The Lake District of Italy is more than just a stunning destination for nature-lovers. From Lake Maggiore to Orta and even skipping over to Novara – the home of more than 800 rice producers, self-professed gourmets can revel in some of Italy’s best wine and gourmet dining experiences. Although Piedmont is possibly seen as a very humble destination, Michelle Tchea discovers the region, thanks to hard-working families is in fact the perfect hub to feed a growling stomach.
With the kind-hearted Italian hospitality running deep in the veins of many Piedmont locals, you would be hard-pressed not to buckle at your knees after visiting. The perfect itinerary awaits foodies and gourmets looking to explore ‘real’ Italy and taste that Dolce Vita we are all searching for.
Forget what everyone tells you – Lake Como is not the cooler or more worthwhile lake to visit when in Italy. While Como does carry a lot of celebrity status, thanks to Clooney and DeNiro purchasing million-dollar Lake front properties, Maggiore offers charm and Belle Epoque class which should not be overlooked when touring the region.
If you have doubt, Ernest Hemmingway might well convince you, claiming Stresa, the region bordering he Piedmont lakes to be paradise, “This beats paradise all to hell,’ he observed.. And who are we to question Hemmingway?
Rather than following in Ernest Hemmingway’s footsteps, opt to visit and indulge in a favourite of mine: Villa & Palazzo Aminta, a idyllic 5-star-luxury hotel sitting on the lake of Maggiore. Reinventing luxury, the hotel perhaps offers one of the most prized views of the lake with excellent service on their patio overlooking the lake. The restaurant is fantastic not only for the food, friendly service but of course view on the terrace is simply unbeatable.
Jumping on a motorboat from the hotel’s private dock, you will find yourself en route to the famous islands of the Lakes, each with their own characteristic to explore. Isola Madre is perfect for a stroll discovering exotic plants and wild flowers typical to Lake Maggiore, while Isola Bella with a magnificent palace and botanical gardens (still owned by the very rich and aristocratic Borromeo Family) invites you to explore a gallery of historical artwork. Isola Dei Pescatori is perhaps the island for foodies, many great restaurants line the border of the island where fishermen once resided. With only 3 families still operating as fishermen on Pescatori, indulging in a one of the restaurants is a homage to the hardworking labourers in the past. A good choice would be Restaurant Verbano, Isola dei Pescatori.
Gorgeous views of Lake Maggiore from Villa Aminta
Leaving the lake behind, a short 20-minute cable car ride up to the top of mount Mottarone should be on everyone’s list. Panoramic views of all 7 lakes at 1492m stretching over Piedmont, Lombardy, the Alps and the Milan skyline cannot be rivaled. For foodies, Mottarone is more than just a ski-resort during the winter, a favourite has to be Villa Pizzini.
Ivan and his wife Chef Sabina have given up the hustle and bustle of London to be in the heart of their hometown, Mottarone with foodies all in rejoice.
Home-made pastas, ambitious dishes like risotto with licorice and a very wide selection of local wine served by the glass, thanks to Coravin, Villa Pizzini gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Alpine Dining’.
Views and Food from Villa Pizzini, Mottarone
On a completely different scale, Castello Dal Pozzo offers history buffs a chance to explore life living in a castle. A renewed palace hotel, the Victorian Neogothic style castle is romantic with brides opting to have their wedding surrounded by the lake and more than 50 acres of parkland. With the children of the Dal Pozzo D’Annone family now influencing more of the hotel structure, a new pool, wellness centre and other updated amenities are in the pipeline… definitely not a place for the old anymore!
Chef Marco Sacco of Piccolo Lago – a star on the lake
For the ultimate dining experience, look no further than Piccolo Lago, a 2-Michelin-star restaurant by Marco Sacco. A celebrity chef known all around the country, Chefs Marco is humble, inspirational to cooks around the world a wonderful personality to visit if you are a true foodie. The chefs table experience puts you in the heart of the kitchen, experiencing a Michelin-star restaurant like no-other, but if you prefer, sit by the window overlooking Lake Mergozzo. The tasting menu is heightened by excellent service with the creamy carbonara my favourite, as well as the fish – bones and all! Don’t forget to save room for the delicious delicious, including the pomme tarte.
Top tip – stop at the Alessi factory and see the Made In Italy design for Kitchen gadgets to make your life easier as a cook
If you are still hankering for something delicious, drive past LUIGI GUFFANTI, in Arona to taste and learn more about local cheeses like Toma, Bettelmatt and Gorgonzola.
Villa Crespi, a five star luxury resort near Lake Orta draws tourists all around the world to take pictures next to the Asian-inspired structure which is now a Relais et Chateaux property and home to the famed chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo, a two-Michelin star chef known famously as being one of the judges on the Italian Masterchef series. The restaurant lives up to the hype with excellent executions and presentation of all his dishes – from the tiny morsels as amuse bouche to the final lobster tails, sfogliatella in the end of your ravenous meal – your wallet may cry for help but it is a spot for romantics and gourmets alike. The hotel, Villa Crespi is a whole new experience in itself and must be seen and experienced to be believed. Opulence is the word which comes to mind – a 19th century historical residence being the perfect hideaway for the uber-rich around the Italian Lakes.
For a more local affair, La Darbia perched on the hill overlooking Lake Orta is my favourite. The Primatesta brothers built a handful of apartments from ruins which once stood on the hills of Orta. The atmosphere created is almost what dreams are made of: beautiful views, lush Italian gardens and a restaurant run by a very capable chef, Matteo Monfrinotti churning out delicious Italian classics with his own flair and flavour. The Italian hospitality here, once again heightens the whole La Darbia experience.
Michelle Tchea is a 4-time bestselling author. Her books include, Building a Perfect Meal, My Little SoHo Kitchen, Signature Dishes (Australia's Best) and Chefs Collective. Her work can be found in other leading luxury travel and food magazines including Travel+Leisure Asia, SMILE, NUVO Magazine and The Telegraph