Last year I thought we had found the best hotel in Italy, the Monastero Santa Rosa in Amalfi. You can read the review here . It was absolutely fabulous, but this year I think we found someplace even better.
After hearing such wonderful things about The Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli in Lake Garda over the years, we very much wanted to experience it for ourselves. While the Villa Feltrinelli is consistently cited as one of the best hotels in the world, it also played quite a prominent role in history, as it is the place where Mussolini spent the end of World War II. The book Beneath a Scarlet Sky is an incredible ( and true) account of Italy during the war, and the Villa is featured prominently. I would absolutely recommend reading it.
My husband and I visited in the beginning of October, so it was a bit quieter then I imagine the summer to be. The weather was perfect, not too hot, but still warm enough to enjoy time outside. As Lake Garda is in the northern part of Italy, we flew Emirates from NY to Milan. I have written before about the benefits of flying Emirates to Italy. I believe their service is unparalleled. We booked a night flight from JFK, and arrived at the airport at about 8 pm.
After checking our bags we headed up to the lounge, where we were able to board the flight directly; a tremendous convenience.Though not overly exciting, the lounge is well maintained and staffed. In terms of food, the choices run the gamut, with options for everyone.Light bites and champagne. Fortunately the flight was on-time and we boarded at about 9:30. Generally we book business class tickets on Emirates and then upgrade to first with miles (it requires 39,000 miles to upgrade, and you can transfer your American Express points), though on this flight there was no availability. As soon as we were able to, we had the seats made up into beds and tried to catch some shut-eye. Before we knew it we had landed, disembarked, collected our bags and were enroute to the Villa in the hotel car. With our excitement building, the two hour drive passed quickly.
Situated between Verona and Brescia, Lake Garda is actually the largest lake in Italy. With its breathtaking beauty, it is not surprising that it has long been a popular destination for tourists.
Upon arrival to the hotel, we were welcomed by an eager staff who whisked away our luggage and handed me a small bouquet of roses. This was to be the start of truly sublime service. Our first glimpse of the Villa’s interior was impressive. We were quickly taken up the marble stairway to our room. Midway we stopped to admire these spectacular stained glass windows.At the top of the stairs we were met with this lovely space, directly adjacent to the entrance to our suite.We had been assigned the Fiorentina suite on the 1st floor.The room was classic in it’s decor, and immaculate. We did not have a view of the lake, though in all honesty I’m not certain when I made the reservation I paid attention to this detail. The hotel consists of just 20 rooms, including four cottages. I was advised to stay in the main Villa, and assured there were no bad rooms.
Simple yet sophisticated, our room had high ceilings and comfortable, tasteful furniture. Awaiting us in our room were welcome snacks as well as a stocked refrigerator replete with complimentary beverages.￼
Would we like our bags unpacked? Absolutely!
Stocked with my favorite Acqua di Parma amenities, the bathroom was just perfect.
After washing up, we left our bags in good hands and wandered down for a late lunch.
Upon entry to the interior dining area, we opted to eat outside on the terrace.
The terracotta color scheme was fun yet classic, steeped in Venetian influence. We sat at a table for two looking out over the lake. To our left we glimpsed the hotel pool. I was literally in heaven, and we hadn’t been there for more than 30 minutes. Not ones to waste time, we settled on our lunch selections and ordered a Negroni and some wine to accompany our orders. The restaurant at the Villa has been awarded 2 Michelin stars. While hotel guests have priority, the public is welcome for lunch and dinner.
As it was already close to 2 pm and we were eating at the hotel for dinner, we opted for a light lunch.
A Salad Nicoise for me and Risotto for my husband.
The ingredients were exquisite, as was the execution and service. Concluding the meal, we indulged in a cappuccino and espresso accompanied by some treats which satisfied our sweet tooth.
Now that we were energized, it was time to explore the grounds. As you will see, there is no need for captions, the photos speak for themselves.
Words seem inadequate to capture the utter perfection. This hotel just gets it right in every category.After marveling at the beauty outside, we took a closer look inside, where we found no shortage of inviting spots to linger.This little bar tucked away in the sitting room was splendid.Having brought loads of books, we were looking forward to parking ourselves either inside or outside to relax and read. In keeping with our already grand experience, upon re-entry to our room, we found everything hung, organized, and put away. What a treat. Not a single detail, big or small, was overlooked during our stay.
We had reserved a table at 8 pm, so we headed downstairs and found ourselves back on the terrace. It was cooler, and the staff provided us with cashmere blankets in case we got cold. We ordered some wine and decided on our dinner. Of all the delicious dishes we sampled, the Salmon Trout salad with apple and cucumber was the standout. It looked like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. Every bite was a surprise.My salad was also artistically composed, with the quality of each ingredient shining through. For our mains we each had pasta with porcini mushrooms (mine was gluten free). The texture of the pasta, the ratio of the butter, the earthiness of the mushrooms all added up to an extremely pleasurable dining experience. We “shared” the cheese plate for dessert (I ate most of it).This meal hit every high note, resulting in an unequivocal Four Star rating.
Following our meal, we walked around the property to aid in digestion; bearing witness to a view just as good at night as during the day.Having been told of a unique nighttime surprise in the rooms, when we returned we discovered just what it was.I’m not sure how the rose petals affect the plumbing, but it certainly made us smile.
We had an outstanding first day, as Villa Feltrinelli surpassed our expectations on every count.
At around 9:30 we resumed our spot on the terrace for breakfast, (the rates at the hotel include breakfast). We were brought an assortment of pastries and goodies, and then chose from a small menu.The poached eggs with tomato sauce and prosciutto were an excellent way to begin the day.Following breakfast we returned to the room to find our laundry from the night before cleaned, pressed, and wrapped up like a present. The housekeepers collected the laundry twice a day and returned it back as good as new. Our plan for our first full day was to explore the small town of Gargnano, just a ten minute walk down a picturesque road.
The small town was exceedingly clean and charming, catering to a wide range of tourists. There are plenty of restaurants, as there is a ferry stop bringing visitors to and from other parts of the Lake for a visit. It is pretty sleepy town, with not much to do besides strolling and eating. After a quick exploration we stopped for lunch at a small spot that was far more crowded than anywhere else, with a high proportion of locals. It was the Pizzeria Centomiglia .It was not on par with the Villa Feltrinelli, but it was pretty good! My husband has rarely met a pizza he didn’t like.This Greek Salad was packed with veggies, which left room for…. Gelato!There is no question in my mind that Dark Chocolate Gelato is heart healthy.We did have the opportunity to try two other restaurants in Gargnano during our stay. One evening we dined at Ristorante La Mingla which is an adorable spot with just one communal table inside (there is more seating outside, but you most certainly want to dine inside for the full experience). La Mingla is run by a husband and wife duo, Marco being the chef, and his wife Mara running the service. The experience is relaxed and fun, and most importantly the couple embraces the slow food movement; insisting that all the ingredients are entirely local. The other diners we sat with were not too fun, but we had a lovely time nonetheless. The food was tasty, and there was such pride in their presentation that it made made the evening worthwhile. My husband had another pizza, this time the crust was infused with charcoal. They gave him a large pair of scissors to cut it with.
When it was time for dessert I opted for the chocolate salami, safe for vegetarians!We tried another family owned spot called Aeolus, and again the pride in the ingredients and presentation was paramount. The owner was there and took our orders as well as gave lots of helpful suggestions. The (gluten free) pasta with swordfish was tasty. I am grateful that the restaurants in Italy are willing to substitute gluten free pasta for traditional, which was not always the case. As you can see there are several pleasant spots to dine within close proximity to the Villa, and I was glad we explored, but next time we may find ourselves not needing to venture out.
Walking back from town you need to pass through a gorgeous set of gates, and then you know you are back in paradise.On our second full day we decided to do a day trip in Verona. It is less than a two hour drive, and we hadn’t been in many years. Our driver picked us up at around 9:45 so we could make it there in time for lunch.
We spent some time walking and exploring the city. There are stunning sights in every direction which were made all the more striking with the glorious weather.
Verona has its very own Roman Amphitheater which is now used for open air Opera performances. Unfortunately there was no performance scheduled while we were visiting.
One spot that attracts masses of tourists is Juliet’s Balcony. Sadly, the gum wall and graffiti detract a bit, but there is no deterring the throngs of sightseers and selfie takers.There was no chance to snap a picture of the empty balcony, so these folks will serve as stand-ins for Juliet.After walking a good distance we headed towards our lunch spot, Trattoria Pane e Vino . The restaurant was not on the central square, and had many more locals than tourists. The restaurant prides itself on it’s selection of cured and sliced meats, so we made sure to order a sampler. They had a bottle of our favorite Dal Forno Valpolcella , so we happily paired that with our lunch.The menu lists several dishes that feature horse meat, though we couldn’t bring ourselves to try them.A dish of polenta with mushrooms and cheese was a decidedly Northern Italian one. It was rich and satisfying.
The Risotto cooked in Amarone was fantastic. It was pleasing not only to the eye, but also to the palate. We lingered a while, and then set out to walk off our lunch a bit. We did another spin around the city, and then got in the car to head back to the hotel. We were glad we ventured out, it was a good day trip.
Upon returning to the hotel we enjoyed a cocktail, complete with small snacks. We knew our time was limited, so we were growing a bit sad.After dinner we found a surprise waiting (in addition to the rose petals in the toilet), a bedtime work of art. Our plan for the last day was to enjoy breakfast, pack (I was hoping they would offer to pack us up, but they didn’t), and then read. We had a car picking us up at 2 o’clock to head to the Piedmont area, so we would be able to have a last lunch at the hotel.
At breakfast they brought me a gluten free carrot cake made with almond flour that was delectable. I’m glad I discovered it at the end of the trip!I balanced the cake with the fresh fruit so all was good.We enjoyed one more session reading by the pool and soaking in the atmosphere.For our final lunch we decided to eat in the back of the hotel so we could enjoy a different view of the lake. I had to have another plate of the pasta with mushrooms, as it really was that good.
While we looked forward to our next stop in Piedmont for the opening of the annual Truffle Festival, we were sad to leave! Generally, even at the most highly regarded hotels, I am hypercritical, and find faults whether big or small. Amazingly, Villa Feltrinelli had no missteps. It was as close to perfection as I have experienced in a very long time. It is pricey, but I think the expense is well worth it for a special occasion. I know we will be back.