VOLANTE Forget the over-commercialized hotels of today. The Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola in Lugano, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, upholds the best standards, with some genuine artistic surprises within, writes Stanley Moss
photographed by Paula Sweet
Time travel is entirely possible. Such a cavalier claim isn’t easily defended, but a visit to Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola located on the idyllic western shore of Lake Lugano validates such a bold assertion. A vintage gem, set at the northern frontier of the mellow Swiss city, the Villa overlooks a lush and well established tropical garden, the lake and distant mountains. A family-run five-star, the hotel upholds all the classic top-of-market standards, with unexpected artful value added to the offering. You might have stepped into the last century. Every room faces a nostalgic, expansive alpine view. It’s a destination where you will find opportunities to re-experience the spirit of a luxurious past, surrounded by creativity.
Of recent, hotels have got too big and over-institutionalized. Not this property. The Villa operates in the old style, where the team understands traditional Swiss hospitality, which they combine with the warmth of Ticino, the Italian-speaking southernmost canton of Switzerland.
Built upon the original walls of a grand 1880 mansion once owned by an aristocratic Russian family, Villa Castagnola’s park cascades uninterrupted down to the lakeshore, a splendour of exotic vegetation punctuated by broad emerald lawns, tended to by a team of dedicated gardeners. Plantings are accented by contemporary sculpture. The art theme continues inside the hotel, where more time travel is possible, where vintage furnishings and objects adorn both public spaces and suites. At 72 rooms, you never get lost in the crowd. Every suite has been uniquely decorated. In the grand main level drawing room authentic Aubusson tapestries provide backdrop for classic vintage seating and fabrics, and a heroic, historic carved fireplace presides.
There are the hidden museum-quality treasures waiting to be discovered. Wander into a dining room in Le Relais, the Villa’s on-site gourmet restaurant, and you will be surprised to find a group of rare etchings by Goya, from the 1816 Tauromaquia bullfighting series. In the main dining room, huge painted landscapes on silk rescued from Imperial China are displayed. Down at the lakefront, across the road and a short 50 m walk, the Villa’s Restaurant Gallery Arté al Lago is rich with modern masterpieces, continually refreshed with new work. Its spectacular views could be the finest dining experience on Lake Lugano, accompanied by extraordinary Michelin-starred gastronomy.
In the glory days of Belle Époque hostelry, waterfront properties were expected to provide their own exclusive beaches. This sentimental amenity Villa Castagnola has upheld, with a lakeshore lido just across the road, accessible by private entrance, barely steps from the property main gates. It’s a modern facility with snack bar, sunbathing, swimming, rentals and lounging terrace and adds to the family-friendliness of the offering.
Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola also hosts events. It’s best to phone ahead in case of a full buy-out. Attractive function rooms allow for everything from small parties to seating up to 120 guests. Ideal for special occasions, yes, but also highly recommended for escapist hanging-out. In days of yore, travellers sought properties beyond reproach. It’s an accolade which can be easily applied to this lovely time machine of a luxury hotel. •
Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.
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