About Time: You Discovered the Italian LakesBy Gemma Perlin
The Italian Lakes: George Clooney. Heart-soaring views. The delicious sound of Bellagio on your lips and a plate of garlicky carbs on your plate. With cheap flights daily to Milan Malpensa, a mere hour drive from Lake Como, Bellagio and Maggiore, it’s highly doable to pop to the lakes for a long weekend where the Aperols are cheaper than the water, and the views are that of a Curzon arthouse film.
The Lowdown: Hotel La Palma is found in the heart of the resort town, Stresa on Lake Maggiore, where the waterfront has many boats running to Borromean Islands with palazzos, villas and the most charming spots for a lunchtime primi patti. Our favourite was Isola Bella, where for five euros you’re delivered there and back in a classic speedboat.
The Rooms: They feel newly renovated, airy and generously proportioned. We had a view of some perfectly manicured gardens and a balcony which was ideal for a morning coffee. We need to take a moment to discuss the shower – three separate jets – including one for your feet.
The Food: The hotel offers a competitive rate for half board, which was really relaxing for a couple of days. Breakfast was a buffet affair in the old-school dining room, with fresh peaches, pastries and fluffy scrambled eggs our highlights. Dinner was a set course menu, starting with amuse bouche and running to a dessert trolley like something from the 1970s, served by formally dressed waiters with highly attentive service.
The Pool(s): It’s worth staying at this hotel for the pools alone. First the main pool which is nestled on the lake itself with sun beds where you sit: just you and the water. The second, an infinity pool on the tenth floor of the hotel, part of the Sky Bar. While the rest of the hotel is traditional Italian, the Sky Bar is like something out of a Bangkok skyscraper cosmopolitan hotel, and people travel from all around the area for an Aperol and an apertivo with a show-stopping view.
Where: Lungolago Umberto I, 33, 28838 Stresa VB, Italy
The Lowdown: Nestled by the shores of Lake Orta, an hour drive from Milan you will find an incredible boutique hotel. Designed by renowned architect Piero Lissoni – he created a haven from a low budget hotel – a house with 11 rooms each overlooking the island of San Giulio, the lakes and beyond. The location feels authentically Italian; calmer, more sedate, and yes, more Italian than the tourist trails of Bellagio.
The Rooms: We stayed in an exquisitely designed prestige room with floor to ceilings windows. It exudes understated romance with the comfiest bed, stark interiors and the most luxurious of bathrooms with a shower that converts into a steam room with space for two. Everything is supremely elegant; from the light fittings to the white sofa and table by the bed where even the most fearful of writers could probably put together a prose or two.
The Food: Breakfast feels like an intimate family affair (as the hotel is so small), and you can you eat it until midday which feels like quite a treat. I have to take a moment here to discuss the glassware: it’s exquisite. Ok, moment taken. Breakfast is carefully designed, like a piece of artwork, with local yoghurt, cheese and freshly made coulis. There are options for eggs any style, which work well combined with local cuts from nearby farms. Dinner is served by the pool as well, think Italian food with a contemporary twist. They were happy to indulge my difficult dietary requests, no gluten and dairy in Italy, which you would think would be a nightmare but they managed to make me full and exceptionally satiated.
The Pool: This is quite the spot; a minimalist pool with jets and fountains with sunbeds where stylish waiters offer you an expansive list of cocktails to sip on or if you’re a bit ‘basic’ like us, Aperol Spritz.
Where: Via Roma, 2, 28010 Pella NO, Italy
The Lowdown: If you want the big lake experience, you need to be in Lake Como and where better to base yourself than in the village of Varenna right on the shores – but a 20 minute ferry ride away from the busy Bellagio. This classic villa is set in botanical gardens with staircases and terraces leading down to the lake and a special spot of beach with a wooden pathway into the sublimely refreshing water. This hotel feels like a rustic step back in time with the luxury of a modern hotel.
The Rooms: We stayed in a twin room with a postcard view out of our window. Opening the shutters in the morning was a euphoric moment – we kept blinking to check it was real. Our room was simple and snug, with high ceilings and comfy beds.
The Food: Breakfast was served on a terrace, with a variety of sustenance to gear us up for a day of ferries, sunbathing, driving and perusing the surrounding area. I especially liked the egg station where I boiled an egg and constructed some soldiers and accompanied it with some local cold cuts. They even had soya milk, so my companion and I could have our London treat: decaf soya caps because we are children who can’t hack caffeine.
Where: Via 4 Novembre, 18, 23829 Varenna LC, Italy