Switch your mind into screen-saver mode at modernist aparthotel Laqua by the Lake. Its setting – by the silvery waters of Lake Orta, buffered by the misty tree-flocked mountains of Piedmont’s natural parks – spurs idle reveries, while treks, ski sessions and all manner of water-based fun give some oomph to escapism. Lake-side residences of this calibre (dressed in travertine, marble and locally sourced wood) are a rare luxury in this glamorous lacustrine region, and offer romance with a rooftop Jacuzzi or family-friendly seclusion with a huge private garden, as you wish. Celebrity chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo oversees dining, a beach club lets you feel the sand between your toes and a breathing coach brings home that sense of calm; and underlining it all is that tune-in-and-switch-off view.
Get this when you book through us:
Priority booking for the restaurant, early check-in and late check-out, and a personalised welcome with a handwritten note from star chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo and a homemade pastry
Double rooms from £225.53 (€260), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a generous Italian breakfast.
When it comes to food recommendations, we’ll happily take the word of a man who’s reached the upper echelons of cooking glory, written several cookbooks and appeared on Masterchef Italia. The lobby boutique sells some of chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo’s favourite things: prosecco, limoncello, red tuna, bottarga, olive oil, rice… And pastry creations such as plum cake, pistachio or honey torte, and mojito-infused rum babas to take home. Plus, you can get copies of his book and – curiously – a chef teddy bear for kids.
At the hotel
Beach club with a sand-dusted sun terrace, jetties, e-boat, paddleboards, e-bikes to hire (for an extra charge), lobby boutique, free WiFi. In rooms: Satellite TV, coffee machine, air-conditioning, bathrobes, Etro bath products. Most apartments have a private balcony or terrace, some have a garden, and Penthouses have a Jacuzzi.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the 18 apartments has been decorated in luxurious style, using high-quality materials inspired by the surroundings: travertine floors, Crittall windows, marble, stone and natural wood, to create modern spaces with an organic feel. We especially like the tables that look like polished tree stumps, vases of wildflowers and textured wooden feature walls.There are two choices of view: the garden or the lake, of which the latter is the comelier. Things get more cinematic in the penthouses, which have a water-water-everywhere panorama and a roof terrace with a Jacuzzi.
The beach club’s heated infinity pool sits at the lake edge, appearing to flow into the water below. The view as you do laps is quite distracting, with Alpine drama above the water level and peek-a-boo historic villas emerging from lush greenery. And, when you’ve towelled off, you can recline on one of the white-cushioned sun-beds set on floating platforms in the water, or those on a higher tier to ensure everyone gets an eyeful of view. Staff will happily deliver wine, cocktails and snacks to your side. Things occasionally get quite active, with aquatic aerobics, Pilates on paddleboards, or guided relaxation. The lake’s waters are swimmable too; dive in from the beach club’s sandy-underfoot terrace. Lovers, take note, after-dark dips might be clothing optional.
It’s all the easier to persevere through yoga and Pilates stretches with a sparkling blue sight-for-sore-eyes to focus on. Personal trainers can put you through your paces on request. At the more serene end of wellness offerings, there’s a resident breathing coach to guide you into tranquility, and a full spa will be erected later on in the year.
Bring swimming and watersports gear as well as a headscarf for keeping hair coiffed while speeding over the water.
The hotel frequently holds sociable cheese- and wine-tasting events.
Bambini are very welcome, and having an apartment with a full kitchen gives families a lot more space and flexibility. Junior water babies in particular will thrill at the choice of swimming spots and splash-happy activities.
The privacy of the apartments makes them suitable for all ages; those with babies and younger children will find them especially useful.
The Family Suite Garden View has a generously sized green space where kids can safely run around, and a glimpse of lake too. It sleeps up to four.
Hire the e-boat for a family jaunt into Orta San Giulio or to Lake Orta’s waterfall; borrow a fleet of e-bikes to zip about the surroundings (warning, terrain can get hilly); or juniors, tweens and teens can head out on the water for paddleboarding, wakeboarding and such. Kids from three months to 15 years also get to act like dolphins in the pool during aquaticity sessions.
Swim-confident kids can splash about in the heated pool; parents can easily keep an eye on them from the floating sunloungers.
For drinks, gather at the semi-circle sofa set overlooking the water on the dining terrace, or set your glass down by a sunlounger. For dining, perhaps a private meal on your balcony.
Lean into the lake’s poetry with dresses that flow like verse. Gents, tailoring is a must by the beach, too.
Chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo has garnered Michelin stars and plaudits aplenty at Villa Crespi, an extravagant Moorish residence, close by in Orta San Giulio. But, this prolific restaurateur and food writer is slowly conquering the shores of Lake Orta and the wider region, one hungry punter at a time, with his range of Laqua resorts, elegant bistros, pastry bottega, street-food stop and online deli. And, if you need more proof of his culinary prowess, you can frequently catch him on Masterchef Italia. But, that’s not the only credit to his name: we’d bestow it in spades for the wonderfully simple and locality-evoking cookery at Laqua on the Lake. While sat looking across the glittering expanse of Lake Orta, try beef tartare with champagne sauce and oysters, pizzaiola-style baccalà in an octopus jus, seafood pastas and fresh catches. The dining room, made from clean-edged blocks of smoky wood and white concrete, itself looks like a stylish table rising from the garden, but it’s all about going alfresco here – Lake Orta earned the nickname la Cenerentola (Cinderella) for its underdog status and immense beauty. If you want to try your hand at an Italian feast, there’s a supermarket just a five-minute walk away where you can stock up your kitchen.
The bar is on the dining terrace, but drinks can be ferried about the place to your whims.
Breakfast can be delivered to your room and on request (and for an extra charge) the hotel can send a private chef along to alleviate cooking duties.
Laqua by the Lake sits in a small private bay on the eastern bank of Lake Orta (a little sister to lakes Como and Maggiore) in Italy’s picturesque northern water world, in the Piedmont region, a short drive north of Milan.
Milan Malpensa is the closest, an hour’s drive to the south. Flights arrive here direct from major cities throughout Europe and some further afield.
Handily, well-connected Pettenasco train station is right outside the hotel. The journey from Milan via Novara takes around two-and-a-half hours, and trains arrive here from all neighbouring countries and Italy’s big-ticket cities.
A car will come in very handy here, unless you become so transfixed by Lake Orta you find it hard to tear yourself away (easily done). It’ll give you the freedom to scope out the scenes in Milan and Turin, glide along the timelessly scenic borders of Como and Maggiore and seesaw through the velvety mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Val Grande. Each apartment at the hotel has private parking and you can acquire a set of wheels at Malpensa.
Worth getting out of bed for
Lake Orta is the little sister to some of Italy’s more statuesque lakes at around 14 kilometres long, but it still holds a king’s ransom of treasures to explore, for which Italians would prefer to keep it on the DL. Its edges are buffered by rollicking mountains and deep-pile forest, and studded with palazzos in sugar-almond pastels. Of the medieval villages that dot the sides, Orta San Giulio might be the most charming, with its cobbled streets, convivial squares and terracotta rooftops. Life moves at a slow pace here, but the village has a lively series of events throughout the year: a jazz festival from June to September, Ortissima art festival in July, a romantic poetry festival in October and an ancient-music festival held in the 18th-century Casa Tallone on the island of San Giulio, a petite outpost with a fresco-clad basilica at its heart. While in the village, climb Sacro Monte to see a collection of picturesque chapels dedicated to Frances of Assisi and capture the photo-op view at the top. And stop by the curious ‘painted village’ of Legro, which is coated with scenes from the works of children’s storybook writer Gianni Rodari. In winter, skiing is possible on the slopes of Monte Mottarone to the north; come summer it’s a very pleasant hike with a view of the seven lakes awaiting you at the top. All lakes – Maggiore and Como are both just a short drive away and worth circumnavigating – are well served for waterskiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, tubing and, of course, whipping across the water in a speedboat like an old-school Cinecittà star. Or, hop in the hotel’s more sustainable e-boat (at an extra charge) for a jaunt out to Lake Orta’s crystal-clear waterfall or the village; they have a stash of paddleboards too. Follow up in suitably glamorous style by sunning yourself on the shell-shaped shore of the Orta Beach Club, which also has pedalos, a restaurant with molto moreish fresh pasta and a cocktail bar.
Explore Laqua on the Lake chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo’s range by booking at Villa Crespi in Orta San Giulio. It’s here where he scored two Michelin stars for his menu inspired by his roots in Campania and local Piedmontese dishes – a north-south mix that results in creations such as linguine with squid and rye-bread sauce or eel with endive and oranges. Placed at the edge of the medieval village on the peninsula, Locanda di Orta’s terrace has just one table for two with sweeping views out over the lake and mountains. This is one of the oldest buildings here, but the menu is remarkably modern, serving up savoury hard candies with comté and snail ragout, or potato croissant with saffron, marrow, mustard and caviar. And Al Boeuc (28 Via Bersani) has superlative small plates (order the bruschette and a selection of charcuterie) in unpretentious surroundings.
In a corner of the piazza you’ll find Pan & Vino (37 Piazza Motta). The signs stating ‘no pizza, pasta or paninis’ show its dedication to authenticity and they specialise in platters to pick at and dinky sandwiches. For dessert, cross the square to their gelateria.
We arrived in Pettenasco, a small and verdant hilly village on the edge of Lake Orta, a little over an hour northwest of Milan, at about 7pm. It was the middle of July, we’d come in by train (a plane, a bus, and three trains to be precise) from London via Linate. It was humid, dusk had fallen what felt like prematurely; the last light obscured by dark rain clouds. The air was heavy and we were knackered.
A short cab ride dropped us down from the implausibly pretty train station to Lacqua by the Lake – a stepped cream and brown edifice which recalls Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater – on an otherwise innocuous back lane, just off the main road running through the village.
A large wooden gate seems to purposefully protect the privacy of the small estate. We buzzed for reception and the gates opened slowly before a revelation: straight ahead, we could now see the magnificent blue of the lake itself, and through the mist just about make out the hills on its far side. To our right, the pristine infinity pool, the terraced garden, and the glass-fronted restaurant overlooking it all.
Suddenly to our left, a slight, sprightly young man we would later learn was called Andrea skipped towards us, arms flailing, a mop of unruly blonde curls bopping above his smiling face.
‘Ciao! ‘ello! Owww arrrr you-ah?’ he said in perfectly-accented Italian English.
His cheeriness and levity seemed at odds with the unbearable weight of the atmosphere and storm clouds gathering over the lake. But in a single moment, he had made us feel welcome. Andrea would appear, intermittently, and with the same boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm, during the course of our 48 hours in the hotel.
He even appeared, as if by magic, in the local pizzeria a couple of hours after our arrival. Andrea’s colleague – a more serious but no less personable, professional, nor hospitable front-of-house by the name of Davide – had convincingly persuaded us to make the short walk down the road to Vecchio Forno, a restaurant specialising in Neapolitan-style pizzas.
Andrea was there picking up a takeaway for himself and colleagues, which was oddly disarming, but encouraging. It’s difficult to know the extent to which these experiences are governed by circumstance – in truth, I often wonder whether circumstance is the point – but, regardless, it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten.
Technically, it was excellent – the dough, the cook, the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients – but the moment, too, was just right. We’d spent what felt like an age travelling, and it hadn’t been easy. We needed to be comforted and nourished.
The storm eventually came: a crashing of thunder and lightning all through the night. By the morning the sun we’d hoped to see had come out. And then, by 1pm, the clouds had gathered again. It stormed again. Torrential rain then gave way to glorious sunshine, not a cloud in the sky – which would last for the remainder of the day. Our moods, too, had changed. We lay beneath the hot sun, we slept, we swam, we read.
From the moment we arrived until the moment we checked out, Lacqua by the Lake was immaculate: from the manner of the staff, the temperature of the rooms, the weight of the bedding, to the space inside the walk-in shower; from the calming, smoky scent emanating from the reed diffusers in reception, to the cans of sparkling water dispensed by the pool.
Small touches, too, didn’t go unnoticed. Apparently specially made Etro toiletries came in metal tubes. ‘It’s nice not to handle plastic,’ Mrs Smith observed.
Everything feels like it’s designed to make relaxing as, well, relaxing as possible. It’s a space in which you can make your own experience; present are the conditions necessary for rest, recovery, and fun.
All of which are practised or facilitated by its staff, whether that’s Andrea, Davide (who told us he’d spent his day off swimming in the lake), or Aysun ‘Suni’ Brey, the personal trainer who put us through out paces on the opening morning with a so-called ‘stretching’ session (more like tough pilates); or Khiali, who stewarded the area by the pool with humour as well as seriousness.
If I’m honest, we did raise an eyebrow at the €15 side of (good) fries for Mrs Smith’s caesar salad, and the slightly under-seasoned €25 club sandwich, and for those of us who like music, the slowed-down, slightly naff covers of songs which deserve better diluted the atmosphere a little. But the locally made LaTresca bionda beer was much more interesting and enjoyable. And dinner, meanwhile, is clever and, in places, dishes from the set tasting menu can be delicious.
Inevitably, you could say, guests here are surrounded by wealth – of water, of the elements, of activities to choose from, and that of other guests. As such, it made me think of two films by the Oscar-winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino: the Roman decadence of La Grande Bellezza, and the slow, faintly tragic convalescence seen in the Swiss Alps in Youth.
The thing is, for better or worse, Sorrentino’s films and their subjects are mesmerising. And so is Lacqua by the Lake – through all of its people and its place, both in and on the edge of nature, it will take you in and you will leave feeling different.