An unknown jewel, tucked away on its own private estate on the shores of Lake Garda, the Locanda San Vigilio is breathtakingly romantic and very special. From the ancient cypress-lined drive that leads you away from the ghastly daytrippers and coaches that overwhelm the rest of the lake in the summer months, it is easy to see how this enchanting lake side residence has attracted royals, tsars and Hollywood lovers including Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh since the 16th century. The estate is still in hands of the aristocratic Guarienti family and this is reflected in everything from the heavily swathed silk curtains in the bedrooms and the creaking wooden floorboards to the ancient sculptures tucked away in niches and the family chapel which is opened just once a year on the feast day of San Marco for the locals to come and pray for a good harvest.
Our favourite rooms have small terraces overlooking the clear waters of the lake, in which it is still possible to swim. All of them are old-fashioned yet comfortable with antique wooden furniture, marble bathrooms and paintings from the family’s private collection. The Limonaia bedrooms are unique, reached through an orchard of ancient lemon trees (with claims to be the oldest in Italy), crumbling statues and scented jasmine tumbling from the tiled rooftops. For complete privacy the garden suite Tre Archi has its own private entrance and gardens as well as breathtaking views over Count Guarienti’s private gardens.
Peace and privacy are easy to find throughout the garden, lemon and olive groves: whether it be lying on a vast sun lounger under an olive tree beside the swimming pool or exploring the lake on the hotel’s private launch. With tables set along the tiny, private harbour, the hotel’s informal trattoria is ideal for a relaxed lunch under white umbrellas or even better for cocktails during aperitivo hour as the sun drops limpidly into the lake. The more formal restaurant is located in the cosy dining room or in the summer months on a delightful terrace under the awning of an ancient fig tree.
Those mad enough to want to leave the property have the magnificent city of Verona half an hour’s drive away, making it ideal for opera-lovers who need a respite from the heat of the city during the Roman Arena season in July and August. The rest of the Veneto is there to explore but personally we think once you arrive, sightseeing plans will be abandoned and you will lose yourself to the spell that the Locanda has cast on its guests for the past 400 years.