In the midst of the EU’s travel ban, I’ve been dreaming about past European adventures. One of the places I miss the most is the Italian Lakes Region of Northern Italy. It’s easy to see why Hemingway fell in love with the place and wrote about it so beautifully in his 1929 Farewell to Arms, set in WWI Italy. There’s an Italian lake for every taste, and I love the out-of-the-way provincial places with storied histories and real people going about their day. Hotel Stella D’Italia, perched on the banks of Lake Lugano and set in charming San Mamete, a stone village in Valsolda (just 10 km away from Lugano) is such a place. I love the impossibly narrow streets that meander up through the mountainside and the serenity of dining along the water looking out to the lush mountains. Most of all I love the tiny cadre of villagers who inhabit this tranquil place. It’s a place I would go to again.

Valsoda, Italy
View of the municipality of Valsolda, of which San Mamete is one of nine villages

1900s Charm on Lake Lugano

Hotel Stella D’Italia was established in the early 1900s and has been operated by five generations of the same family. One senses that the customer service mantra from the 1900s has been been passed down through generations. It is like stepping back in time with the impeccable staff service, the serene patios that run along the lake, and the well established library in the living room that includes a remarkable collection of books in many languages. I particularly loved the tranquil dining under the rose pergola.

Hotel Stella D'Italia
Hotel Stella D’Italia on the water’s edge

The rooms are reminiscent of a bygone era, when simplicity and grace reigned supreme. Many of the guests return year after year, some for as many as 30 years! I can’t recall ever staying in such a place before. 

Room With A View
Room With a View at Hotel Stella D’Italia

While San Mamete sits in Italy, Switzerland (including the city of Lugano) is just a stone’s throw away. The region makes for a lovely mash-up of cultures that is reflected in everything from architecture to cuisine. One of the more popular dishes in this region is mushroom risotto.

Hiking in the Lepontine Alps

Not far from Lugano is Monte San Salvatore, Switzerland, which offers a mountaintop village, limitless hiking, a museum, and precious views of Lake Lugano. A convenient cable car takes you up the mountain. From there, walk the path to the village of Carona or hike the 250 meters long Via Ferrata. At the end of the day, enjoy breathtaking views over dinner on the terrace at Ristorante Vetta.

Views of Lake Lugano from the church on San Salvatore at the top of Mont San Salvatore.

Getting To Hotel Stella D’Italia on Lake Lugano

Located just 1.5 hours from Milan or 3 hours from Zurich by train or car, Lake Lugano is an easy escape.


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