There is a place in Switzerland where agriculture, passion and five star luxury intersect: Hotel Castello del Sole in Ascona.
During more than one visit to the delta where the cold waters of the River Maggia merge with the Mediterranean Lake Maggiore, we have witnessed the awakening of nature. We have sampled the vintages of Fabio, the agricultural manager at the hotel's own farm. And we have tasted the exquisite gourmet dishes from Mattias Roock, Switzerland's chef of the year in 2018.
But let me start from the top. This is not going to be a story about sparkling hotel pools and luxurious spas. (But they are there, too.) This is going to be a story about a hotel with a long history dating back to the 16th century. A hotel that has transformed itself more than once to arrive at the very top. And a hotel that embraces its heritage with a "farm to table" philosophy.
Choices abound at the Hotel Castello del Sole in Ascona.
The old history might explain why the hotel complex resembles a castle. Its buildings are wider than they are tall, and the architecture brings back memories of manor houses in Tuscany. In the past century, the interiors of its multiple buildings have been transformed into a luxury hotel with all the amenities you could ever wish for. As a member of Swiss Deluxe Hotels and The Living Circle, the Castello del Sole adheres to exceptional hospitality.
To start our weekend in this southern resort, we are being picked up by the hotel's black Mercedes at the train station in Locarno. The brief transfer to the Castello del Sole is as smooth a ride as we have ever experienced. This is partly due to the hybrid engine of this "E" class limousine, and partly due to the genuine friendliness of the concierge.
At the check-in counter, we are faced with the first in a series of choices: Whether to stay in a junior suite with a balcony that overlooks the vast resort. Or whether to retreat to an apartment in the guest house where privacy and quiet are a given.
During our first visit to the Castello in March, we wound up staying in the junior suite located in the main building:
When we returned in April, we picked the private residence. In short: There are no right or wrong choices. Both amenities are perfect in their own manner and it just depends whether you want to feel all by yourself or be closer to the hotel bar and swimming pools... Every morning, we would wake up to the tweeting of 120 species of birds which live in the nature preserve beyond the rice fields.
With just 78 rooms and suites as well as a property the size of a Tuscan town, the Castello never feels occupied. Space is a luxury in today's world, and this resort caters to those of us who want to find retreat and not be bothered by anyone else. (Those looking for entertainment and social outings might want to look elsewhere.)
Yes, the Castello del Sole is a resort unlike anything we have ever seen.
There are blooming apple orchards, vast pastures and green lawns, making the Castello del Sole feel more like a farm than a five-star hotel. We are encouraged to stroll around, take a nap in a hammock by the lake or read a book in the middle of the orchard.
And once the fruits are ripe, guest are allowed to pick an apple or an apricot anytime they desire!
The private hotel beach at Lake Maggiore
Ascona lies at just 196 meters above sea, so we are about to swim in Switzerland's lowest point! The difficulty lies in *where* to swim, because there is a heated indoor/outdoor pool as well as the secluded beach on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Over the course of our two stays, we would try both options. And you guessed it: Both the pool and the lake are fantastic in their own right.
"Farm to table" is more than a philosophy.
That's possible because there is a proper farm adjacent to the Castello del Sole: Terreni alla Maggia. It is a purely agricultural enterprise supplying most of the hotel's foods.
Be it the the wheat for the bread, the grains for the cereals, the citrus for the juices, the herbs for the teas, the grapes for the wines, the grape leaf extract for the shampoo, or the figs, pomegranate or honey combs: All of these crops, fruits and ingredients are grown and harvested by Terreni alla Maggia.
At the breakfast buffet, most everything except for the passion fruits is supplied by the farm:
The climate of the Maggia delta with its extended droughts, intermittent rain spells and southern temperatures is perfectly suited for agriculture. This ecosystem is also the reason why the farm has been successful in cultivating the tasty Loto rice for its risotto. This is quite a big deal given the northern latitudes of Ascona, so we taste each bite of risotto with extra attention.
Apart from all the plants, there are two farm animals. As the only livestock, these curious jackasses enjoy all the attention of the guests and gardeners. Once in a while, the lake will flood the donkeys' premises in which case they are moved to the former horse stables. Karla, the marketing manager at the Castello, tells us that the two are infamous for escaping, too. Someone in Ascona will usually call the hotel with the exact location of the two escapees...
The kitchen of Executive Chef Matthias Roock
It takes a special kind of executive chef to wholeheartedly embrace these farm fresh varieties. With much acclaimed Chef Mattias Roock, a Hamburg native, the hotel has found someone who does not mind getting his hands dirty.
Roock tells us that he is often outside in the gardens to find inspiration for his dishes. His creations are playful and light - and full of fresh flavors from the gardens. Roock truly deserves his Michelin star and 17 points in the Gault Millau ranking.
Castello del Sole Beach Resort & SPA
Via Muraccio 142
+41 91 791 02 02