Dear Hawaii: Our love affair has been passionate and heartfelt for many years and no matter what I will always love you, but I owe you an apology. It’s not you, it’s me. You see, I have fallen deeply in love with Lake Como thanks in no small part to an SLH property called Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa and things will just never be the same again. I hope I can still come to visit the Grand Hyatt Kauai and we can be friends, but if you don’t see me for a while, it’s because I’m back at Lake Como again. I hope you’ll forgive me. -Nick
This past week, I redeemed 29,000 Hyatt points (peak price) for a basic room at the Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa in Menaggio, Italy and it was amazing. I sat there on the patio of this hotel beside myself at the incredible beauty of Lake Como and the impeccable everything about the Grand Hotel Victoria. I will be back even if I can only score a single night of availability — it was that good. I’ll say it throughout this review, but pictures just don’t do this place justice. If you have a desire to visit Lake Como, this place needs to be at the top of your list.
Booking the Grand Hotel Victoria and first impressions
Since our flight home from Europe was departing Milan, we decided to spend a few days in Northern Italy after our week at the Westin Dragonara Malta resort. I searched incessantly for weeks before finally stumbling on a single night of availability at the Grand Hotel Victoria. I wasn’t even super excited about it as the pictures on the Hyatt site aren’t that inspiring. I really only picked this hotel because there aren’t many great award stay options on Lake Como and at 29K points per night and a location right on the lake, it seemed like a better deal than most. I could only find a single night of availability, but I settled on staying for a night and then moving on to an independent hotel on nearby Lake Maggiore for a couple of nights (more on that in a separate post). As a Category 6 property, the Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa costs 21,000 Hyatt points off-peak, 25,000 points standard, or 29,000 points peak.
When booking a Small Luxury Hotel of the World property via Hyatt, the Hyatt site includes a warning that SLH bookings are only for 2 adults and that additional guests may incur an additional fee. The standard room at the Grand Hotel Victoria, like most hotels in Europe, only accommodates up to 2 adults and 1 child. Since this property regularly costs $1200-$1500 per night for a standard courtyard-view room and it was sold out entirely on the dates surrounding my stay, I didn’t want to mess with getting hit with an extra person fee that reflected that kind of high nightly rate (or worse yet, being told that we couldn’t stay with 4 people and being forced to drop back 10 yards and punt in a location where there aren’t any other chain hotel options). Instead, since I saw two standard rooms available, I booked two rooms (at 29K points per room for the night).
Though that worked out conveniently for me (it gave me a room from which to work while my family was sleeping), it was unnecessary. Everyone at the hotel – from the valet to the check-in person to other folks — seemed surprised that I had booked two rooms. We were told that we could have booked one room for 2 adults and 1 child and then called to add a crib for the baby and it wouldn’t have been any additional charge. I don’t know where the age cutoff is in allowing that fourth person. But in essence, I overpaid for my stay by 29K points per night….and I don’t have an ounce of disappointment over that.
In fact, I walked away from this place amazed in several ways. First, the property and view is stunning.
Second, the service is just on an entirely different plane than what you’ll find at any normal hotel — and I mean that on a level that is a clear cut above a Park Hyatt or St. Regis or Waldorf. Third, I had a hard time going to sleep because I didn’t want to miss time that I could be enjoying this place. Seriously. Finally, I have been fortunate to use points to stay at many places where I “don’t belong” in the sense that they cost far more money than I’d ever consider paying. I usually enjoy that feeling of being a bit of an imposter. This hotel and its clientele felt like they were clearly playing ball out of my league at a different level yet. That almost felt a bit uncomfortable at times, but it also just reinforced that I love this game for the experiences it gives me that I’d never buy with money but that I’m happy to run to Staples now and then to make possible.
Anyway, enough meandering gushing. Let’s talk about how and why I fell in love.
First of all, Lake Como is worth the hype. I expected it to be impressive, but I didn’t imagine how impressive. It is worth mentioning that the lake is huge and I only saw a small sliver — surely some slivers are more impressive than others. The sliver you see in Menaggio, the town where you’ll find the Grand Hotel Victoria, is a slice of heaven that I want to devour again and again.
The town of Menaggio did its part toward winning my heart. Flowers were in bloom and meticulously manicured everywhere. There is an adorable center square with a homemade gelato cart and a number of bars, cafes, and restaurants where people mingled late into the night like something from a movie. There’s a small harbor with boats that even made a landlubber such as myself want to dive in and and set sail around paradise. I was only there for less than 24 hours, but I wanted to live there. Was it just a temporary infatuation? Maybe. I’d return to find out.
The Grand Hotel Victoria is without a doubt a rockstar in its own right. From the moment we pulled in to the driveway and a valet opened the door and immediately helped my son put on his hat to the delicious prosecco offered to us while we sat on the lawn staring at the view to the way it felt like every person there greeted us with the class and flair of the lamp in the “Be Our Guest” scene from Beauty & the Beast, it felt like we were in a movie. When we came down to have dinner (without a reservation), we were immediately seated on the patio looking at that view with a piano player effortlessly floating from one pop tune to another like something off the deck of the Titanic. It just felt like perfection.
Benefits of booking SLH properties through Hyatt
As a reminder, Small Luxury Hotels of the World bookings made through Hyatt include the following benefits:
- Complimentary breakfast for 2
- Free WiFi
- Room upgrade (based on availability)
- Early check-in (based on availability)
- 2pm late checkout (based on availability)
In order to get the benefits above, you need to book through World of Hyatt (either an eligible paid rate or a free night award). If you’re looking to pay a cash rate, you can sometimes (often?) find a better deal directly through the hotel’s website, just keep in mind that if you want the benefits above and Hyatt elite night credit you’ll need to book through Hyatt.
The above set of benefits looks great because it applies to anyone booking through World of Hyatt, regardless of your Hyatt status. Unfortunately, a lot of that list is based on availability. Keep in mind that Small Luxury Hotels of the world are, well, small, so availability of a room upgrade or late checkout may be scarce depending on when or where you’re going. The hotel was completely sold out on the night I booked as well as the next night, so there were no upgrades and I wasn’t even able to get a 1pm checkout on either of my two rooms. I wasn’t surprised that they couldn’t accommodate it given the need to turn the rooms over for another guest.
The base level room at the Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa is a courtyard-view room with 1 king bed. The courtyard-view room is actually in a separate, much more modern building (connected by hallway) behind the main hotel building. I received exactly that room for both of my reservations since the hotel was completely sold out.
You might think that staying in a separate building would feel somehow inferior — I’ve seen hotels that have a beautiful historical building out front and then some lesser motel-like building behind with more rooms. The Grand Hotel Victoria was not that experience. Because of the way they built the addition, it doesn’t feel like you’re leaving the main building but rather that you’re walking down the hall to your room — and the building with the base rooms is so modern that it certainly doesn’t feel like a lesser experience to anything.
Like most of the Grand Hotel Victoria, pictures will not do the room justice. The room had a very unexciting garden view (as expected) and while spacious for a base level room it wasn’t suite-like, yet it was luxurious. I have stayed in my fair share of $1K+-per-night hotels around the world and few of them have felt as noticeably high-end as this one. I know it doesn’t look like much — you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was as good as any standard room I’ve ever had (better than any I can recall).
To be clear, I didn’t love everything about it. The wall switches were particularly difficult to see and it took some experimentation to figure out which one controlled which light. The touchscreen system for setting up a “Good night” mode and a “good morning” mode for things like shades and lights would probably be nice if I were going to spend a week there, but it was more complex than I wanted it to be for a single night (I doubt that they get many single-night guests, so this is probably a non-issue for most).
One really cool thing is that they told me how to use everything and set the A/C, but said that if I had any trouble that I should call the front desk and they could help remotely. Sure enough, I had some difficulty with the A/C and from the front desk they could see the current temperature in the room and monitor it to make sure it got cooler.
Another thing they handled remotely: I had two rooms and I walked out of one without a key. I went down the hall to my other room, where my wife and kids were at the time, and called the front desk to tell them that I’d locked myself out of the other room. It only took a couple of seconds and they told me that they had reprogrammed the keys (remotely) so that my keys from either room would open both rooms. I’ve had plenty of situations over the years where I needed a room key re-keyed. Never have I seen it done remotely. In 2022 I feel like this should be possible, I was just amazed because it usually isn’t.
Back to the room itself, the bathroom seemed to be carved from a single slab of stone. The shower had no door, which I usually hate, but the water pressure was so strong that I almost didn’t notice the space was open (until I nearly slipped on the floor later because it is hard to keep the water within the shower space!). Toiletries were full-size bottles and full-size soap and were quite nice.
As a welcome amenity, there was a bottle of prosecco chilling on ice and a fruit platter in each room. My kids went to town on the fruit (we bought some of it with us when we left) and we opened one bottle of the prosecco, which seemed to be the same stuff we were given at check-in.
Overall, the room was very nice. It certainly felt well worth 29K points per night, particularly compared with other Hyatt properties in the same point range.
Breakfast and dinner at Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa
Breakfast was amazing. Days later, on our drive home from the airport in New York, my wife and I were still talking about the cream-filled croissants and how we wished we had a chance to have just one more of them. I’ve probably had a pastry or two more than I should in my time and these were out-of-this-world good. Again, pictures don’t capture it. Another guest caught me taking pictures and looked at me and said, “this place is amazing, isn’t it?”.
There were also plenty of sliced meats and cheeses and there were fresh yoghurts with fruit, scrambled eggs, sausages, and some other standard breakfast fare. The person who seated us at breakfast let us know that if we preferred eggs some way other than the scrambled ones on the buffet, we could order them. My wife ordered an omelet, which was prepared just as she’d asked. I don’t know if they’d have done eggs benedict, but in hindsight I should have had her ask.
In addition to fresh-pressed juices, the breakfast room even featured a juicer with plenty of fresh fruit so that you could presumably juice your own fruit. I didn’t see anyone actually use it, so perhaps a staff member would have come over to help if you wanted to make your own juice combination.
Again, pictures don’t give you anywhere near a full sense. Breakfast was very, very good.
Additionally, we had dinner at the restaurant on the night of our arrival. It wasn’t cheap: appetizers were in the 20-30 Euro range and mains were in the 30-50 Euro range (except for a 75 Euro lobster dish). It was definitely a bit of a splurge, but the food was delicious and the atmosphere was perfection. This video doesn’t capture the view well, but you get a view seconds of piano and atmosphere anyway:
My wife got a delectable pork belly special that was in a miso sauce and I had a pasta dish that was as perfectly prepared as you would expect. We asked for a wine suggestion by the glass to pair and they did not fail to hit the nail on the head with a Cabernet Franc that matched perfectly.
A quick story about dinner: my younger son (not quite 2 years old) is at the stage where he is very attached to mommy. He gets upset when she leaves the room or walks away for something (it usually passes within a minute or two, but he almost always cries out when she leaves). At some point during dinner, my wife had to use the restroom. As soon as she left the table, two staff members were right there at the table drawing his focus — one picked up a dinosaur toy he had next to his plate and pretended that the dino was eating his dinner and the other was smiling and asking him a question. He didn’t even get a chance to cry — it was as if they anticipated what he / we would need before we needed it, which is in my mind the mark of outstanding service. That was the type of service that existed at every turn at this property.
The Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa is a Small Luxury Hotels of the World property that is bookable with World of Hyatt points (21K off peak / 25K standard / 29K peak). It is well worth the cost of admission even at peak pricing. Finding even one night of availability seems to be a challenge, though I’ve heard from at least one reader who has booked a couple of multiple-night stays, so it is apparently possible to do so if you vigilantly check availability. That’s certainly what I’ll be doing from here on out because I would be happy to plan a trip around the next time I find multiple nights of availability.
Thank you so much for this! I previously booked a refundable stay in Varenna and after reading this review I found 3 nights late September that I just reserved for 29k and will cancel my hotel in Varenna. Question is, how easy is it to get in/out on the ferry if ykj don’t have a car (we won’t). We originally chose Varenna due to the ease of travel around the lake. We want to make sure we can easily visit bellagio, Varenna and do a boat excursion. Thanks!
Just booked 3 nights at 25k each for June 2023. I had been checking randomly but today it finally showed award availability.
Thanks so much for this! Was able to grab a multi-night stay that fit perfectly with a flight I’d booked to Europe. Looks like that flight is no longer a speculative trip!
Glad to help, we are using it as part of my wife’s 30th birthday!
This redemption CERTAINLY beats the cash price of any luxury hotel in the Lake Como region, especially in the summer.
Thanks so much for the article, Nick. I was able to book 2 nights using 25,000 Hyatt Points each, with a small luxury hotel deal from Chase in the middle
Any tricks for finding award availability for the Grand Hotel Victoria. I’ve tried everything from searching in 3/6/9 night increments, booking far out, booking very soon, etc. and I still can’t find anything. Even when I search and it appears to be not “grayed out” (and even shows the points rate) when I click book now in the WOH app, it only ever shows the cash rate available.
I am always curious Nick when you drive in Europe, do you always get an international driver’s license or just US license suffice? I hate the hassle of getting international license and the cost of it especially if I only need to drive a few days for a trip.
We’ve rented in dozens of countries (in Europe / Africa / Asia / Oceania / South America) and the only time I ever remember being asked for an international driver’s license is in Taiwan. I didn’t have it on my first trip because I had never needed it before, so I was unable to rent there the first time (the second time we visited Taiwan I got the international license at AAA before the trip). I should note that I almost always rent with US-based agencies (Hertz/Avis/Budget) or a couple of European ones (Sixt/Europcar). I have rented from tiny local agencies a couple of times, but not often. Perhaps a smaller more local agency would have wanted an IDP.
I think the real risk is in being asked for it by the police if you are pulled over or in an accident. The idea of the IDP is that it is translated into multiple languages. I think some countries probably require that you have one and perhaps the rental agencies don’t enforce it.
All that is to say that I don’t know that it is advisable to go without one, but I have rented without one many times without issue.
I’m going to add to this to say that the most unique license situation I’ve run into was in Niue. There you are required to get a local driver’s license, which just consists of going to the police station with your foreign license and getting a photo taken and paying a small fee (maybe $15 or $20?). My wife did that while I was getting local SIM cards, which took longer than expected and I intended to go back and do it one day during the trip and just never got around to it. That disappointed me as I’d love to carry my Niue driver’s license (she has hers). I do still have my Niue Yacht Club membership card though!
Same situation when you travel to St. Kitts. You have to go the nearby police station to get a local driving permit if you are renting a car.
Great review and hopefully to visit one day.
I styed in this hotel in March and I agree that they provide the best customer service. You can expect at least 3 staff members every time to come near you to help with getting luggage from the car, check-in and during dining. This wonderful hotel also has one of the best in the world spa/sauna/indoor heated swimming pool in my opinion. Me and my wife enjoyed it every day when we stayed for 3 nights in March this year. The dark themed spa area is designed by Starpools, Italy and it has various different saunas, whirlpool, ice body wash, alternating hot/cold showers along with several pool side cabanas (see TripAdvisor for pictures). The heated indoor swimming pool is ~30 feet long to do laps and all the spa facilities are completely free to use. Spa area has a great shower area/locker system along with water bottles/snacks. Hotel also has a large outdoor unheated pool to use in summer months.
The hotel also has one of the best gyms equipped with Technogym and Lifefitness strength and endurance machines. If you visit during off-season months, it will be more fun without the crowds. I recommend renting a small car since valet parking is free of charge and there are several lake Como hikes which are a bit far from the hotel and rental car will be useful. The hotel even provided us with a good-bye snack/water which was in our car on the last day. Only negatives I noticed when I stayed were weak Wi-Fi and room service did not leave any bottled water for the day. There is plenty of bottled water in the gym and spa are so it is not a big deal.
We also stayed at a nearby 5 star hotel VISTA PALAZZO LAGO DI COMO (40K points per night), which was a smaller hotel on a busy town street without any views, 35 euro per day parking fees and we were wishing we stayed longer in Grand Victoria for a few more days. I am planning to return to this hotel next year for 5 days.
We were in Italy six years ago and Lake Como was our first stop. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. We were only there two nights and it is such a beautiful place, I must go back. One of the towns that we went to was Bologna.
It was the nearest town and probably one of our favorites. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Majestic. OMG! It was absolutely gorgeous. There were pictures of princess Diana When she stay there. There were also pictures of presidents, actors, so many. The chandeliers We’re amazing. The rooms were so Gorgeous and inviting. I could stay in that town for months. We Stayed in Milan and then went on to Sorrento and spent five nights there. The hotel we stayed at was nice, overlooking the water but it wasn’t a spectacular hotel. I love Sorrento. Such a beautiful little town with a lot to see and good places to eat. We went to Capri and the Amalfi coast, That was the best trip ever! Now I’m ready to book another one after reading your post
Bologna is a bit of a stretch for a day trip. Maybe Bellagio or Bergamo?
I’m sorry if my post was a little confusing. We were in Italy for a total of 15 days. We were in Bologna for a few days. A hidden gem for sure.
I just found two nights out of my three I plan to stay in the Lake Como area available mid-October and I booked yesterday. My concern is my plan was to walk from the ferry to the hotel. I have read online that some guests have been given the side eye by the staff when they walk up to the hotel with their bags.
I can’t imagine the staff here giving anyone any side eye, but if they were going to I might have expected it for the guy who showed up with two young kids and a car packed like a clown car (me). That didn’t happen. Besides, parking is free, so it’s not like they’ll be upset that they didn’t get to charge you for it.
That seems more like a guest being self-conscious than anything a professional staff would do. Feel free to arrive at a hotel however you want. People of all incomes and classes arrive in all manner of ways.
Now I’m even more excited about the 3-night stay I have booked on points for mid-September! Sounds like I was very lucky to get those nights, though I booked in April and we’re traveling in shoulder season. Even at that, I had to arrange our itinerary around the 3 nights I was able to find at this property.
oh my goodness. northern italy is on my bucket list, and now i have a dream place to stay!
Go to Lake Como anytime outside of June-August, and then try to tell me that its a substitute for Hawaii. 🙂
Thanks for the review! Any idea if they would allow a rollaway for a third adult? I assume not
I really don’t know. I would also assume not, but then I assumed we needed a second room and we didn’t, so best to reserve and then call and ask.
I was planning on staying at the Hilton Lake Como next year; this review single-handedly changed my mind. I’ll be monitoring availability for this hotel going forward and will try to move my stay. Thanks, Nick!
Stayed at the Hilton for a few nights over Christmas b/c we wanted to be close to Como (town) via walking vs. having to take a ferry back and forth, as that had the most restaurants, shops, markets, etc. open over the holiday. Depends on what you want and need. Highlights of the Hilton were the location (close to the train station, walkable to the ferry port and town), rooms, rooftop pool. Only ‘negative’ was the restaurant, which was a bit expensive (expected) but not the most memorable or satisfying. We joked that it was actually the least favorite meal we had on the entire 2 week trip. But it was Christmas Eve so we knew it would be open. Might be worth it for a night or two before or after you head further up the lake to other towns/ports.
Thanks for the input. Great to hear first-hand from someone who’s stayed at the Hilton and to have that experience to compare/contrast with Nick’s experience of the Grand Victoria.
Great review. Thanks Nick.
Now you understand why I stayed for a week this past May Nick! Also think I ate like 30 croissants while I was there lol.
Thank you for confirming that I am not exaggerating about those croissants and for setting a goal for me to surpass on my next stay :-D.
Haha could ever decide between cream, chocolate and apricot so might as well have all three.
I can confirm that this is the defacto strategy. All three were magnificent.
Sorry for going off on a tangent, but regarding SLH properties we just spent 3 nights at the Viceroy in Ubud, Bali and I after traveling on points and miles for 8+ years this property exceeded every other stay. The food and service was unbelievable, not to mention the gorgeous room. After reading this, and completeing my stay I will seek out these higher end SLH properties. Thanks for the review
I love Ubud! Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to check it out next time.
There is a week straight availability all standard or off peak awards October 19-26th. From my experience/research, you can’t book way ahead of time at the SLH properties. Typically only 3-4 months out for award stays. I’ll have to bookmark this property to try to get there sometime next year. Thanks for the post, Nick.
If that weren’t the week of Chicago Seminars and an internal FM meeting, I would have booked that the moment you commented this morning. Thank you for commenting with it though — I hope someone is able to make use of it!
Find me something like that for 2023 and the name “Beth B” will be elevated to “hero” status in my household for years to come.
Just FYI, it would be a different experience in October. Those are the Alps.
Wow. I have 5 nights booked here in September. Can’t wait.
Would you say you needed a car for this trip? Trying to decide between renting one versus just hiring a driver from MXP.
You can get from Milan to Menaggio by taking the train to Varenna and then the ferry across the lake. Once there, you can access many of the other lake towns by ferry. If your goal is to just enjoy Lake Como, you wouldn’t need a car. If your goal is to sightsee further afield (the Valtelina, etc) then yes, you’d need the car.
You should also be able to Uber from MXP, it’s about 1:20 in the car.
I’m glad that Larry answered you here because I wouldn’t have been as prepared to answer. We flew into Milan-Linate from Malta and were flying out of MXP and with two kids and excessive luggage (we’ve really got to get better at packing lighter), I didn’t even consider public transportation. We also generally just prefer to have a vehicle to go where we want when we want. Before kids, we would have certainly looked more closely at things like trains and ferries, but at this stage I almost always count on renting a car (and yes, that was expensive).
Public bus from Como San Giovanni station takes you directly to Menaggio. The stop is about a 5 minute walk to the hotel.
We took an Uber from MXP to Como. Around $110. 40 minutes vs 2 he by train with a connection.
Thanks all! Good to know about Uber availability from MXP. We’ll probably just go that route. Looked up rents car prices and wow, shockingly expensive for my dates.
Note that Jeff said MXP to Como. It’s still a 30-45 drive from Como to Menaggio so you’ll want to factor that additional cost.
Given that a Euro is $1.01; there’s no taxes on the food prices you are quoting; and — just guessing here — tipping in Italy is far less than the 20-22% “suggested” in the U.S. … this is a far cheaper high-end eating experience than you would find these days back in the Homeland. Out of curiosity, what did that bottle of wine cost you?
We bought by the glass — I had to write a post later that night. We didn’t actually see a wine list, we just asked and they asked whether we were looking for a bottle or glass and we said by the glass. It was 18 Euro per glass. Unfortunately, water was also apparently 8 Euro per bottle of still water.
True that it cost a lot less than it would at ordinary exchange rates. It was pricey (dinner for the four of us, with dessert and those two glasses of wine, came to around 240), but like you said it didn’t feel out of line given the setting and quality. I’d do it again.
Wow — the food prices are on the high side, but the drink prices are pretty unconscionable!
Those prices are a bit high for Italian fine dining unless the restaurant has a considerable reputation beyond the local area. There is no tipping in Italy. The old rule of thumb is you can leave the coins that you receive in change when you pay the bill however, as more and more people pay with cards even that’s disappearing.
In restaurant wine prices in Italy are generally 20 to 40% of what the same bottle would cost in the US.
I pay 15. Screw the pressure to pay more
Wow! Ugh, thanks for making me try to figure out how to get to Lake Como. Great review. I sometimes feel like I’m cheating on Hawaii when I enjoy my European trips a little too much!
Great review. I’m a little concerned about the first photograph, in which your hotel stay seems to have reduced the size of your head considerably (at least in proportion to the rest of you) but, assuming that can be avoided, I’d definitely consider this location (I’ve previously stayed at the Villa Cipressi, directly across the lake in Varenna).
Next time (if you didn’t do it this time) I would recommend hopping on the ferry to Bellagio and walking around there — a fun, cheap ride on the lake and Bellagio is beautiful.
One nice thing about the SLH program is it’s “just as good” for all Hyatt point stays, you don’t have to have status.