It’s a real pleasure to stay in a family-run hotel, as the attention to detail and personalized welcome makes such a difference. Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola, Lugano, is a five star property located within its own subtropical park and a member of Small Luxury Hotels. It was originally built in 1880 by a Russian noble family, the Von Witters to be their Winter residence, before being bought by a Swiss family in 1885 and transformed into a renowned hotel. The Garzoni family from Lugano acquired it in 1982 and have been overseeing its continuous evolution ever since. They added fourth and fifth floors as well as a conference centre, and in 2002 they bought another lakeside property, Hotel du Midi. They transformed this into the Art Residence, with Michelin starred Gallery Arté al Lugano on the ground floor.
First Impressions of Villa Castagnola
Arriving at Villa Castagnola, you can’t help but be blown away by it’s lakeside location and huge garden with its striking artworks. Let’s take a little tour, shall we?
The owners are passionate art collectors and there are some beautiful works inside the hotel as well as in the gardens. I loved this bronze horse sculpture by the late local artist Nag Arnoldi, as well as this seated man by Fabrizio Loschi, the knotty creation by Miguel Ortiz Berrocal and the tall figurines by Ivo Soldini.
Accommodation at Villa Castagnola
Our Suite had a large balcony with two sun loungers as well as a table and chairs from which to admire the lakeside view. The original owner had the foresight to build the villa in an L shape, so all the rooms are South facing. Every room is decorated in a different style, but they all contain stylish artworks. Ours had some really elegant Art Deco style furniture and all mod cons including a safe, flat screen TV, well stocked mini bar and complimentary WiFi. You couldn’t hear a sound at night and thanks to the comfy bed we slept like logs – there’s even a pillow menu. Our bathroom was well stocked with Clarins toiletries, fluffy bathrobes and slippers. There was a lovely basket of fresh fruit, and homemade truffles given in the turn-down service.
You really notice a woman’s touch in the little decorative details like fresh orchids and coffee table books in the bedrooms.
Lunch at Gallery Arté al Lago
Gallery Arté Lago is the only Michelin starred restaurant in Lugano and has held it since 2010, and celebrates 15 years of fine dining this year. The uninterrupted lakeside view is as much a star as the cuisine. It’s also an art gallery with temporary exhibitions adorning the interior and all the pieces are for sale. When we visited, there were some very striking works on display including the red and blue butterfly piece that fits so well with the decor.
Chef Frank Oerthle excels at creating healthy yet extremely tasty dishes, such as this carpaccio of zander fish with Perigord truffle, quails eggs and Pak cho, and these parsley dumplings in a ragout sauce.
Each course really is an artwork – just take a look at this succulent duet of seabass and John Dory with tomato couscous. There’s an extensive wine list, and Maître Andreas Keller and his colleagues will advise you as to what works best with each dish.
…although they had saved the best until last, this spectacular strawberry mousse with pomegranate sorbet and chocolate sauce!
Dinner at Le Relais
Back in the villa, Le Relais is the perfect place to dine. Rated 15 by Gault&Millau, it has a classic yet contemporary feel, with a terrace for outdoor dining when the weather warms up.
The staff, including Maître D Emilio Del Fante, are brilliant and extremely accommodating. For example, the couple behind us were enjoying the rest of their wine bottle from the night before. It’s rare to find a restaurant offering to keep your unfinished bottle for you until your next meal but here every request is met with a smile and a can-do attitude. We were the first diners to try the new 5 course tasting menu, launched that evening. Our first course was a tender Spring terrine with pigeons and morels, wild blackberries and toasted brioche.
The wines recommended by the sommelier accompanied our dinner beautifully, with many being from the local area of Ticino.
Chef Christian Bertogna and his team have concocted a delicious menu with many decorative touches. For example, our saffron risotto was made even more appetizing by the addition of zucchini flowers, crescenza cheese and caviar pearls. Crispy langoustine tail with fresh vegetables was enlivened with sweet and sour mayonnaise, maple syrup and fennel. My favourite course might well have been the delicious buffalo with asparagus and rye bread.
However, the dessert came pretty close too – a totally unique combination of goats cheese mousse with honey, kiwi fruit and tropical sorbet.
There’s a fantastic buffet with a wide array of hot and cold dishes including tasty scrambled eggs and a dangerous amount of cakes ;-).
We also tried out room service to make the most of this view…
Amenities at Villa Castagnola
The lounge is the heart of the hotel and has a stylish yet homely feel, with timber beams, chandeliers and beautiful tapestries.
The centrepiece is the eye-catching antique fireplace – you can take a seat inside it and enjoy the fire.
The hotel has its own access to a charming little chapel, which is also frequented by locals on certain days of the week. It’s available for private hire when not being used for services and would make a lovely wedding or christening venue. There’s also a cosy bar and a well-equipped Conference centre that is decorated in the same stylish manner as the rest of the hotel. No dry and dull conference rooms here, these have garden terraces, original artworks and even an aquarium in the main hall.
Another of the Villa’s interesting features are the 2 original working phones that are just made for a photo opportunity.
The spa is a real highlight of Villa Castagnola. We knew that it had a huge swimming pool with sliding doors giving direct access to the gardens. It was slightly chilly for me as I’m a wimp, but that didn’t stop Paul from doing a few lengths.
However we didn’t realize that there are also 2 saunas at differing temperatures, 2 caldariums (that’s steam rooms to you and I!) and a lovely relaxation area.
And not only that, there’s a games room for children, a fitness room, Clarins Beauty Corner and several relaxation areas.
The other star attraction is the private lido on Lake Lugano. In Summertime, guests can take a dip directly from the Villa’s own jetty, or simply relax on the sun loungers. The views from here are simply stunning.
There’s also a large clay tennis court for those wanting to keep fit.
There’s a funicular that will take you up to Mont Bre in the Summer, located right next to the Villa.
You simply must take a stroll along the lake into Lugano with its picturesque town centre and luxurious shops. We had a lovely walk there with Paul’s father who lives locally.
We have lots more suggestions for you as to what to see in Lugano and the area of Ticino, so make sure that you allow yourself plenty of time here. Although with such a fabulous hotel experience, we wouldn’t blame you if you hardly leave Villa Castagnola!
What we liked about Villa Castagnola
- Charming and highly professional staff
- Gastronomic delights at Gallery Arté Al Lago and Le Relais
- Superb spa facilities
- Incredible lakeside view
Have you ever been to Lugano? What is your favourite feature of Villa Castagnola?
Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola, Viale Castagnola 31, 6906 Lugano, Switzerland