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Two Grand Hotels on the Italian Lakes, and Something Else

IMG_0189Our recent trip to the northern Italian lakes was an anniversary celebration, so we splurged a bit and stayed in the nicest hotels we could find.  Both were spectacular in their luxury, attention to detail, incredible locations and superb service.  We’ll cover both of them here, as they really are cut from the same mold.  In between our stays in these two Grand Hotels, we also spent two nights in Alba as a base for the Barolo and Barbaresco winery visits.  That hotel was also splendid, more contemporary, and lacked only one thing, the lake views.  But the top floor suite did have some very nice views looking over the rooftops of the old city, so we did not suffer here either.

Initially we set up shop on Lake Maggiore, and the hotel of choice was the Grand Hotel Des Iles

The balcony view at the Boromees

The balcony view at the Boromees

Borromees, which sits lakeside in Stresa, one of several hotels in a row of elegant properties that take advantage of views that extend to Switzerland.  Even though we arrived before noon our room was ready, and the head of reception checked us in and then escorted us to the room.  On the lake side of the hotel, the room was on the 4th flo0r, and provided

View through the sitting area

View through the sitting area

simply incredible views from the balcony.  A sitting area separated the king bed from the French doors leading to the balcony vistas. It was spacious and very luxurious, and we felt as though we were staying in a palace.  The bathroom matched the rest of the room, resplendent in marble, complete with robes and slippers and a deep marble tub for soaking. This would work.

Jet lag began to set in early in the afternoon as we sipped two glasses of Gattinara at a cozy wine bar in downtown Stresa, so what did we do?  A nap was one option, but that would not have helped get our internal clock adjusted properly.  The other

View to the right from balcony

View to the right from balcony

option turned out to be wonderful, and two pots of hot coffee were delivered by room service, after which we spent the better part of two hours sitting on our balcony, sipping coffee and soaking in our surroundings.  The lake is spectacular, and from our balcony we could see all three of the Borromean Islands as well as the Swiss Alps.  It was somewhat misty, but the clouds and fog gave the mountains a brooding majesty that was impressive.  Later in the trip the clouds would clear, and the views expanded tremendously.  We liked it both ways.

The gardens at the Borromees

The gardens at the Borromees

The hotel itself is an elegant, large structure with opulent gardens surrounding the entire property.  There is a nice pool and every other imaginable amenity, but they are set off a bit.  The lobby is beautiful and while very ornate it is not overstated.  We kept coming back to the words traditionally elegant, as that is really the best descriptor.  A small lobby bar stands to the right of the main entrance, and we availed ourselves of long drinks and cocktails several times.  While not brand spanking new everywhere we felt the decor and entire hotel were outstanding.  This is a place to relax.  Although originally planned, we did not have dinner in the restaurant, so that is the one thing we cannot comment on.  Breakfasts were great though.

We would definitely stay at the Borromees again.  Be prepared, the rooms and everything else here are expensive but worth it.  Also keep in mind that the town of Stresa is a five minute walk away and there are numerous trattorias and pizzerias which serve up good food at very reasonable prices.  You can also get a nice glass of wine for 5 euro.  For us the room, the balcony and the views were more than worth every penny.

Hotel Casillano

Hotel Calissano Sign

We broke from the lakes in the middle of our vacation to stop in Alba and concentrate on wine for two days.  Alba is a working town, with few

Rooftop views of Alba

Rooftop views of Alba

tourists.  The old section has that unique European feel, and is quite charming.  We stayed just outside the old section in a very modern hotel, the Hotel Calissano.  This seven story hotel is luxurious, although it is located in a strange sort of side street and is not easy to find.  Every part of it is impeccable however, and the luxurious lobby and bar rival just about any other establishment’s.  Our suite, one of three at the hotel, was on the 7th floor and provided a huge balcony with views of the old city’s

A great bathroom in the Calissano

A great bathroom in the Calissano

rooftops.  There was a large sitting area with a breakfast table, a king bed and a beautiful bathroom with a deep soaking tub and separate shower.  This was very, very nice.  It was also very reasonably priced considering the quality.  We enjoyed the Hotel Calissano and would definitely stay here again.  You can walk to the Piaza Savona in three minutes.

After three wineries and some quality time in Alba it was back to the lakes, this time the playground of the international set at Lake Como.  We

View from the lakeside road of Hotel Tremezzo

View from the lakeside road of Hotel Tremezzo

received no invitations to George Clooney’s villa, but that was OK because we were staying at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo.  Located in the town of Tremezzo, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo actually surpassed the Borromees in luxury and splendor, just by a tiny fraction.  It does not have the beautiful lakeside promenade, because at Como there is no space lakeside as the mountains come right down to the water.  Around and behind the hotel however there were luxurious grounds.  Right next door were the gardens of Villa Carlotta as well as the boat dock, which was very convenient.

Here the room was more expensive, smaller (considerably) but just as

Marble everywhere!

Marble everywhere!

luxurious.  The balcony was tiny, barely big enough for the two cast iron chairs which were on it, yet the views were crazy.  Directly across was the town of Bellagio.  Across on the further shore was the town of Varenna.  Right behind the towns the Alps went up and up with snow covered peaks providing the final frame.  If it was possible this view was even more impressive than the one at Stresa.  Just by a little bit mind you, but it is hard to imagine a scene more beautiful.

View from the terrace during lunch

View from the terrace during lunch

We had lunch on the terrace the first day, lunch the next day at the pizza bar by the pool in back, and dinner our final night at La Terreza, their formal restaurant.  Everything was great.  Expensive yes, but you’re eating in a five star hotel so what do you expect?  The lobby bar here is more impressive, with every spirit you can think of.  Louis 13th was available by the glass, which I did not avail myself of.  Two hundred forty euro a glass seemed a bit steep!  I did splurge on a glass of Johnny Walker Blue however.  It seemed to fit the surroundings.

Service is top notch at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, and just as at the

The elevator to street level at Hotel Tremezzo

The elevator to street level at Hotel Tremezzo

Borromees it comes at a stiff price tag.  This hotel is even more expensive, so be prepared for some sticker shock.  It is worth it though, and a few days spent here will stay with you forever.  This is another amazingly beautiful hotel in an idyllic landscape.  It is hard to imagine anything much better existing anywhere.

If you visit northern Italy there are a myriad of choices on where to stay.  They range from the height of luxury to comfortable and cozy to cut rate.  Those we presented here represent the best available in their respective areas, and we recommend all of them unconditionally.  Our selection of hotels had a huge impact on how enjoyable our trip was, as we spent considerable amounts of down time in our rooms, on our balconies, and in the lobby bars.  These are great hotels, especially the Grand Hotels Borromees and Tremezzo.  Words cannot really describe them adequately.

A votre sante!

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