AVENO, LAKE MAGGIORE
GRAND HOTEL DINO
The Borromeo Islands in Lake Maggiore house two of the world’s most famous and most beautiful gardens. When you visit them, you should multiply your pleasure by staying at the lake’s largest and best hotel – the Grand Hotel Dino.
Why do I judge this to be the finest hostelry? First and foremost it is because of its setting. Any grand hotel worth its salt hereabouts has positioned itself as close to the lake as it can manage. But the surrounding mountains have meant that a busy road has also been built next to the water. Result: you walk out of your five-star hotel and have to dodge the traffic before you reach the edge of the lake.
Not so at the Grand Hotel Dino. In Baveno (rather than in its larger neighbour, Stresa, where most of its competitors are to be found), the Dino was built in 1988 in the middle of a 100 year-old park, with the ideal location. Its grounds run right to the water’s edge, so that it can offer not only views of heart-caressing loveliness, but also the soothing balm of absolute quiet. And, what is more, go through its little garden gate (operated electrically when you press the intercom) and you are just 20 steps from the ferry landing – whence the smart and punctual public boats will whisk you to the Islands and to Stresa.
Yet there is more to the Dino than its perfect situation. As the glass doors parted at my approach, I felt at once that here was a building which knew about space. Its entrance lobby alone seemed to cover several acres. And, as I discovered on my later explorations, vast tracts of carpet lead to great halls on this side and that, and to what must be the largest indoor swimming pool I have ever encountered in an hotel. One reason for this scale is the hotel’s popularity with the organisers of conferences. There were several gatherings taking place during my stay; but I have to report that, such is the efficiency of the hotel’s organisation, they impinged upon me not at all.
Technological wizardry is as ubiquitous here as the sense of spaciousness. In the lift up to the 4th floor was a television screen. And in my bedroom there was another one, mounted on the wall and quite the largest ever to be placed at my disposal. This was in apartment 438, a ‘senior suite’, which I judged to be excellent value at 550 euros a night. With lots of good woodwork (for the doors and the panelling below the dado rail) and a colour scheme of green and gold (for the thick carpeting, for the brocade on the walls and for the velvet of the sofa), this was a most comfortable set of rooms. Abundant spotlights and table lamps allowed for the creation of a restful atmosphere, and sets of sliding doors gave stylish admission to the wash basin and shower and then to the loo and the bath tub. This last had many controls for the agitation of the cleansing waters, but I forebore their use.
From the bedroom, glass doors led to my terrace. And what a terrace it was. Not simply of sufficient size to swallow up a table and four chairs in wickerwork, but also with the kind of panorama of which one dreams. As a ferry moved silently towards the Isola Madre, I poured from a pot of Earl Grey tea. Down below the water gently lapped against the boundary wall of the hotel garden and up above I cut a morsel of fruit tart and mused on the thought that earth has little to show more fair than Lake Maggiore. Later, when the heat was a trifle too much, I retreated into the air-conditioned cool of my sitting room and read about the days when Baveno was the haunt of folk like Richard Wagner and Queen Victoria.
Breakfast brought a slightly different version of the view – this time with more prominence for the Isola Bella and the Isola Pescatore. But still, on the restaurant terrace, there was the magical near-silence. A striped blind slid into place to shield my silver pot of coffee from the rays of the sun. At the buffet a machine squeezed oranges for my glass of juice and a guillotine cut slices of crunchy bread to accompany my plate of ham.
I returned to the restaurant for dinner. This time I was inside, at a large round table covered with gold damask. Here the hotel’s Food & Beverage Manager, Giuseppe Pavan from Turin, looked after me with courtesy and kindness. This is not the sort of place to attract Michelin stars; but it is the sort of place at which you can you can eat very well if you stick to the simpler offerings and, indeed, go flambé. Ham from the Vigezzo Valley with melon roses was straightforward and tasty. Taglierini with cheese sauce, covered with slices of black truffle and flambéed at the table by Signor Pavan, was quite splendid – luscious and full of the right flavours. And fillet of suckling pig with Calvados and apple, also flambéed, was tender and delicious – although its accompanying vegetables were less impressive. Ending with an omelette soufflé with orange, this was an enjoyable meal. (71 euros for these four courses.)
The wine list is of moderate length and, apart from the champagnes, all Italian. The glassware is Zwiesel (from Austria) and of decent quality. Carafes of the house wine are 13 euros and the 1997 Gaja Barbaresco is 340 euros. My white, an 80% chardonnay from the Trentino region, was robust and solid (Villa Margon, Lunelli, 2000 – 25 euros). But my red was a real star. Biondi Santi is famous for its slowly maturing versions of Brunello di Montalcino and this 1998 version, after decanting, was perfumed and complex, young and tannic, with lots of dampness and soft black fruit in the nose. (105 euros.)
Sun and gardens and water and mountains… and, if you stay at the Grand Hotel Dino, peace and quiet and hospitality of the highest order. Who could want more?
GRAND HOTEL DINO
Corso Garibaldi 20, Baveno 28831, Italy.
Telephone +39 0323 922 201
Fax +39 0323 924 515
Double rooms with lake view from 235 euros, including breakfast