This story is the winner of our latest travel writing competition. It was part of the 'Romantic Travel Stories' category, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests.
Photo by Giorgio Tomassetti.
The mist came and went, obscuring the view over the Italian lakes just visible in the distance. The alpine village was quiet since we visited outside of both the summer walking season and the winter skiing season. We wandered from the guest house down the empty street and stopped at a wall beside the cliff edge to gaze down on Lake Lugano, which was deep blue. The hills around it were smoky grey, making the lake look rather ominous.
It was cold and bleak, the rain had temporarily ceased and we were tired and hungry. Usually this would have been a recipe for a row between lovers, but we were newly in love and on our first trip together and so the atmosphere seemed romantic and mysterious to me. We approached a closed-looking hotel and upon pushing the door open found a lady sitting knitting behind a big mahogany reception desk,
"Any chance of a meal?" my partner asked in Italian.
"Si, si, signor!" she replied, delighted that some patrons had materialized.
We were shown into the grandest dining room I had ever seen – fit for a Belle Epoch ball, the walls were decorated in an ice cream and meringue plaster and there were giant chandeliers overhead. We sat at a table near the kitchen entrance and looked out at the rain splattered windows, completely alone in a room that would normally be packed during the summer with coach-loads of tourists.
An old grandmother dressed all in black came out from the back bearing plates of traditional Italian cuisine, a pine nut gnocchi in a creamy cheese sauce to begin with, followed by tender rare steaks and fresh local vegetables, and finally an almond desert.
"This was the best dinner I have ever had!" I joked with my beloved, "Did you hire this place for just the two of us?"
It was so perfect and romantic that I was beginning to believe him! We had Amaretto and espresso coffee to finish and I was impressed at my lover’s fluent Italian in ordering and chatting with the old lady. "Had he brought anyone here before?" I wondered. We paid and left and I thought, "This is what the Grand Tour in the past must have been like; beautiful dining and no other tourists."
We headed back to our guesthouse further up the hill, up a winding lane. When we went inside we had a nightcap at the tiny pinewood bar set into the corner of the lounge and we recounted to the owner what a wonderful meal we had enjoyed. He looked baffled, "But signor, that hotel has been closed for years!"