very much a relaxed, festive month and many of the Christmas and Epiphany events were in full swing. This meant there was lots to see and do, including dedicated ice skating rinks, which were ideal for children, as well as activities at local churches and libraries. 

The reduced tourist crowds allowed us to explore the charming towns surrounding the lake at a leisurely pace and without having to plan too far ahead. We experienced the Lake primarily by utilising all of the local small ferries, which offered a superb, prompt and reasonably priced service and were buggy friendly. We hopped from Menaggio (closest terminal to the Villa) over to Bellagio and Varenna. It is also very easy to take a drive around the Lake and we did this one day, winding around via Dongo and Damaso, ending up in Colico for a Christmas Market. Many ferries allow cars on board if you prefer to take the car and have a longer adventure.

The only downside of winter in Como is a reduced offering of restaurants and shops, as locals were still enjoying their Christmas break, however we did not feel we were short of choice, it is more just something to be aware of if you’re travelling at this time of year. 

Overall, we would absolutely visit again and would love to return during warmer months to enjoy everything Summer has to offer in the area. 

Q&A with Jamie Marquis, Co-Director of The Luxury Travel Book

We caught up with Co-Director Jamie Marquis of family founded, The Luxury Travel Book, to hear his insights into what sets the company apart and take note of his top picks for your next family holiday…

Give us a little background on The Luxury Travel book, how it started and what your motivation was behind it’s creation?

The Luxury Travel Book is a family-run business set up by Susie, Jamie and Freddie Marquis, based in London and between us we have over 30 years of experience in the travel industry. All of the founders share an enthusiasm for providing unparalleled service and luxury experiences for guests hoping to find a home away from home. The brand was started in 2012, following a trip to France in which Founder Susie Marquis discovered the joys of a private city apartment in the heart of Paris.

The Luxury Travel Book provides villa rentals and premium city apartments in the world’s most desirable destinations. From UK staycation properties to incredible villas across Europe including Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Croatia and Portugal, to further flung winter sun, South Africa and Sri Lanka. 

What sort of experience can families expect when booking their holidays via The Luxury Travel Book?

Families can expect picture-perfect stays in highly sought-after destinations. Each experience is unique, providing guests the opportunity to engage with the local community and culture, as well as discover a destination by delving deeper into a specific country or city whilst enjoying quality, luxury accommodation. 

If families are looking to book their next trip, what sets The Luxury Travel Book apart from other villa rental companies or online platforms for private accommodation?

From popular destinations such as Italy and Portugal to more off-the-grid places including Sri Lanka or Cape Town, we have an expansive collection of luxury villas and apartments that have all been personally tested. With exclusive concierge services available, The Luxury Travel Book can help plan weddings, arrange private jet travel and create incredible bespoke itineraries featuring the destination’s most unique experiences.

Can you share some of your favourite family-friendly TLTB destinations?

As premium villa and apartment specialists, we have a range of destinations that are perfect for a family getaway. Mallorca, Provence, Tuscany, and Corfu are our top family-friendly recommendations.

Mallorca: Easily accessible from the UK, The Luxury Travel Book has an outstanding collection of Mallorcan properties ideal for family-friendly getaways. Highlights include Son Fuster, a luxury 13th century manor house to rent in Mallorca offering wonderful experiences for friends and families. Dating from 1350, the historical building was completely renovated in 2021. Another standout property is Villa De Olivos, a large and old stone country property that was originally an olive oil producing farm dating from the early 17th century. Families will delight in exploring the 50 acres of gardens and land, including olive, orange and lemon groves, palms, fruit orchard and vegetable gardens. Explore the Mallorca collection here.

Provence: Offering warmer climates and fantastic local wines, Provence is a destination perfect for the entire family. The Luxury Travel Book’s newest property La Haute Pinéde; is a luxury Hilltop villa, converted from an 18th and early 19th Century hamlet. Lovingly restored over many years, situated in a quiet location and benefits from wonderful south facing views over the Luberon Valley. Another property to mention is Chateau de Tourreau, arguably the most exquisite property to rent in Provence. Boasting 18th Century interiors, with beautifully curated European and Provencal furniture and art. Explore the Provence collection here.

Tuscany: Famous for its rolling hills and picturesque vineyards, Tuscany is a beautiful family-friendly escape waiting to be explored. Villa Il Cellese is the perfect villa for rest and relaxation. Enjoy a glass of wine and panoramic views from the comfortably seated amphitheatre, or recline at the open-air cinema under the cooling night skies. Villa Fonteblanda dates back to the 18th century, sitting between Talamone Bay and the coast of Giannella. Families can enjoy the spectacular sunsets at the Talamone Port, and magnificent views of Monte Argentario, as well as the sea. Explore the Tuscany collection here.

Corfu: Famous for its rich multi-cultural heritage, historical monuments and crystal clear waters Corfu is an ideal family-friendly retreat. Mellisonia Estate is the ultimate family pad surrounded by nature and lush hills overlooking the Ionian coast. The property also has direct access to the sea and a good-sized jetty for yacht or boat hire. Travellers should consider Villa San Stefano, boasting uninterrupted views to San Stefano Bay and the Ionian Sea, this villa offers an infinity swimming pool, with a small waterfall at one end and several furnished areas for relaxing outdoors. Explore the Ionian collection here.

Can you tell us about any new and exciting offerings or destinations available this year?

The Luxury Travel Book has some exciting plans and announcements in the works, including an expansion into a new destination. Keep an eye on our website, more to be revealed very soon!

What is TLTB’s approach to sustainability and environmental responsibility now and for the future?

At The Luxury Travel Book, we are committed to reducing our impact on the planet and are constantly looking for ways on how we can improve as a business.

This year, we are really keen on focusing on more destinations that can be reached via train travel, as well as working with more villas that have sustainability initiatives in place.

How do you choose the accommodation available at TLTB?

We only feature destinations we know and love. Therefore, all our hand-picked villas and apartments are personally tested to ensure our guests receive an unparalleled luxury experience.

If any of our families have a property they think might be suitable for LTB, how would they get in touch?

If you have a property you think we might be interested in visiting, or if a family would like to discuss booking their next stay, you can reach us at [email protected] or +44 207 586 5342.

What is the main takeaway you’d like to share with families who may not have come across TLTB before and are curious to explore a trip with you?

Our family is dedicated to discovering the best-kept secrets from across the globe, so your family can enjoy the very best luxury holiday. We take the stress out of planning a holiday, ensuring you have everything you need in your home away from home.

We encourage families to visit our website and explore our destinations here.

Can you tell us about the concierge service TLTB offers?

All guests receive exclusive concierge services from a dedicated Guest Experience Manager who can create bespoke itineraries to make the most of each destination and/or occasion. They are on hand to help plan weddings, arrange private jet travel, coordinate wine tours, provide personal childcare services, arrange chefs and create incredible bespoke itineraries featuring the destination’s most unique experiences. Each property offers a range of services that are unique to the destination.

For more information and to book your next trip, head to www.theluxurytravelbook.com 

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