Where to travel from Lausanne: Weekend getaway at Lake Maggiore

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August 10, 2012

OUR lives are Swiss,—
So still, so cool,
Till, some odd afternoon,
The Alps neglect their curtains,
And we look farther on.


Italy stands the other side,
While, like a guard between,
The solemn Alps,
The siren Alps,
Forever intervene!
Emily Dickenson

Emily Dickenson must have been writing from Lausanne when she described Italy as the distant longing, the tempting unknown lying just on the other side the visibly impenetrable Alps. Its promises of spontaneity, passion and surprise are positively irresistible, especially when a short car ride over either the Grand St. Bernard or Simplon passes means a brush with dolce vita that refreshes and energizes better than just about anything else we know.

We love Rome, Florence and the Amalfi Coast. We’re green with envy when friends describe week-long Tuscan getaways or sporty jaunts to Cinque Terre; but sometimes the best trips are the ones that aren’t planned months in advance and don’t require plane tickets and on-site car rentals. Sometimes, we just want to go to Italy. Right now.

And for that, we are glad to share a precious little find on the shore of Piedmont’s Lake Maggiore. Just over three hours from Lausanne, Hotel Ghiffa is an elegant base for a weekend of relaxation and exploration.

Choose to spend the day on the hotel’s small but pleasant private beach and lounging by the pool with its sweeping views of the littoral landscape; perhaps rent a boat and explore the Lake’s glamorous shorelines; take a car to visit nearby Verbania, a city offering an afternoon’s worth of winding streets to meander, down-to-earth culinary experiences and enough local Italian life to allow you to momentarily forget that you are a tourist. (Or if feeling like a tourist is your thing, drive a bit further up the road to arrive in Stresa, Lake Maggiore’s classic resort town and home to the famous Borromean Islands).

Hotel Ghiffa’s common areas are elegant without pretension. The hotel staff are beyond accommodating.

Where to eat:

O’Conner’s, Verbania: We arrived late on a rainy Friday night and asked the hotel’s concierge to point us in the direction of his favorite pizzeria. When we pulled up to O’Conner’s we considered turning right around—despite the name, we weren’t expecting an Irish pub and had been hoping for something a little more Italian and intimate to kick of our weekend getaway. Much to our surprise, this local haunt full of the hip 30-something crowd was a great time all around. We can’t recommend this place more highly! The wood-fire pizzas were the best we ate all weekend, and we loved the after dinner cocktail offered to us by the waiter at the end of our meal—who knew that whiskey and honey would be so complementary? http://www.oconnors.it/

Osteria del Castello, Verbania: This city-center restaurant offers a gorgeous, well-shade terrace as well as a beautiful and intimate indoor dining space (think oak-paneled library; then replace the books with wine bottles. Now you get the idea…). The menu didn’t contain a single English, French or German word, so we had the pleasure of ordering “umm…this one?”

The entire experience was delightful from the wine to the food to the people watching, all enjoyed from a shady spot on the terrace. http://www.osteriacastello.com/

A few travel tips:

Avoid Stresa when possible. Although visiting the Borromean Islands on foot will require water taxi passage from Stresa’s harbor, we recommend avoiding it otherwise. The town feels a bit stifling with tourists, obligatory tacky key chains and over-priced espresso.

Beware of misconceptions about Hotel Ghiffa’s rooms. Naturally, the hotel site features beautiful pictures of its charmingly renovated common spaces. The private rooms and corridors were less picturesque. While all facilities were up to the standard in terms of functionality and cleanliness, the décor was a bit of a low point. However, lakeside rooms easily make up for what they lack in charm with stunning floor to ceiling windows and small balcony space.

Sleep with the window open. Breath deep and let the gentle lapping of the waves below lull you into slumber…

If renting a boat, be sure to accept the hotel offer. We were a bit floored by the 100 euro half-day rental fees (come on, this is Italy after all!) and opted to try our luck renting a boat in Stresa. Whoops. For just slightly less money, we were significantly downgraded and wasted an hour of the set half-day rental time (2pm-6pm). Hotel Ghiffa’s offer was for a lovely 6-person boat, which seemed big for just two people but ultimately was worth the money! Oh, hindsight…

Book Hotel Ghiffa through a travel website like hotels.com. We paid less than half of the listed price!

Thinking of planning a trip, but still have a few questions? Feel free to get in touch and we’ll do our best to help!

Hotel Ghiffa
Ghiffa, Italy

Photos from Hotel Ghiffa


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