La dolce vita

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Looking for somewhere stylish to stay in Italy? Boutique travel experts Mr & Mrs Smith have recently published their first Italy guidebook, and to celebrate CD-Traveller has teamed up with them to reveal three special stays

Today: Villa Arcadio

STYLE Classic, monastic, fantastic
Wooded lake-view hillside

Mr Smith and I like to consider ourselves seasoned travellers. You know: sophisticates with well-stickered ‘weekend’ luggage, versed on which local aperitivo to order, and dedicated to staying in so-stylish-you-wouldn’t-know-it’s-a-hotel-without-SatNav kind of places. The type who gad about Lake Garda on a speedboat, swapping trattoria tips with the captain. Not the sort who get sunburn on the first day. Or look the wrong way when they cross the road. No, no, no. Or stand filming the very fast and shiny catamaran from what they think is the ferry terminal, only to watch it sail past intothe next pretty bay. Never. Not us.

But, you see, holidaying in Italy is relaxing. And holidaying at Lake Garda, without your tantrumming toddler in tow, and with sunshine, mountain vistas and non-stop fabulous food and wine, is especially relaxing. In fact, so enchanting is holidaying here, it’s brain-befuddling, stupidity-magnifying – turning even the most seasoned travellers (sophisticates with special weekending bags!) into craven half-wits.

Thankfully, during our stay at the exclusive Villa Arcadio hotel, staff are professional enough to overlook poolside narcolepsy, dangerous toaster mismanagement and other breakfast-buffet blunders (which we blame on them for putting an ice-bucket of champagne right next to the fresh blood-orange juice).

They also provide the kind of subtle prompts that allow off-duty parents and loved-up fools to swagger about like bona fide minibreak gurus. Would Signor Smith perhaps like a ‘spritz’? It’s that prosecco, Aperol and soda cocktail he has no doubt seen the pastel-chino-shorts crowd drinking in Salò’s fashionable lake-front bars. The one he perhaps naively mistook for bright-orange IrnBru? Yes, that one. Would Signorina (why, thank you) perhaps like chef to whip up some handmade gnocchi with tomato ragu for lunch today, to soak up last night’s multi-spritz-spree in aforementioned lake-front bars? And (in mezzopiano tones) would Signor like the table dressed with a posy of wild flowers plucked from the hotel grounds, because it is also Mother’s Day, which he has forgotten? Tutto va bene.

Elbows suavely propped on immaculate linen and enjoying a sensational alfresco meal, we pause to fully appreciate our surroundings. From this handsomely restored monastery, set on a wooded hillside overlooking the town of Salò, the view is mesmerising. When it is misty, it’s hard to know where the world ends. When it is clear, snow-capped peaks loom majestically in the distance. Little boats buzz across the water; songbirds flit busily among olive trees; the owners’ spaniel, Diana, bounds through buttercup-sprinkled grass with a blackbird in her muzzle. It’s all very… Arcadian. I’ve already taken about 4,000 pictures. At least.

We’ve enjoyed the view from the bed, designer sofa and dressing area of our junior suite (admittedly we enjoyed it less at 6am – we’d forgotten to close the light-stopping wooden shutters at bedtime. I still took a few pictures, though). Our room is serene, and blissfully free of unnecessary trinkets (most refreshingly, there are no plastic fire engines to trip over). The beams overhead may be new, but they marry harmoniously with original architectural features, terracotta flooring and creamy linen drapes. A single, striking modern canvas packs a colourful punch amid an otherwise neutral palette – undoubtedly taken from the owners’ enviable stash of art and antiques.

Jaana and Francesco have an unerring eye for quality: their collection – generously shared around Villa Arcadio’s 18 bedrooms, dining rooms, bar and lounge – spans bronze figurines, 18th-century etchings, frescoes, Alvar Aalto glassware and contemporary carvings by Loris Marazzi. They also own a boat. Not just any boat: a vintage AquaRiva launch. Calling it ‘a boat’ is a bit like calling a hand-built Bugatti ‘a runaround’. They even let you charter it.

As we polish off lunch with some local Bardolino and ristrettos, my of-Italian-descent Mr Smith declares this the sort of terrace Merchant Ivory would have picked for the scene where the brooding farmhand is overcome with desire for the English governess. He says it quite suggestively, and throws in ‘mi amore’, for good measure. I ignore him, partly because he forgot Mother’s Day, but mostly because I want to go and explore. And have another spritz.

Sirmione — which we (eventually) reach aboard the very fast and shiny catamaran that leaves from Salò’s Lungolargo promenade — is a spindly peninsula packed with café-cornered piazzas, gelaterie and touristy trinket shops. It’s Grand Tour gold. The town’s star attractions (apart from Maria Callas’ holiday home) are the so-called grottoes of Catallus, and the moated mediaeval fortress, all swallow’s-tail crenellations and reflections of ducks. Tennyson’s been; and Ezra Pound bumped into James Joyce here.

But, for us, draw of the day is a Riva-style cruiser. OK, it’s just a water taxi, but still. Approached by a rakishly handsome Italian speaking in a seductively incomprehensible rolling staccato, I thought my luck had turned, but Paolo is simply offering us a spin in his nice boat, on the cheap, since it’s quiet. He navigates us round the tip of the peninsula, letting the engine idle and the wheel spin so he can take a snap of us as we pass the Augustan Roman villa on the headland. He waves his arms, gesticulating for us to get closer (to each other, presumably, not the perilous rocks).

It turns out to be the perfect picture: romantic, sunlit, elegant. It makes us look like the type who gad about Lake Garda on a speedboat, swapping trattoria tips with the captain. You can barely notice the sunburn.

Rooms 18, including four suites.
Rates €230–€450, including tax, a generous Continental buffet breakfast, on-site parking and WiFi.
Check-out 12 noon; late check-outs are possible, subject to availability (and a €50 charge). Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Facilities Landscaped grounds with olive groves and orchards, terrace, gym, Finnish sauna and treatment rooms.
In rooms: flatscreen TV, air-conditioning, minifridge, Erbario Toscano olive-oil toiletries, robes, slippers, hairdryer.
Poolside With daydreamy views across Lake Garda, the outdoor infinity pool is flanked by lounger-sprinkled decking.
Children Welcome (this is Italy, after all). Extra beds (free for under-eights; otherwise €40–€80 a night) and cots (€20) can be added to suites. The restaurant is child-friendly, and nannies can be drafted in with a week’s notice (€30 an hour).
Also Ayurvedic treatments, Shiatsu massage, Nordic walking, yoga and Pilates all available on request. Small pets welcome (€15 a night).

Our favourite rooms Rooms are all decorated with the same light touch: neutral colours and simple, stylish furniture serve to highlight, rather than distract from, original beamed ceilings, terracotta floor tiles and 14th-century frescoes. Any one’s a winner – ask for a lake view. Marble bathrooms are petite but practical, with walk-in showers and twin sinks.
Hotel bar Take top-notch tipples in the sophisticated wooden bar area, snugly set between the lounge and terrace. You can call for cocktails until midnight. Dip into a bottle of local Groppello, Bardolino or Soave from the excellent wine list.
Hotel restaurant Chef Walter Zanoni sources seasonal regional ingredients (some straight from the villa’s kitchen garden) to create typical dishes with a twist: don’t miss fresh pike plucked from the lake, delicious handmade gnocchi and zingy gelati. Two elegant rooms – vaulted stone ceilings, grand marble fireplaces and 18th-century prints – lead out onto a pretty terrace: the perfect place to drink in those bella vistas and bellinis.
Top table In summer, you’ll want to dine alfresco: the terrace at night is enchanting, with soft-toned lanterns swinging among the vines and candles on every wrought-iron table.
Room service Dishes from the main menu can be ordered in-room between 8am until midnight – staff aim to please, so there’s no harm in asking if you have a specific snack in mind.
Dress code This genteel hideaway inspires old-fashioned chic: discreet designer dresses, caramel cashmere, crisp linens.
Local knowledge The pretty port of Salò is just a short drive away, and there are plenty of eateries, bars and browsable boutiques to keep you entertained. Regular ferries sail from Salò to Sirmione, Garda and Limone, among other ports.

Top picks in Salò include Antica Trattoria alle Rose on Via Gasparo (+39 0365 43220), which has been serving up regional delights for 25 years, and its simpler sister outpost, wine bar Osteria dell’Orologio on Via Butturini (+39 0365 290158). Locanda del Benaco (+39 0365 20308) on Salò’s lakeside promenade is perfectly positioned for passegiata pitstops; the lakefish tartare with black truffle is unmissable. Tucked down a cobbled alley in the town centre, Osteria di Mezzo (+39 0365 290966) is a local favourite for its fresh pastas and unswerving focus on Gardese ingredients and wines; the cheese trolley is fantastic. La Dispensa, a 10-minute drive away in San Felice di Benaco (+39 0365 557023), provides a mouthwatering Modern Italian menu care of chef Michele Bontempi, and the occasional live jazz set.

To book a stay at Villa Arcadio please visit or call 0845 034 0700. For more information on Mr & Mrs Smith please visit For more information on Villa Arcadio, please visit:

Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection Italy (£19.95, Spy Publishing) is available from and all good bookshops nationwide

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