As a little girl, with an imagination larger than my wildly untamed hair (my hairbrush refusal was my mother’s morning battle), I often wondered what it would be like to skip right into a kaleidoscope. An imagined sugar-rush, spinning-tea-cup-ride surge of delight as every kind of colour and shape danced their flamboyant, unrehearsed, flamenco routine.
Stepping into the Grand Hotel Dino, in the town of Baveno, brought this long-forgotten daydream right back to me. A sprawling reception of rainbow-coloured stained glass domes, chunky, deep red tapestries and tiling glinting beneath show-off chandeliers. From here you can see the bar, waiting like a handsome pocket-watch wearing gentleman, for your negroni, martini, whatever-suits-your-mood order.
Grand staircases and vast corridors tempt you in all directions. But it’s far too tricky exploring with a giant suitcase in tow (and with a partner on the verge of letting his hour-without-snacking hunger get the better of him). Custard cream walls and cherry carpets guided us to our bedroom. The room's narrow, thin corridor reminded me of my athletics days – a long-jump run-up, the bed a sandpit substitute, the view from our balcony as satisfying as a supporter-filled stadium. There was Lake Maggiore, an un-airbrushed, no-make-up-needed A-lister. Alongside her strolled arm-in-arm friends, playful, zig-zagging children and let’s-take-a-moment lovers, letting their evenings begin.
Peeling my eyes away from people-watching, we set ourselves the not-unsubstantial challenge of matching Dino’s flamboyance. Gold and black heels, sparkling vintage jump suit (thank you for having such great taste, Mother!), sharp shirt, polished Brogues. We were ready for our dinner – in an egg.
You see, I’d heard about the Last Hall restaurant, an alternative to the hotel’s main dining area. The food had come highly recommended, as had choosing to dine in one of the egg-shaped constructions; a cosy wooden-contoured shell, that comes at a slightly higher dining cost. It’s the perfect spot to absorb the ambience radiating from merry diners and to watch the superb guitarist and the comings-and-goings of the exceedingly welcoming staff.
Our meal opened with fiore di zucchini fritto farcito di acciuga e mozzarella (that’s fried zucchini flowers stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella for those joining me on the ‘I wish I could speak Italian…’ front). These scrumptious flowers were sampled alongside marinated beef with herbs and Robiola cheese with pink pepper – a delightful start to dinner. Gnocchetti (I think this is one of my new favourite Italian words) with braised leeks and prawns, and ravioli with basil and perch ragout was up next, every mouthful made even more delicious by our egg-status.
One of my little pleasures in life is sampling a recommended dish, and our waiters were more than happy to share their favourites. Thus followed our main dishes of suckling pig with spicy salt and seasonal vegetables, served with a zesty chilli pepper sauce, and perch freshly caught from Lake Maggiore herself (she’s not just a pretty face).
Like so many Italian dinners, this was a luxuriously long, unrushed affair. We spooned lazily into our dark chocolate mousse with candied orange, and savoured each delve into the blueberry tartlet with mascarpone cream and white chocolate. When I thought the chefs couldn’t possibly have any more treats up their sleeve, a beautiful glass bubble of a bowl was presented, with little pockets of petits fours for us to dip into as we sipped our dessert wine. Pure gluttony, without the guilt. It was far too delicious for that.
After a long, uninterrupted sleep, I decided to make the most of my fresh-as-a-daisy feeling and indulge in the facilities pre-breakfast. There was only one other person in Hotel Dino’s brilliantly-equipped gym. Music on, weights lifted, cross-trainer tackled, rowing machine tugged, I then treated myself to the sauna and steamroom. Empty. I breathed in the heat and the silence and let my entire being relax. This doesn’t come naturally to me - but being here made it so much easier. I could have opted for either the indoor or outdoor pools (there is certainly plenty of space and choice), but Lake Maggiore was insistent. So, in I slipped. I will admit, the cool water was a shock to my system, but after a few moments I glided into what is definitely one of my favourite swims ever. The air felt nourishing, the water a top-to-toe refresh. It felt, somehow, that Lake Maggiore has the power to heal some of our mind’s stress-caused scars. Please, if you visit, go for that pre-breakfast dip.
Breakfast on the terrace followed. You can choose to eat inside the large dining hall – but if you’re lucky (or indeed, if you opt for a slightly later post-swim breakfast time), then you’ll find a free table on the terrace from where you can eat your scrambled eggs, freshly-baked croissants or indeed whatever takes your fancy (the Zacchera hotel group doesn't scrimp when it comes to breakfast). This breakfast, and this view, is all you need to energise your day.
The hotel has heaps on offer for tireless little infant legs, or tired legs wanting to do nothing but relax. There’s an abundance of space in the garden to run and play, sun-loungers, pools, sunny-spot tables, the grand bar with its picture-perfect balcony view. There are meeting rooms for hire, each one with its own colour-schemed personality, and sweeping, statement staircases. Grand Hotel Dino, I was initially surprised to discover, is connected to its less-fancy sister hotel, Hotel Simplon, although they are still two distinct, separate hotels. This adds to the feeling of space. If you want to find your own quiet spot, it won’t be a tough task.
Nor will discovering more delectable views. If you’ve got a head for heights, take the bucket-lift in Laveno Mombello. I felt incredibly privileged to be absorbing the surrounding beauty from my rickety cable car, and even more so to lunch on the edge of the mountain where my little ‘bucket’ dropped me off – a lunch accompanied by paragliders whooshing past and hang gliders flaunting their chilled, go-with-the-wind approach to life.
Lake Maggiore does views very well indeed. Just as the Zacchera hotel group, with Grand Hotel Dino as its crown, does hotels very well indeed. With more than 150 years’ experience in the tourism industry, there’s a reason its hotels have their reputation.
If you ever want to know how it feels to skip right into a kaleidoscope, you know where to go.
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