Il Sereno, Villa Pliniana, Lake Como, Luis Contreras and the design by Patricia Urquiola

The product is different, but the service remains the same, and Luis Contreras takes satisfaction in providing service equivalent of a five-star hotel across the lodgings

Il Sereno and Villa Pliniana in Lake Como 

Against the backdrop of green landscapes and Lake Como, stand two structures, Il Sereno and Villa Pliniana. The pair is the offspring of Luis Contreras, established in late 2016 with the first year of operations being in 2017. Luis, however, is a veteran where the hospitality sector is concerned. As it happens, his foray into the hotel industry in 2006 led to a cascade of hotels across the globe. «I sought to expand the business after my experience in developing a high-end, boutique hotel in St. Barths».

Following the completion of the hotel in St. Barths, Luis set out to find the next site for a structure. He settled on Lake Como after having a chance encounter with a Milanese architect couple. «That was the start of our Lake Como business operations». To be exact, Luis first visited Lake Como in 2012, but this time with an eye for business rather than for leisure.

The hotel’s names are etched with history

The history of the chain of hotels that bears the name Sereno is concise. It borrows the name of a late businessman who owned the hotel in St. Barths before Luis assumed ownership. He once ruled the scene in St. Tropez. He and Italian actor, Lino Ventura, were close confidants, Luis points out. Thereafter, Luis decided to Gallicize the name, rebranding it to Le Sereno in France and now Il Sereno in Italy: «The name has a lean tone, which alluded to what we set out to do». 

Regarding Villa Pliniana, the name was influenced by Como natives: uncle-and-nephew duo of Plinio. They served as consuls during the Roman Empire. The justification behind carrying Plinio’s name comes from the existence of a natural water source with an unusual flow pattern. It increases and decreases in a cyclical manner. Being the naturalist of their era, Pliny the Elder wrote about it. Of the two, Pliny the Younger went into more detail in correspondence.

Il Sereno and Villa Pliniana as sister hotels

«Our initial plan going into Lake Como was to build a hotel». As Il Sereno took six years to finish, Luis became familiar with the neighbors in the area, one of which being Villa Pliniana. Mystified from the beginning, the cards appeared to be in Luis’ favor. When he learned that the villa was being refurbished for commercial use, Luis leaped at the chance of offering it a renaissance. Hence, the proximity of the joints was of happenstance. 

The mastermind behind the hotels’ design – Patricia Urquiola 

Despite their differences, the establishments share a common thread. Il Sereno is the recent addition to the Lake Como location, while Villa Pliniana is one of the oldest structures still standing. «Their starting points are complete opposites». Luis committed to working with the architect and designer, Patricia Urquiola, to realize his visions. However, Giuseppe Terragni, an architect from Como who helped pioneer the Italian modern movement, was another dominant influence in the inception of the hotels. 

Building Il Sereno was a simpler process because it was constructed from the ground up while working with a blank canvas. On the other hand, the villa was completed in the 1500s. Thus, the intention going in to revitalize the structure was not to grant it a contemporary look and feel. It endured the test of time for more than 500 years. Therefore, the walls could not be retouched in order to preserve the cultural history.

Leveraging on Lake Como’s geographical environment

Undoubtedly, the geographic isolation had a major impact on the architecture. As a result, Luis had the notion that Villa Pliniana would express its time-honored antiquity. Il Sereno, on the other hand, would bear a contemporary appearance to mirror the present-day world. The region’s surroundings likewise contributed to the design. To complement the flora of the terrain, a vertical garden was planted and grows in between the walls of Il Sereno. Patrick Blanc, a French botanist, was engaged by Luis after being inspired by the Lake Como area’s lush vegetation and perpendicular structures.

In short, the product is different, but the service remains the same. Luis takes satisfaction in providing service equivalent of a 5-star hotel across the lodgings. 

The influence of Pliny the Younger’s letters in designing the rooms

The design approach of the rooms was to integrate the interior with the backdrop of the lake. Il Sereno offers waterfront rooms, with windows allowing guests to take in the scenery. Pliny the Younger’s letters on Lake Como — about how one can almost go fishing from the comfort of the bed — chaperoned Luis during his first meeting with Patricia. Soon, he resolved that the hotel should represent and echo the sentiments of the letters.

Despite having numerous hectares of land and rooms, Villa Pliniana can sleep about forty guests. The idea was to rent the expanse to a single guest at a time rather than dividing the villa into different functions. «In a typical situation, clients arrive with friends and family, thus it acts in the manner of a hotel». There is only one master of the house, per the concept, and having that title affords you the services a hotel offers.

Locally sourced food and beverages in the hotels 

Across both structures, the culinary services are overseen by the same crew, and the cuisines served are comparable in that regard. At the forefront is chef Raffaele Lenzi. Luis describes him as a curious individual. Through trial and error, Luis learned that his guests prefer a light lunch encompassing classic Italian cuisines: «You have your pastas, risottos, meat and fishes». Each dish is prepared using traditional techniques and local ingredients. «Our offerings are Italian through and through». Having said that, the kitchen has some Asian roots too.

In terms of the bar, Luis believed that it should work together as if the hotels were siblings. Albeit, there is a focus on creating cocktails with herbs and flowers produced domestically.

The future of Sereno Hotels

Luis now spends much of his time seeking for the next venue for yet another hotel. Due to confidentiality obligations, he is prohibited from discussing specifics, but he has managed to identify a few potential opportunities.

Suffice it to say, Luis’ next venture will share the same DNA as the other entities inside the Sereno Hotels group.

Il Sereno

Via Torrazza, 10, 22020 Torno CO, Italy
Small luxury hotel, designed by Patricia Urquiola on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. A part of Sereno Hotels. 

Villa Pliniana

Via Cesare Poggi, 29, 22020 Torno CO, Italy
A 16th century Italian palazzo set on 18 waterfront acres on Lake Como. Available for exclusive events and private use.

Sahadev Chhetri

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.