A line of palm trees welcomes you to the Salotto di Lugano (Lugano’s Living Room), the Splendide Royal Hotel, so nicknamed because it has always been the most elegant and most representative palazzo in the city.
Hard to believe you are in Switzerland, and a two hours train ride from Zurich, when you arrive to its sunny terrace, where the sun shines an average of 2’000 hours per year, and life immediately goes a bit slower.
“I need a photo with the white pillars and the spectacular lake view, now!” I thought as soon as I gave my car key for the valet parking. A line of cars formed behind me, and everybody politely let me take my shot. But I immediately realised this place isn’t Dolce Vita only. Lugano is Switzerland’s third most important financial centre and a booming cultural hub as well. If you want to network, work, have a vacation or simply enjoy life, the Splendide might be a good destination.
So how is it to stay at the Splendide? I tried it and tested it – here is my score. You will find more photos – by Alex Lambrachts – and details on H, the new magazine by the Swiss Deluxe Hotels, soon online and in all 40 five stars hotels of the Swiss Deluxe Hotels Group.
In case of bad weather – not so often, to be honest – one is very happy to be stuck in the hotel. The Spa area is funky enough to be discovered and used extensively, the wine cellar can be surprisingly entertaining, classic afternoon tea is a splendid option and…if you don’t feel like walking your dog during a wet day, there’s even a dog sitter.
If you research online, the Splendide has the highest rating of pretty much all charts about Lugano Hotels, so I had high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed: service is fit for a royal, and this might be the reason why royal families visit regularly indeed.
The staff has the Italian flair one can’t resist, but with Swiss efficiency and precision. It doesn’t hurt that they look good, but of course everybody looks good, when they are so charming and friendly. When I heard that the hotel has 93 rooms, I couldn’t believe it – the overall feeling was of being in a small family.
Just renovated and incredibly photogenic, the Spa is a gem. Big chandeliers over the sleek infinity pool mirror themselves in the calm waters. Small waterfalls in front of every treatment room make a relaxing background noise while you’re having your massage. Cleverly illuminated vertical vegetation and waters grace the gym with a beautiful view.
The gym could be bigger. However, I have never felt as motivated to train as here – I guess because of its natural light and beautiful interiors.
Finally, try the signature treatment by Margarethe: 75 minutes of bliss, including scrub and massage. It takes care of every muscle of your body, including your face and even earlobes.
The only reason I’m not giving a 10 to this place…it’s because I don’t drink! But the brand new Open Wine Cellar , nicknamed forziere del vino (wine treasure chest) is really worth a visit. One third of its wines come from Ticino, and are a real discovery for many people. A map on the wall shows where exactly they are from, and even the face and name of their producers – and, by the way, many of them are women.
Blind tasting is done here regularly with great success, for corporate and private events. People laugh, learn and see wine from a different perspective. The Wine and Dine Masterclass is a best seller.
The lake and the mountains are visible from almost everywhere in the hotel: I enjoyed a great view from the little balcony in my room, from the common areas, from the breakfast tables, from the Spa…
The sun over blue waters, blue sky and palm trees make you feel like in a postcard. That is probably why Ticino has been nicknamed The Tropics of Switzerland, the Swiss Hawaii or the Maldives of Milano alike.
I dare you not to photograph some of these scenarios – by the way the pictures of this article have been done in the middle of February: there is no low season, at the Splendide.
Tradition and innovation are effortlessly mixing in this hotel, and also from a gourmet point of view. Food is mainly Italian, but also from the Ticino area. In particular, the new, romantic, 8 tables only restaurant, inspired by the Swiss South and the Italian South (I Due Sud – The Two Souths) is one of the great reasons to visit the hotel.
Star chef Domenico Ruberto says: “When I am in the kitchen and I cook, I feel I can express all my emotions without any boundaries”. A new, separate kitchen has been built especially for his team and creations.
Even though its decor is so imposing, the Splendide looks very fresh. That’s because it’s more or less on constant renovation: a team of local artisans is always working at fixing, improving, painting and renewing whatever might need it.
When I entered the hotel lounge I expected to find a fading detail or something ageing – it’s something I almost invariably notice in places with a certain history. I challenge you to find such a fault at the Splendide; it looks like it opened yesterday.
The hotel had only 5 General Managers in 130 years of history. I think that says a lot.
At the Splendide, you won’t feel like in a big international hotel of a globalised world – you will feel in Ticino. Moreover, the place is adapting to your unique needs. One member of the staff told me that even the same person needs very different things, if on holiday or on business. Service is discreet, but definitely tailor made.
The eco spirit is authentic. Not only there’s a program of sustainability that increasingly cut costs, but with the saved money, a farm that houses six families has been built in Kenya (in Langobaya, near Malindi)
The lucky conditions of a blessed territory and the impressive tradition of a place that was always a favourite of the rich, today are not enough anymore. The modern traveler is spoiled for choice and standards have become extremely high.
At the Splendide, the difference is made by people. The hotel is privately owned (by the Naldi family), and the staff is working with passion and vision. A team that made me feel home, and will probably make you feel home too.
A scenic boat trip on the Lugano lake offers views at every corner. About two thirds of the territory is Swiss, the rest is Italian, so one can choose from very different itineraries and boats, ranging from a modern ferry to a classic, wooden boat. For a really fun trip, hire a pedalo: They are great exercise and have a deliciously retro design. A well deserved gelato can be a great idea after the effort!
When I go to Lugano, I always meet someone I know in Piazza della Riforma – basically a meeting point for locals and a favourite spot for coffee or snacks. This beautiful square in the centre of the town is surrounded by neoclassical buildings and hosts many important events, concerts, and festivals, especially during the summer season.
From there, you can walk to different alleys with pretty arches and pillars, and enjoy Via Nassa, the famous shopping destination known for its high-end shops.
A picturesque arch marks the beginning of the prettiest walk in Ticino – the Gandria trail. From there, one can choose to walk towards the village, or go to Parco degli Ulivi, located on the slopes of Monte Bré, that benefits from a mild climate even during the winter, thanks to its southern exposure and protection from the winds.
Take your time to enjoy the little alleys, the houses mirroring in the water, the blooming flowers, the lake, and mountains views.
Ticino means palm trees, lakes, and … mountains, of course! Monte Bré and Monte San Salvatore are the two major sightseeing spots near Lugano. I pick Monte Bré as my favourite because I love its pretty, steep red cable car, that takes you from Lugano to the unspoiled summit at 933 m above sea level.
The breathtaking view stretches as far as Monte Rosa, the Alps and, of course, the gulf of Lugano. There are routes for any level of walking, hiking and mountain biking. Two restaurants and a museum complete the offer.
The LAC is Lugano’s bubbly cultural hub, designed … per tutti (for everybody)! It is worth a visit even just for its iconic architecture, where indoor and outdoor merge, and one has almost the impression of flying over the lake. Art, photography, music, talks, free events, opera, and crazy installations are offered year round. Even if you are not interested in the exhibitions, just walk in as the LAC were an ordinary street, or enjoy a coffee in its lively cafe. More about The Lac
words by Beatrice Lessi