Some hotels are extroverts that want to be admired by the world. But then, other hotels are rather like introverts. They keep their precious properties for those who take the time to explore them in the first place.
The five-star Hotel Giardino Ascona is one of the latter hotels. Hidden away in the Maggia River delta in Ticino, it is Switzerland’s secret garden hotel. As we pull into the driveway, we are surprised to find lush palm trees, blooming hydrangeas, a water-lily pond and lemon trees - lots of lemon trees!
We're not in Switzerland anymore!
Truly, this resort jettisons us into an alternate world. We find ourselves in a secret garden, far removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The swimming pool and historic statues conjure up images of a Roman palazzo.
In other words, the property has the coziness and generosity of someone's private country villa. And the many Instagramable spaces in the garden might as well be part of an elaborate movie set.
After toasting to the beginning of this soothing getaway, we quick-change into our swimming gear. Mamiko in her tropical dress wanders the gardens while I am plunging into the pool. Nothing is holding us back from indulging in this alternate world called Giardino Ascona.
While sunbathing in a cabana somewhere in the back of the Giardino garden, the sole reminders of place are those typical Ticino mountains. Covered in green forests, we can recall most every peak by the time our bellies send the first hunger signals...
Restaurant Hide&Seek is a foodie's paradise
Our room includes half-board, which means that we get to indulge in the in-house Hide&Seek Restaurant with 15 Gault Millau points.
The sun is starting to set and the restaurant with its terra cotta floor looks inviting. The space is lofty and reminds us that we are in the south. The front row of tables are right beside the water-lily pond - occasional frog interlude included.
The concept for half-board guests is that anything and everything on the à la carte menu is included. As we wait for our appetizers, we cannot help but notice the positive vibes among the staff. They are sending smiles each other’s way, and they are genuinely happy to have us as guests. We stay in lots of hotels and it is quite rare to find a staff that gets along so well.
The Giardino Lemon is an appetizer made of artichoke mousse, garlic and lemon essence:
We swear by the scallop ceviche! It made Mamiko speak Spanish out of nowhere...
Ceviche lovers who dig the refreshing taste of lime and cilantro will surely love this dish. The scallops quite literally melt on the tongue, unfolding the honest taste of the sea... We believe this should become a Hide&Seek signature dish to stay.
The beetroot variation with lemon verbena and blueberries is refreshing. Who knew berries and beets are BFF?
Red prawn risotto with dill and: lemon. I love how Hide&Seek is using lemon as an ingredient in most dishes. They can be found all over the Giardino Ascona.
Those interested in a holistic approach to health should know that Giardino hotels feature Ayurveda practices. We are told that there are several therapeutic treatments available. And Mamiko preferred the ayurvedic dishes on the breakfast buffet from the continental fare, such as pear compote with almonds.
A memorable hike to the Salto waterfall in Maggia
The next day, we drive into the Maggia Valley. Think turquoise river meandering among smooth rocks. During my childhood, I used to spend summer breaks here with my family. Memories of playing in the sand and building river rafts out of driftwood come back.
Our destination is the town of Maggia where we park behind the civil hall. From there, we climb a never-ending fleet of stone stairs to a chapel, Capela Da La Pioda.
Here at the top of the waterfall, we expect to actually see the falls. We can hear it alright, but it is nowhere in sight. Instead, we have a rewarding view of the valley below:
From the chapel, we continue our hike across a stone bridge and thorough chestnut forests. By the time we almost reach Maggia, we finally spot the Salto waterfall. Note the tiny chapel right above it - we were that close!
My advice: if you want to head straight to the Maggia waterfall (minus the scenic hike to the chapel), stay on Via Campii. Walk past the water fountain and ignore any yellow hiking markers, and you will find your way through the woods to the waterfall.
Biking and stand-up paddling with a private sports coach
Another day, another adventure: the Ascona-Locarno region is a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts! On prior getaways, we have already hiked some of the so-called hundred valleys (Centovalli). We have visited the Brissago Islands by private yacht. And we have paraglided from the scenic mountain top of Cardada.
Thanks to the Giardino Ascona's own coach, all of these activities (and more) are on the menu for hotel guests to try. Meet Vladimir Zic, a professional sports instructor originally from Croatia.
On this lovely summer morning, Vladimir could have surely pushed our limits by making us try something extreme. Like, running up more steps or rowing across the lake. But we simply felt like experiencing Lago Maggiore from a new perspective...
Vladimir suggests a bike tour to the nearby Giardino Lago in Minusio, just outside of Locarno. Once we arrive at the sister hotel, our stand-up paddle boards are already waiting for us. This will be the first time for Mamiko!
After some instructions, we follow Vladimir onto the calm Lake Maggiore. What a way to start a day! We quickly get the hang of SUP and we paddle towards the camp ground in Tenero. Our 45 minute lesson is up way too soon, though. But we know one thing for sure: we will return here someday to SUP again.
This garden resort lives up to its name
What I will remember most about the Hotel Giardino Ascona is the amazingly beautiful gardening. Among the greenery are many cozy areas to sit down and relax, each providing a new perspective of the Mediterranean inspired hotel or on the surrounding mountains.
Via del Segnale 10
Phone: +41 91 785 88 88
(For the purpose of this review, the Giardino Group has extended two complimentary nights in a double room, including half board, as well as an SUP class.)