I’ve been to enough weddings to know that rain on your wedding day doesn’t necessarily a happy bride make. But ask a superstitious Italian, and instead of cursing the rain clouds, you’ll embrace the special day downpour – your soaking instead believed to be a symbol of fertility and cleansing, luck and love drenching you from the skies.
Indeed, we arrived at Hotel Splendid, in the Italian town of Baveno, in torrential rain. As did a large wedding party who’d flown in from far and wide to celebrate in a way that sometimes it seems only the Italians can. That finessed fusion of sophistication and fun, of endlessly good food, flowing wine and their contagious Mediterranean spirit. The hotel promised to provide this in abundance. Did it matter that more rain was forecast for their wedding day? Was it going to dampen gowns and moods? Assolutamente no!
After congratulating the soon-to-be newly-weds, I couldn’t help but pour forth admiration on their choice of venue. Thor could let rip from above and still Hotel Splendid would stay faithful to its name.
The reception is an appetizer of mirrors and marble overlooking the enticing expanse of Lake Maggiore. Pride of place is a bronze bust of Aldo Zacchera, a member of the Zacchera family who founded what is now one of the leading hotel groups in Italy. Hotel Splendid is one of five of the group’s hotels on Lake Maggiore, with unrivalled views. It took an enormous amount of restraint not to head straight to the bar (half of it tucked inside, half of it exposed to the (usually) sunlit terrace) to elegantly quaff aperol spritz. To unpack and refresh was first on the list – and so we followed the densely-decorated corridors, heavy, flouncing curtains and stern portraits of important-looking people to our room. It was as if we’d been given the key to the top tier of a wedding cake and moved in. Sponge-coloured walls, piped-icing curtains, fruit-inspired paintings good enough to eat. Yet this was no sickly cake – rather, it was satisfyingly sweet. A just-the-right bounce bed, plenty of space to fling flip-flops and summer dresses, a bathroom yawning with space, its underwater-themed mosaic adding another artistic zing. Many of the balconies directly overlook the lake – and while I wished ours had too (room envy, anyone?), we still had a musn’t-grumble view over the mountains, the outdoor pool beckoning below.
It would have been rude not to make the most of the brilliant facilities on offer, and pronto! I’m not a water girl (yes, I’m one of those who, only when it reaches 40 degrees, may be tempted to dip half my big toe into the sea) but this was just too lovely to miss. A small-but-perfectly-formed pool with sun loungers and the lure of a post-lap chill-out in the Health Club. This means paying an extra €10 each, but it’s worth it. We were the only people in there, and it was bliss. There’s a deck-chair and sand-pit salt room, hydro massage bath, sauna and steam room – everything you need for a rejuvenating detox. Relaxing in the calm, silent heat with my book was heaven. You’re tucked away underground here, but far from feeling claustrophobic, there’s instead a sense of escape, of leaving tourist-centric Baveno behind you, and steaming and melting your aches and pains away.
The hotel itself has the feel-good factor in abundance – emanating largely from the staff themselves. From reception smiles to the “and what would you like tonight, Madame?” at dinner, there was no hospitality hiccup. A break in the rain granted us dinner on the terrace – and for that, dear Thor, I was grateful. To have left without experiencing the pure delight of dining on the long, elegant terrace, with the soothing grace of the lake for company, would have been almost unforgivable. After quashing my pasta-urges back home so I could appreciate Italy’s offerings all the more, my dinner anticipation was multiplied. And having done at least fifteen steps on the gym’s cross-trainer and approximately four and a half sit-ups, this was surely ample to justify a multi-course dinner, sì?
We had a delectably serene meal of ravioli with saffron cream, smoked bacon and flakes of Castelmagno, risotto with champagne and clams, roasted octopus, tomato jam, parsley pesto and sesame bread… And that’s before the main courses (perhaps I should have upped my game in the gym). The New Zealand lamb cutlets grilled with wild mint, and fillets of perch in breadcrumbs with sage leaves and seasonal vegetables came highly recommended – and we weren’t disappointed. If I hadn’t been so stuffed I could have eaten the same thing for a week. This food was as delicious as the view.
Breakfast had a different feel entirely. The big dining hall had erupted into a bustling hive of hungry tummies, holiday smiles (and, for some of the guests, pre-wedding nerves). For those of you who find it hard to make a decision first thing, you’ll have a problem here. There is everything to choose from: fresh fruit, yogurts, croissants with their pastry cheeks bulging with chocolate, cream or apricot. There were scrambled eggs, spinach, meats, muesli, and a separate gluten-free section of biscuits and cereals. My request for soya milk was met with an “of course we have it”, and the freshly squeezed orange juice machine had me going back again and again. If any breakfast is going to set you up for the day, then this one will.
We planned our days to be a happy balance of relaxation and exploring, and we were perfectly positioned to do just that. The hotel’s private beach is pristine, soft and sandy, and dotted with sun loungers - ideal for a spot of paddling (yes, I managed to submerge more than a single toe), or indeed for hiring a paddle or two and jumping into a canoe or boat.
If you don’t fancy doing your own steering, then step on board one of the many nearby boats heading to the fairytale islands cocooned in Lake Maggiore’s arms. Isola Bella is just a few minutes from shore – a teeny tiny island with history as long as the strands of pasta I guzzled at one of its restaurants, Il Fornello. Here is a deli and a snug stone restaurant all in one, with a view tasty enough to tug your eyes away from even the yummiest-looking dish. From there it’s just a short hop to Isola dei Pescatori – an island of multi-coloured pasta and pitter-patter footsteps on cobbled streets; the perfect spot for a ‘wish you were here’ picture.
Hotel Splendid is just that. A place you wish you could gather all your loved ones all at once, to dine, to sip, to swim, to pause for a moment and watch as night pours tranquillity over this majestic landscape.
This is exactly what the wedding party did. They came from all corners of the world to celebrate a beautiful couple saying “I do”. And of all the places to say it, this is surely up there with the best. Rain, or no rain.
For more information, or to book a room, visit: http://zaccherahotels.com/en/