A three-country tour from Venice that criss-crosses Switzerland: besides Europe's highest mountain, the Matterhorn, you will stop at beautiful Lake Geneva, explore the Burgundy province of France, then return to Italy via Davos and stunning Lake Garda. The tour could easily be amended to begin and end in Zurich.
The young host, Giuliano Dall'Agnola, managed a hotel on the Lido for ten years before deciding to open his own place in a historic 5th-century building. The building needed a total renovation, but Giuliano was wise in his choice of location - it's perfect, tucked away in a tiny side street just a few steps from Piazza San Marco.
One shouldn't be put off by the exterior: the hotel is an unimpressive grey building with a nondescript door. The entry hall is quite simple as well, with a check-in desk and a staircase leading to the upper floors. But here's where the guests are in for a surprise: the rooms, decorated by Marcella, are extremely attractive and offer great comfort in the heart of Venice. All the walls are covered in fabric and enhanced by colour-coordinated draperies and bedspreads, while Venetian-style furnishings, including painted headboards and Murano glass chandeliers, complete the appealing ambiance. The amenities also far outshine what one would expect from a budget hotel. The quiet rooms are air-conditioned, have direct-dial phones, mini bars, televisions, and well-equipped, modern bathrooms. All of the rooms are pleasant, some with views overlooking a small square. What makes this intimate hotel so special is the care provided by its owners, who pamper guests like friends visiting their home.
This centuries-old city has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Countless churches and palaces bear witness to the power and unsurpassed wealth of this small republic. The lagoon city was founded in northern Italy during the troubled times of the decline of the Roman Empire. The remains of the evangelist Mark were transferred to Venice in 829. The streams of pilgrims that followed gave the city much added importance. Since then the sacred symbol of the lion has been the city's coat of arms. Venetian troops later occupied eastern Italy and, in 1204, even Constantinople. At the height of its power Venice ruled the Mediterranean. The demise of the "serrenissima repubblica" began with the fall of Constantinople and the opening of the Western Hemisphere by Spain, Portugal and Holland. Venice's political importance declined after the Congress of Vienna and it was given to Austria. Returned to Italy in 1866, Venice has inspired generations of artists, writers and musicians. More than a city, it is a symbol of wealth and beauty as well as death and decay.
Rental car pick-up
Type: Fiat Punto 1.3 MJT or similar
Pick-up location: Venice Downtown
The historical manor house sits in the medieval village of Cannobio, a resort on Lake Maggiore, a few kilometers south of the Swiss border. Following an extensive restoration it combines authentic medieval architecture with all the comforts of a modern hotel. Original frescoes, vaulted ceilings and massive century-old stone pillars are complemented by period furniture. The twelve rooms vary in color and decor. Some overlook the lake, others the car-free Old Town. The breakfast room seems to have emerged straight from the 18 century. The exclusive dining room on the first floor with an open fireplace provides the ideal setting for a relaxing evening over a glass or two of good wine.
In a part of Switzerland renowned for its warmth and Mediterranean light, Lake Maggiore has been attracting visitors for over 100 years. While its northern tip is part of the Swiss Ticino, it reaches as far south as the Po Valley. The walks above the lake offer views which remind one of the Côte d'Azur near the heart of Europe, with the Alps as a backdrop. There is everything here: unspoiled nature, spectacular scenery, the best climate in Switzerland, major cultural events, beaches, lakeshores, an early spring, a golden autumn, wine and food specialties, and an infinite number of possibilities for excursions and every kind of leisure activity, from golf to extreme sports like canyoning.
Red and zebra is the surprisingly attractive colour combination that greets guests to this tastefully decorated hotel, in which every room is different, and every room features a carefully coordinated colour scheme. As guests will happily discover, the entire property has been thoughtfully designed to please the body and soul, from the gourmet restaurant in the warm, wood-panelled dining room to the full three levels of swimming pool and spa facilities. The extraordinary hotel endeavours to make a stay there an instrinsic part of the Zermatt experience. And it succeeds.
The town at the end of the Mattertal has around 5,000 inhabitants and is situated at 1,600 m (5,250 ft.) above sea level. Zermatt's world-wide renown stems from its proximity to the Matterhorn, the mountain of mountains and most famous landmark in the Alps. Anyone who has ever stood before the mighty peak knows that even the most enthusiastic description will fail to capture its true majesty. The mountain was first scaled by a party of Brits using local guides in 1865. In their rush to beat another party to the top one of the climbers slipped and caused three others to fall to their deaths. The trio are buried in the churchyard next to an English chapel in Zermatt set aside for them and the numerous other Brits who subsequently died attempting to scale the mountain. Climbs to the peak of the Matterhorn are almost a matter of course today. About 3,000 mountaineers attempt the ascent each year, sometimes even leading to overcrowding on the main routes. The Gorner Valley south-east of Zermatt boasts the highest cog railway in Europe. The higher you go the more incredible the views of the Matterhorn become.
The town of Zermatt is closed to private vehicles. Visitors must leave their cars at the free car park and take the train to the city.
The family-run inn on the shores of Lake Geneva offers the charm of a small hotel with a French ambiance. The inn20 bedrooms were completely refurbished in 2001. Guests can relax in the outdoor restaurant and enjoy the beautiful lakeside views, which are also offered by many of the bedrooms. The city centre of Lausanne is just a seven-minute walk away. The friendly hotel represents a rare find in this overly expensive city: A good value for the money.
The manor house has served as an inn since the 16th century and many famous people have stayed there - including Ludwig XIV. The property was fully renovated in 1986 and turned into a modern hotel. One of the towers contains a glass elevator which offers nice views of the old town. The rooms are decorated with priceless antiques. The hotel has a first-class restaurant with an excellent wine cellar. The old wine cellar, a cosy room with a low, arched stone ceiling, is used as a breakfast room when the courtyard cannot be used due to inclement weather.
Burgundy must be enjoyed with all five senses, especially the eyes! In Dijon you can visit the palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, the museum of fine arts and the beautiful old town. Other highlights in the vicinity are the Romanesque Basilica of Vézelay, Beaune with its famous high peaks and brightly painted roof tiles, and Nevers with its cathedrals.
Outside the cities the beautiful landscape beckons. The forests in Morvan Nature Park seem to have existed since the dawn of civilisation. An excursion on foot or horseback is an unforgettable experience. Waterways covering a distance of 1,200 km represent a tranquil means of transport to the castles, abbeys and convents in one of the most beautiful regions of France. The wines of Burgundy are world famous and include Chablis, Côtes-de-Nuits, Côtes-de-Beaune, Côtes-Chalonnaises, Maconnais and Pouilly. The wines are rivalled in importance by the region's cuisine. Visitors shouldn't miss such specialities as the famous vineyard snails, eggs meurette (in delicate wine sauce), hams from the Morvan hills, Charolais beef and Bresse chicken.
The hotel on Lake Zurich has a proud 350-year tradition. The tower containing the quaint bar is even older, having been dated to around the 14th century. From the large terrace in front of the inn guests can enjoy splendid views of the lake and, on clear days, the snow-capped peaks of the Alps beyond. In most of the bedrooms the thick wooden support beams have been left visible, thus creating a marked contrast to the modern paintings and furniture. The restaurant serves meals on the panoramic terrace in nice weather and is known in Zurich for its excellent and varied cuisine.
The city at the northern end of Lake Zurich began as a Roman settlement called Turicum. Zurich didn't become a free city until the 13th century, and shortly after that joined the newly established Swiss Confederation. The town's rise to prominence began during the era of Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli, who lived in Zurich from 1484 to 1531 and laid the foundation for the emergence of a Puritan-capitalistic culture. Today Zurich is one of the world's richest cities in terms of per capita income and its citizens enjoy the best quality of life in the world according to a survey conducted in 2007. Millionaires and billionaires from around the globe have established a residence in the city because of Swiss bank privacy laws and the country's low tax rate. Yet Zurich has much more to offer than secret bank accounts and low taxes: an attractive old town with chic cafés and bars, over 40 museums, and the famous Bahnhofsstrasse, one of the most elegant shopping avenues in Europe.
Around Lake Zurich
Distance: 160 km Travel time: 2:30 h
The hotel high in the Alps near Davos was considered a work of art when it was built in 1938 due its extraordinary blend of Swiss craftsmanship with modern architecture. Discovered by American GIs in WW II, the hotel dubbed "Hollywood on the Rocks" soon became a favourite haunt of celebrities from the world over, including Truman Capote, Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Winston Churchill, Deborah Kerr and John Irving. The bedrooms feature Alpine wooden panelling and ceilings, which lends the rooms a special warm, cosy atmosphere. One of the main attractions is the hotel's superb restaurant, famous far beyond the borders of Switzerland for its gourmet cuisine.
Located at an elevation of 5,118 feet, Davos is the highest city in Europe. The community with just 10,000 inhabitants registers over 2.1 million visitors a year. The valley was only inhabited in 1280 - late for European standards - and the area was mainly used to graze cattle. The fortunes of the city began to rise in the 1850's when the mountain air was deemed to be good for tuberculosis sufferers. A sanatorium for lung patients in Davos is the setting of Thomas Mann's famous novel "Magic Mountain". The role of the city as a resort for winter sports began when a toboggan race was held there in 1883. During the summer months, however, Davos is a much quieter place and an excellent base for hiking and sightseeing trips to the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Along the Western Shore
Distance: 140 km Travel time: 2:30 h
The villa is a renovated 15th century manor house set on the green hillside that slopes steeply down to Lake Garda. The sensational views will make your stay unforgettable. The well-appointed rooms contain a delicate blend of works of art and antique furniture. The stone house stands in a magnificent park called "The Garden of the Senses", where both body and mind can relax. The 80,000 square meter park contains lush vegetation, broken here and there by natural water falls and gently shaded paths. A succession of small clearings, fruit trees, ornamental shrubs, flowers and aromatic herb gardens conveys a sense of peace and well-being.
This is Italy's largest (370 sq. km) and undoubtedly most beautiful lake. The northern end is surrounded by mountains (Mt. Balbo), its southern end by gentle hills. The lake's climate is temperate and its flora is characteristically Mediterranean, a combination that has made it famous and its small Riviera-like towns (Malcesine, Brenzone, Torri del Benaco, Bardolino, Lazise, Peschiera) highly frequented tourist stops since ancient times. There are several natural parks in the region of Peschiera and Castelnuovo del Garda that rank among the most famous in Europe. However, this is also a region of fertile countryside with fine wine that once attracted kings, merchants and cardinals. Recreational activities such as sailing, motor boating and water-skiing are offered.
To Venice Distance: 180 km Time: 2:30
Three of the most beautiful northern Italian cities are along the route: Verona, Vicenza and Padua, of which especially the first one is worth a visit for its magnificent location overlooking the Adige and its beautiful Old Town.
Rental car drop off
Drop off location: Venice, Airport
Rental car company: AVIS (Italy)
Type: Fiat Punto evo 1.3 or similar (Group C)
Equipment: Air-conditioning, power-steering, radio