The 19th century was a period in Lugano's history when it expanded beyond the original city walls.
And thanks to the Gotthard railway tunnel which opened in 1882, the population of Lugano more than doubled in the three decades that followed. This was also the time when the lakeside Ciani Park was cultivated by the noble Ciano brothers from Milan.
And meanwhile, a prestigious mansion was being built at the foot of Monte Bré. It was the only such mansion near and far, surrounded by a spacious property with lake access. Originally the winter residence of a Russian family, Villa Castagnola was turned into a guest house in 1885 - and later into the renowned hotel it is today.
Old World charm meets Mediterranean flair
It is a sunny spring afternoon and we have just arrived in Lugano. According to our map, Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola is just a short walk from the city center. But given that Lugano's train station sits high above the town, we really appreciate the complimentary hotel taxi.
Villa Castagnola has a five-star rating and is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Also, the resort runs Lugano’s only Michelin starred restaurant.
So much for the bare facts. As soon as we enter this impressive Italian style villa, our feelings are swooped by all that the Old World charm.
After checking in, we cannot wait to have a look at the large fireplace room adjacent to the lobby. In the hotel’s earlier days, this hall with its cushy couches must have been a hotspot for social networking among the guests.
Today, the fireplace room is a serene space to wind down and enjoy the artwork. In fact, the owner of Villa Castagnola has an extensive art collection which is displayed throughout the hotel. For instance, there is an antique oriental carpet with intricate details hung from one of the walls.
To our surprise, there are numerous Asian artworks in the hallway leading up to our suite:
I must say that there is also a fair share of Mediterranean flair - both in a good way and in an over-the-top kind of way. But then again, we are just mere kilometers from the Italian border. For my own personal taste, the interior design at the Le Relais Restaurant and the spa is a could do without the many artificial plants and flowers...
Our suite at the Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola
By the time we make it to our suite, the bellboy has long dropped off our luggage. We shut the door, then jump up and down from joy: this suite is majestic - it’s enormously large! There is a bedroom and a separate lounge, as well as two bathrooms and a closet.
This must be our lucky day, because our junior suite features blue and golden wallpaper that looks all royal. Each of the lovely rooms and suites at Villa Castagnola has their own individual style. (But ours has the best style - hands down!) The wallpaper is in line with the elegant interior design, perfectly matching the vintage furniture.
Two doors lead out to the private balcony that stretches along the entire suite. Equipped with two lawn chairs, a small table and seats, we have no reason to ever leave this beautiful space. From this vantage point, we enjoy beautiful views of Lake Lugano. And we are overlooking a subtropical park lush with exotic palm trees, magnolia trees, camellias and elaborate sculptures.
Restaurant Gallery Arté al Lago
Our dinner reservation is at Restaurant Gallery Arté al Lago, one of the three hotel eateries. The reputation of Executive Chef Frank Oerthle with his 1 star Michelin precedes him. We have researched his kitchen and everyone is saying that he is a master at seafood and lake fish.
Dressed for the occasion, our streak of luck continues: a romantic table with candle light bears our name on the reservation card. We are seated right next to the restaurant’s large windows overlooking the Lugano Bay.
Restaurant Gallery Arté al Lago is housed inside an art gallery just steps from the hotel's park. Art is in its name, but it is not only the displayed pieces of the changing exhibit that are artistic.
Chef Oerthle himself knows a little something about turning a plate into a piece of art. Each course in our tasting menu is a head-turner. Take the "trio from the sea" with fine white beans, celery and olives:
Or the red curry and lemongrass soup with sprouts and morels:
Restaurant Gallery Arté al Lago is a culinary star and duly deserves its credentials with the Michelin Guide. Back in 2009, Chef Oerthle was nominated “Newcomer of the Year” by the GaultMillau Guide. One year later, he received his Michelin star and we would not be surprised if a second star is on the horizon...
On our departure day, the warm Ticino sun rays have given way to a misty shower.
Not that we mind, because we have yet to try the indoor pool and spa! Located on the lower floor, there are steam rooms and saunas, as well as an indoor pool. During warmer seasons, the windows of the pool house can be opened all the way, turning it into an indoor/outdoor pool.
We spend some time swimming laps in the pool when we notice a door leading to a whirlpool with views like these:
We truly enjoyed our weekend getaway to this lovely hotel. The staff were extremely nice and forthcoming, reflecting what true five-star service is all about. Those lucky enough to wake up at Villa Castagnola one day will have many choices: to take the funicular to Monte Brè, to join the hustle and bustle of Lugano's old town, or to enjoy the complete privacy of the lush gardens. These are plenty of reasons for us to return on a special occasion.
Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola
Viale Castagnola 31
Phone: +41 91 973 25 55