From the outside, Lido Palace, on the banks of Lake Garda, is the kind of blue-blooded, art nouveau-style building that would have once accommodated the noblesse on their Grand Tour. However, once you step over the threshold, there’s bold-hued avant-garde interiors designed by architect Alberto Cecchetto, hip haute cuisine, a vividly voguish spa and a neon-lit pool – still grand, but delightfully mod and inimitably Italian.
Noon, but flexible subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £204.75 (€240), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.30 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include a buffet breakfast. City tax (roughly €1.30 a person, each day) must be paid at check-out.
The 1,500sq m spa offers a collection of globetrotting treatments, including a Finnish sauna, Mediterranean bath, Indian massages and Native American stone treatments. Fine-dining chefs are usually fiercely protective of their recipes, but chef Giuseppe Sestito will happily share some of the secrets to his creations.
Annually for the winter season, from mid-January until early March.
At the hotel
Spa with sauna, steam room, chromatherapy suite and salt room; fitness room with weights, spa shop; library; lounge; and free WiFi. In-rooms: Flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player (on request), in-room music, daily fresh flowers, free mineral water and Acqua di Parma bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Deluxe room 111 is sultry and subtle, with chocolate-wood panels and walls, contrasted with crisp white designer furnishings (oh, and a lonely green cactus to mix things up); but its architectural bathroom is what makes it truly luxurious. Junior Suite 104 may lack Lake Garda views (however, the verdant greenery is a handsome consolation prize), but what it’s missing in ogle-worthy scenery it makes up for in palatial size.
Two. There’s a heated pool in the CXI Spa, which sits alongside the outdoor heated pool, separated by a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The outdoor pool is surrounded by day-beds and parasols on wooden decking, and is surrounded by the lush manicured gardens.
Swimwear is essential for the CXI Spa and for splashing around in the lake, if you do leave it behind, the spa shop has some elegant replacements. This trip is also the time to put that Stella McCartney for Adidas wear to the test (an old t-shirt and battered running shoes won’t cut it in this upscale establishment).
All common areas are wheelchair-accessible, there’s lift access to each floor and the hotel has several rooms suitable for disabled guests (Single Rooms have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms). Staff can arrange a personal trainer if needed.
The restaurant overlooks the gardens, which are a mix of manicured lawns and forested foothills, grab a seat by the window to gaze upon them as you eat. If it’s a balmy night, get a table on the balcony deck.
The hotel looks like the set for a fashion shoot, so even the flashiest of Italian labels are welcome. Tremani is a casual affair, but Il Re della Busa requires suits and something expensively elegant for Mrs Smith.
Tremani is the hotel’s more laid-back lunchtime eatery offering healthy imaginative meals. For intimate evening meals, Il Re della Busa is decadent and distinguished, with exquisitely rendered morsels of haute cuisine in sleek designer surroundings and backlit views of the grounds.
The Bali Bar is a unique space with watercolour-splashes on the feature walls and art nouveau frescoes on the ceiling.
Tremani opens for lunch from 12:15pm to 12:45pm, Il Re della Busa opens for dinner from 7:30pm to 10:30pm and the bar opens from 9:30am to 1:30am (or until the last guest leaves).
Available 24 hours a day. The menu is simple but satisfying, with ham and cheese sandwiches, vegetarian lasagne, a range of salads and fruit.
Lido Palace has secured a prime spot for staggering Lake Garda views, smack bang on the Lombardy coast. Being just steps from the lake’s north bank means swimming, windsurfing and sailing are on your doorstep and ancient Tyrolean towns close by.
Valerio Catullo di Verona Airport (www.aeroportoverona.it), just over an hour’s drive, is the closest international hub. Flights from major European, north African and Middle Eastern destinations land here; and transatlantic and Pacific flights connect at Frankfurt and Munich or Paris.
The Brenner railway, which runs from Verona, over the border (through some mountain scenery that will have you humming Sound of Music tunes) into Innsbruck, Austria. The nearest train station is in Rovereto, a half-hour drive from the hotel.
It’s not essential to drive in Lake Garda, but with sky-grazing mountain roads and a cheap but country-paced bus system, you’ll be thankful for some wheels. There are several hire car companies at Verona Airport and even though a purring Italian sports car might be a little bit of a stretch, any car will make the drive up to the hotel more glamorous, where valet parking awaits (included in the room rate).
Worth getting out of bed for
Lido Palace is surrounded by snow-capped peaks and Lake Garda, a natural beauty that has been praised by poets and wordsmiths since Roman times, with the likes of Catullus, Tennyson, Ezra Pound and DH Lawrence heaping lyrical praise on the region. Here, you can get active and bike ride or dive into the scenery, or simply stand and fall in love with the view. Mountain biking is very popular here, for good reason; after all it’s only real mountain biking if you do it on peaks over 2,000-metres high. Being privy to a bird’s-eye view of Lake Garda is another reason why cyclists tackle the ascending trails. Stroll along the north bank to Happy-Bike (+39 34 79 43 12 08) to pick up some (well, two) wheels. If that sounds a little tiring, Museo Alto Garda (+39 04 64 57 38 69) requires more intellectual engagement than physical exertion. Housed in a 12th-century fortress (with a drawbridge), this museum has a small art gallery and plenty of ancient artefacts. When you’ve digested the area’s past, see Lake Garda’s contemporary culture at Mart art gallery (+39 08 00 39 77 60) – where curious and colourful exhibitions show that Italy’s modern art is just as compelling as the Italian master’s. Trentino may be known for its culture, but it’s perhaps better known for its viticulture. Pinot Grigio and Cabernet are the big names here – but let’s be honest, all wine in this sunny vine-filled region will be above par. There are wineries aplenty in the area, but don’t limit yourself to just one, ask the hotel to arrange a wine tour to get better acquainted with the area’s liquid assets.
Ristorante Al Volte (+39 04 64 55 25 70) is a warm and welcoming eatery with crisp white-linen tablecloths and a fleet of red chairs. The decor may be traditional, but the menu throws up some surprising twists, which deviate from Italian staples, such as pumpkin soup with curry. A 10-minute drive from the hotel, Ristorante al Berlera (+39 04 64 52 11 49) is housed in a dramatic building that’s half brick-built, half rock-hewn, with a cave-set dining room that rivals Disney villainess abodes. A range of menus caters for different tastes, with typical and atypical Italian fare, serving concoctions such as bay-leaf sorbet, black truffle and potato soup and flourless warm-chocolate molten cake served with citrus sorbet.
Cristallo Caffe Gelateria (+39 04 64 55 38 44) lively café overlooking Riva la Garda’s cobbled main square, with views of the mountains in the distance. Themenu has snacks and cocktails – but really it’s all about the ice-cream: 60 kinds of enormous sundaes, fruit-laden sorbets as elaborately styled as an Arcimboldo painting and 30 flavours to choose from make this the (ice) crème de la crème of dessert choices in the area.
Birreria Maffei (+39 04 64 55 36 70) is a decidedly grand establishment with ornate vaulted ceilings, tracery doors and even a suit of armour offers wine in 10ml glasses for a mere €3 – the perfect excuse to sample several vintages from their extensive wine list.
After a temperament-testing 5am budget-airline check-in and a hair-raising ride along what Mr Smith and I have coined The Bonkers Road (Milan-to-Venice Autostrada A4), we arrived in Riva del Garda a little frazzled. It took us several drive-bys to finally click the indicator and make our manoeuvre down the long, palm-tree lined driveway to the Lido Palace. Silence immediately ensued as the modern rustic gate came steadily closer…
‘Buongiorno, may I take your name?’ came a warm voice through the intercom. ‘Welcome, we have been expecting you,’ she continued, and the gate opened to reveal a palatial mansion behind a canopy of trees. Mr Smith and I turned to each other, our lips curling into the beginning of two excited grins conveying the kind of telepathic happiness you get when you know that whatever is about to happen, it’s going to be good.
We were greeted by the charming Danilo, who before we knew it had whisked us into reception while the car had disappeared behind the trees – our bags had vanished to we didn’t know or care. There was a feeling of being in safe hands as we stood in the all-glass atrium, a cutting-edge addition to the 19th-century building where old meets new in utter harmony.
It’s a juxtaposition that runs throughout the hotel. A humongous canvas of abstract graffiti art (that we were told is valued at a whopping €800k) takes centre stage on the original staircase; the palatial reading rooms with high ceilings, Corinthian columns and huge bay windows are furnished with bold, sweeping turquoise chaise lounges; and the bedrooms have the feeling of a brand-new Manhattan penthouse but with the kind of breath-taking views across Lake Garda that you would have expected here a century ago.
Arriving in our room after a tour of the hotel (where we’d clocked two lake-side seats on a wooden perfect for prosecco-sipping), Mr Smith and I did what we always do – we inspected the room with a running commentary. ‘Look! A loo with a view!’ and ‘Have you seen the size of the bed?’ (It was the kind that my mother always tells me belies an unhappy marriage: absolutely brilliantly massive). Despite all this, it wasn’t all-singing and all-dancing extravagance. Like the mountain town it is nestled into, Lido Palace is the definition of discreet luxury; the kind of place where the linen and pillows, Acqua di Parma toiletries, walk-in rainforest shower, and magnificent lake views speak – make that whisper seductively – for themselves.
Since we were only in town for two nights, we headed straight out to explore (via that deck of course). Mr Smith and I know Italy well but neither of us had been this far north. I can’t remember what we were expecting, but whatever it was, it was superseded by tranquillity, beauty and a general sense of peace. Riva del Garda is more picturesque and manicured than the charming southern scruff we are used to. Antiquarian bookshops are hugged by cobblers and wine bars, cafés and tobacconists while cobbled streets sidle up to stretches of grass bursting with brightly coloured blooms.
By the afternoon we were back at the hotel giggling like teenagers as we swaddled ourselves in the sumptuous bathrobes and made our way down in the lift to the Centoundici Spa. I thought it would take more convincing to get Mr Smith seen in public belted at the waist with spa slippers on, but the promise of six sauna rooms with mood-sensory lighting and triple-effect showers was clearly all the incentive he needed. We floated between the chamomile-infused warm bath, an uplifting citrus-vapour Turkish bath, the Mediterranean sauna and a salt room, before finishing in the relaxation room with a tea infusion.
Next we napped like babies in that big bed (cuddled into just one half of it – I love to dispel my mother’s myths), awaking to the sound of the lake sploshing gently against the shore and the sight of evening sun bouncing off the water. I left Mr Smith to doze as I slid my robe on again and returned to the spa for a 50-minute CXI massage – it topped all other massages. My treat of the trip ticked, it was only fair to spoil Mr Smith with the sole thing to pull him from slumber: food. The hotel offers two restaurants, the Tremani for long and languid lunches and the Il Re della Busa for elegant mountain-view dinners. We found a spot of the terrace where we bathed in late sunshine and dined on trout carpaccio, linguine ai frutti di mare and shrimp tempura (all locally sourced and the more delicious for it), marvelling for the hundredth time at the spectacular views.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering hand-in-hand around the lake, then the village, and then the lake again (‘oh go on, just one more time’) before early-evening Shirley Temples and Aperol spritzers served with generous antipasti at the excellent Nuovo 900 restaurant on Via Gazzoletti, a five-minute walk away. Lost in time, Shirleys were swapped for pintas (a drink-me-more blend of bitters, prosecco, soda and lemon) and our sojourn carried on spontaneously late into the night (exactly the kind of wise decision one makes when ridiculously well-rested and the early flight the following morning seems insignificant). Despite our Aperol heads, we arrived back at Milan Bergamo airport the picture of calm. What a difference to your state of mind a spell at Lido Palace can make.