We have merged onto the lakeside drive headed for Morcote, a town loved by many.
Sunseekers, lovebirds, photographers, road bikers, and Roger Federer regularly spend time in this historic town with Italian flair.
Before we reach Morcote, a street sign for “Vico Morcote” points us towards a winding and increasingly narrow road. Within just a few minutes, we climb from lake level to the small hillside village with a big name: “Vico” stands for “conqueror,” a possible reference to the ancient Romans who saw strategic importance in this location.
An intimate Ticino boutique hotel
The core of the village is well preserved and gives us an idea of what life here was like in decades past. Currently, all but 370 villagers call Vico Morcote their home. Houses are either joined together or connected with walkways and bridges.
The Relais Castello di Morcote boutique hotel has a presence of its own. A narrow access road branches off the main street and leads up to a piazza in front of this 17th-century building.
Inside the historic walls are carefully renovated rooms and suites, starting on the first floor and going up to the attic. From our corner room, we have pristine views of Lake Ceresio below. There is even a private balcony with more vantage points.
Given the historic nature of the structure, each room and suite has an individual blueprint. What they all have in common are the carefully chosen textures and natural materials.
Walking around our room, I pay special attention to the materials used: there are gray tiles on the bathroom floor, yet the bedroom has a wooden floor with much character.
I notice brass bathroom fixtures that give this space a vintage touch. There are many Asian elements as well, such as a bamboo towel rack or a woven wicker basket.
And the fine bedding and heavy linen curtains make it a breeze to sleep in during those sunlit summer mornings...
Despite its small size, the hotel offers various shared spaces, too. Just off our room is a cozy lounge with a fireplace. The honesty bar with coffee, tea, water, and wine is located in yet another sitting room.
Off the indoor/outdoor lounge is a secret garden for hotel guests. We are here just in time to enjoy the blooming lavender and hydrangea plants.
On the ground floor is Restaurant La Sorgente with its vine-covered patio. Open to the public for lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves a modern interpretation of Mediterranean classics.
In the mornings, the kitchen is in charge of the delicious breakfast buffet for hotel guests. We decide to sit outside at one of the long stone tables that are so typical for Ticino. Despite plenty of distance (and thus privacy) between seatings, we end up chatting with other guests. Those friendly interactions add another layer to our stay, reminding us of why we enjoy staying at small boutique hotels.
A wine tasting at Tenuta Castello di Morcote
Signore Stefani Orlando, the hotel’s general manager, recommends a wine tasting as a late afternoon activity. We say “si, signore!” and start walking towards the other end of the village.
Instead of the nearest path, we crisscross the narrow alleys of Vico Morcote. Among the arcades, patios, and stairs, we discover many interesting things to capture on camera: a charming fountain, a friendly cat.
The Tenuta Castello di Morcote vineyards are under the same ownership as the hotel. At the heart of the local vineyard is the 14th-century Morcote Castle built by the Duke of Milan. Back in the day, this slightly elevated lakeside location was considered strategic; the only merchant route from North to South led through it.
The fortress, along with the vineyards, has been in the family of Gaby Gianini for three generations. Since she has taken over the winery in 2014, Gianini has gone organic and has hired two young oenologists to complement her seasoned staff of winemakers.
Organic production was just the first step in Gianini’s master plan. She has also been implementing biodynamic production. This process takes several years as the soil is regenerating. In short, biodynamic agriculture demands that everything involved in the production has to be from the same grounds. The consequence of this holistic approach is that each wine encapsulates its terroir: the sun, the soil, or the air.
On the day of our tasting, big news arrives. The recently launched rosé named “13” has won three international awards! It is a blend of grapes from the calcium-rich Mendrisiotto and from volcanic Morcote. (The color of the rosé resembles the local volcanic rock.)
The vineyard also honors the Ticino tradition of white Merlot. But to give it a spin, they add 10 percent of Sauvignon blanc to its “Bianca Maria.” This crisp white is Mamiko's favorite.
Thanks to organic and biodynamic agriculture, the vineyard is now home to many species that had previously disappeared. In particular, many butterfly species only thrive on specific plants. Without the use of pesticides, these butterflies have reemerged along with many once eradicated herbs and plants.
We will be following Tenuta Castello di Morcote closely to see what else is in the stars for Gianini and her team…
And a full-moon dinner at Ristorante Vicania
On an alp high above the village, the vineyard runs Ristorante Vicania. We have a dinner reservation, so we opt for driving up instead of hiking there. (The hotel can arrange transfers as well.)
The restaurant is housed inside a rustic stone building. The antique furniture belongs here, and we eavesdrop on some regulars who have been dining here for decades.
Mamiko indulges in homemade veal ravioli with sage butter. After my starter of caprese with buffalo mozzarella, I ask for a simple main dish: "Something with beef yet without polenta or risotto." The chef’s interpretation is heavenly.
As if we have space for dessert, we cannot resist the offer of a lemon meringue pie. (We compromise by ordering one portion with two spoons.)
The kitchen of Chef Francesco Sangalli is not only located near the stars, his dishes have recently lifted off. The young chef has developed special Ticino dishes for the airline Swiss, available through September 2021. Also on board: a selection of wines from Tenuta Castello di Morcote, including one Bianca Maria!
Our advice: pick a full-moon night for your dinner date at Ristorante Vicania. And when you descend back to the hotel at just the right time, the moon will disappear behind the mountains and rise for a second time!
The Relais Castello di Morcote ticks all the boxes for a blissful escape
If this boutique hotel had a soul, it would be comprised of its architecture, charm, culinary, history, location, and interior design. When it comes time to say goodbye, we chat with Signore Stefani Orlando one more time. His warm attitude and the sheer multitude of things to do are just two reasons why we are going to return soon.
Relais Castello di Morcote
Portich da Sura 18
6921 Vico Morcote
Phone: +41 91 980 22 52