Surveys increasingly show that savvy, well-traveled guests long to experience that elusive spirit of place when they travel. Anonymous chain hotels, no matter how luxurious, just aren’t that compelling anymore.
Italy excels in unique and historic properties where every brick, beam and floor tile exudes a distinct sense of place. Take the Hotel Villa Crespi as an example: its signature detail is a striking, Moorish-style minaret overlooking the blue waters of Piedmont’s Lake Orta that comes straight out of the pages of “A Thousand and One Nights.” Little has changed since 1879 when wealthy cotton broker Cristoforo Benigno Crespi fell in love with the mysterious East and built his lakeside home as a tribute.
Villa Crespi is truly palatial, smothered in decorative stonework, grand archways and frescoed ceilings in sh ades of turquoise and crimson. The 14 spacious guestrooms and Suites have romantic four-poster beds, period furniture and elegant soft furnishings, and some of them boast private balconies with a partial view of the lake. Precious marble adds a sense of opulence to the bathrooms, most of which have hydro-massage tubs. And a recent, multi-million dollar renovation has incorporated 21st century perks like satellite TV, free Wi-Fi and an array of energy saving devices that were undreamed of in Crespi’s day!
Dining in the hotel’s gourmet restaurant is an integral part of the experience when staying at Villa Crespi; the outstanding cuisine is truly inspirational. Antonino Cannavacciuolo, the bearded head chef with the unpronounceable name, has been cooking since he was 14 years old and he has earned two Michelin stars for his efforts. A native of the Sorrentine peninsula, he met his wife, Cinzia, on Lake Orta, and his own culinary marriage of South with North was born. His innovative Mediterranean cooking puts a strong emphasis on fish and seafood and fine local produce – order the “Italian Route Menu” to experience Cannavacciuolo’s very personal brand of “fusion cuisine.”
A verdant park filled with exotic palms slopes down to the lake, while a small but luxurious spa is equipped with a Turkish bath, a sauna and the latest Eastern spa treatments like shirò, hot stone massage and shiatsu. Excursions include boat trips on Lake Orta, a little jewel to the west of the better-known Lake Maggiore that is just eight miles long and less than two miles wide and is the only one of the sub-alpine Italian lakes situated entirely in the region of Piedmont.
Isola di San Giulio, with its exquisite Romanesque church, floats like a ship in the middle of the lake, and the pedestrian-only town of Orta San Giulio offers many charming corners to explore. A don’t-miss cultural event is “Canaletto e i vedutisti: L’incontro dell’acqua,” installed in an 18th century palace in the center of town through September 18th, This special exhibition pairs Venetian masterpieces by Canaletto, Francesco Guardi and other celebrated view painters with the enchanting scenery of Lake Orta.
Shoppers will love the fact that there is an Alessi factory outlet, a Lagostina kitchenware outlet and outlets selling fine cashmere by Loro Piana and Colombo in the vicinity. Stresa, on the Piedmont shore of Lake Maggiore, is less than half an hour’s drive and Malpensa International Airport is only 25 miles away. And there’s no better cure for jet lag after a transatlantic flight than a couple of days’ stay at this luxurious and unique boutique hideaway!!
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