The Italian Lakes region is well known to the world for its beautiful scenery, mild climate, and opulent villas lining the shores of Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda. Less famous than these three bodies of water is Lake Orta, a smaller, less populated lake surrounded by steep green mountains and punctuated by the tiny island of San Giulio, the location of a centuries-old monastery still in use today. Remarkably, this lush, quiet landscape is only 45 minutes from Milan’s Malpensa Airport. Though virtually unknown to travellers from the Asia-Pacific region, Lake Orta has long been favoured by the élite of northern Italy’s business cities like Milan, Turin, and Novara for its relaxing pace and intimate setting-perfect for weekend getaways.
One of the most opulent villas in the Lake’s main town of Orta San Giulio is now an unusual hotel catering to those who appreciate the finer things in life. Villa Crespi, a member of Relais & Chateaux, is a small property with only 14 rooms. Built in a Moorish style, the eclectic interiors of both the public salons and the private bedrooms evoke a past era when the exoticism of other cultures was not a simple plane ride or mouse click away. The walls of the stunning entrance hall are covered in intricate designs and illuminated by a large chandelier, while the private rooms are lined with upholstered wall panels of fine fabric-not surprising since this part of Italy is a world leader in the manufacture of textiles of exceptional quality. For special occasions, it is possible for the entire hotel to be reserved for family celebrations, business events, or simply friends travelling together who want to have the villa to themselves.
Need an extra incentive to come to Villa Crespi? The AgriGelateria organic gelato shop is just across the street, though gelato may be the last thing on the minds of epicurean visitors who flock to Villa Crespi to enjoy the avant-garde creations emanating from the kitchen of chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo, who brings the sunshine of southern Italy to the tables of diners at the villa’s restaurant. With two Michelin stars, Villa Crespi’s is one of the top restaurants in all of Italy and Antonino works to ensure it stays that way; many travellers from nearby countries come to Villa Crespi specifically for dinner to enjoy his culinary expertise.
For lovers of the absolute best in fine clothing, ultraluxury Italian clothier Loro Piana, located in the Lake Orta area in the town of Romagnano Sesia Novara, has a discount outlet where prices, though still high for the average budget, are much lower than full retail in the grand department stores of the world where the company’s luxurious clothes are usually sold. It is difficult to reach Loro Piana without a car, but Villa Crespi’s in-house Maserati is available for hire to reach the outlet or Sacro Monte di Varallo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site even larger than its counterpart in Orta San Giulio.
In the town of Varallo is the refined Maison Claire, a very high-end maker of exquisite sheets, bedspreads, tablecloths, bath linens, and other accoutrements of comfort for the home destined for the residences of a discreet and wealthy clientele. Though the showroom is not open to the general public, Maison Claire’s friendly management team gladly welcomes visitors by appointment to present their beautiful collections, which include, among the many personalised designs, immaculate sheets threaded with pure gold.