Passion Points: Escape
Legendary hotels generally gain their reputations over decades, but one of the world’s ultimate spots for romance has operated as a hotel for less than a decade. Villa Feltrinelli, which is set on eight acres on the edge of Lake Garda in Italy, was built in 1892 as an extravagant family palazzo and was lavishly restored and transformed into a jewel of hotel in 2001. It’s fairy-tale charm is so overwhelming that one engaged couple who came to survey it as a place for their honeymoon were so enamored that they decided to elope and be married here instead. (They placated their families later with additional ceremonies.)
The mini-castle, which is set on Lake Garda, where the snow-capped foothills of the Alps meet the palm trees, oleander and bougainvillea of the sub-Mediterranean lakeshore, was built for two wealthy brothers Angelo and Giacomo Feltrinelli. The architect included such whimsical details as an octagonal turret, ornate parapets, star-shaped attic windows, ceiling murals, stained-glass windows, silks from Italy’s finest mills and sculpted wood panels and coffered ceilings. For the early years of the 20th century, the family summered at their fanciful estate but in 1943, the Germans confiscated the property. Nazi soldiers moved into the basement and guarded the grounds, while Mussolini was installed in the upper floors as a captive ruler until his execution in 1945. Though the family reclaimed the property after the war, the villa was not lovingly restored until Robert Burns, founder of Regent Hotels, purchased it in 1996. He had intended to fix it up as a private house until he learned the cost of renovating the thirteen-bedroom main house and eight-acres of landscaped grounds. When he decided, instead, to turn it into a small hotel, he enlisted the design genius Pamela Babey, who had worked with him on transforming a former convent into the Four Seasons Milan. All of the painted ceilings were restored; one bedroom features cherubs floating on clouds. Another has walls swathed in a floral chintz, its bed placed at an angle. On the ground floor are a cozy bar/card room; an opulent main salon; a main dining room and another, private, one; the open pantry and a book-lined library, where a bust of Signore Feltrinelli keeps watch over an enormous flat-screen TV. Of course, a superb staff is essential to the running of a grand hotel, and the villa has one. Burns sold the house a few years ago to a guest who fell in love with the hotel, but his standards have been maintained.
All of this beauty and behind-the-scenes finessing conjures an atmosphere that makes you feel as if you are on your honeymoon, even if yours passed long ago. You’ll find yourself lingering over a drink by the lake before dinner. The air has the gentlest hint of Alpine crystal. The staff will appear with wine and disappear, so you’re left only with the serene lake view, the mountains adding a touch of drama. When it’s warm in April through October, dinner is served under a stunning pergola. After dinner, you may spy a couple sitting with their espresso on the terrace, listening to jazz or Mozart wafting out of the salon. The place may inspire you to do nothing, but there is plenty to do. You can go boating, explore historic houses or gardens, or take a trip to Verona to attend the opera.
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