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With their jagged, sharp-toothed peaks, crystalline waters and enchanting medieval towns, Northern Italy and Switzerland have beckoned me for years. Legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner once said, “The Dolomites are a perfect blend of art and adventure, where nature has sculpted its own masterpieces,” and I’ve always wished to see these masterpieces for myself. As the rain started closing in at home in Vancouver, Canada, my friend Darcy and I embarked on a whirlwind tour, traveling in a loop from Lake Garda to Lake Como, with a quick Switzerland detour, before finally making our way to the Dolomites.

PALATIAL MEETS MODERN

northern italy and switzerland - Lido Palace exterior
northern italy and switzerland - Lido Palace spa

Arriving at Lake Garda and pulling up to Lido Palace, the first thing we notice is the building’s stunning façade. The hotel is a perfect mix of old and new—while the Belle Époque-style exterior, lounges and gardens all exude a timeless elegance, the rooms are entirely modern and design-focused, with minimalist furniture, white and gray details and eclectic artwork.

The modern influences are most evident, though, in the stunning spa. Besides the indoor and outdoor pools, there’s a traditional Finnish sauna, multiple steam rooms and a pink Himalayan salt room. We spend a long, languid afternoon enjoying all the spa’s delights. My favorite part was the variety of “emotional” showers, each serving a different purpose and offering different sprays, pressures, temperatures and scents, such as mint, eucalyptus and lemongrass.

northern italy and switzerland - Riva del Garda lakefront walkway
northern italy and switzerland - Lido Palace pool

Although technically fall, summer was still in full swing. The staff remarked that they’d never seen such a warm October. It was perfect weather for lounging by the pool, strolling along the lakefront promenade and exploring the charming town of Riva del Garda. In the evening, we dined on pizza, seafood and Aperol Spritzes on the terrace of the lively Bella Napoli restaurant.

northern italy and switzerland - Sentiero del Ponale

On our last morning, we hike along the Sentiero del Ponale, an abandoned military road built in 1851 that connects Riva del Garda and Valle di Ledro. Now closed to vehicle traffic and primarily used by cyclists and hikers, it winds its way treacherously along the cliffside. It is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever seen. Every corner reveals another breathtaking panorama of the lake. It was the perfect way to cap off our first stop.

HONEYMOONER’S PARADISE

northern italy and switzerland - Passalacqua orange car
northern italy and switzerland - Passalacqua room

Departing Riva del Garda, we head to our next lakefront destination—two nights at Passalacqua on the western shores of Lake Como. Awarded Best Hotel in the World only weeks prior to our arrival, the hotel was abuzz with an air of giddy celebration.

The property’s 300 years of heritage are felt from the moment you enter the gates. The bright vintage hues of rosy pink and mossy green, soft classical music, museum-quality art, bubbling fountains, glass chandeliers and spectacular terraced gardens all lend an air of refined splendor. At check-in, we’re each given a bouquet of flowers that the in-house florist, Daniela, prepares daily for arriving guests. When shown to our lavish pink suite, we find further treats awaiting us—champagne, grapes, a tray of local pastries and more fresh flowers.

northern italy and switzerland - Passalacqua pool

After the next day’s leisurely breakfast, we map out our day—morning yoga, a few hours lounging poolside, a private spa session and, finally, the complimentary activity of the day: wine tasting. Passalacqua’s philosophy is embracing the fine Italian art of dolce far niente—doing nothing and enjoying it—and we planned on doing exactly that.

northern italy and switzerland - Passalacqua outdoor treadmill
northern italy and switzerland - Passalacqua greenhouse

The day is every bit as splendid as we hoped. Relaxed and pampered, we head down to the underground cellar for the wine tasting presented by the hotel sommelier, Valeria. Sipping various reds, whites and sparkling rosés, we chat with the other guests and are amused to discover we are the only pair not on our honeymoon. This doesn’t surprise us in the least—Passalacqua is a true honeymooner’s paradise.

During our short stint here, we notice that guests rarely seemed to leave the property, and with good reason. Everything you could possibly need is within reach. Formerly a network of underground stables, the tiered grounds are linked by a winding road and include an underground spa, a gym, a pool, multiple bars, a greenhouse seating area, tennis and bocce courts and much more. We seldom ventured out ourselves, only leaving to buy fresh fruit and cheese from the market up the road, then briefly to explore the town’s steep, narrow cobblestoned lanes and quaint neighborhood shops.

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE

northern italy and switzerland - Park Hotel Vitznau restaurant at sunset
northern italy and switzerland - Lake Lucerne lakefront, Vitznau

Next, we head north, way north, to Vitznau on the shores of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. Dotted with quaint Bavarian-style villages that seem plucked out of a storybook, Lake Lucerne is Switzerland at its finest. The houses with flower-boxed windows and steeply pitched roofs are straight out of The Sound of Music, and the emerald hills, cobbled streets, cute cafes and distant melody of cowbells complete the postcard-perfect setting. Backdropped by towering Mount Rigi, Park Hotel Vitznau fits perfectly into this tableau. It’s like staying in a castle out of a fairytale, but one with every modern amenity you could possibly want.

northern italy and switzerland - Park Hotel Vitznau breakfast
northern italy and switzerland - Park Hotel Vitznau breakfast

In the morning, we take out complimentary paddleboards and go for a paddle along the lakefront, drifting idly past fishermen and picnicking families, soaking up the views and the quiet of the morning. Then we head for breakfast, which turns out to be some of the best food of our entire trip—not too surprising, considering the Michelin-starred restaurant onsite. Darcy was especially fond of the truffle croque monsieur, while I sampled a little bit of everything: vanilla bean French toast, crepes with chocolate and caramelized pears, smoked salmon in the shape of a flower with a side of caviar.

northern italy and switzerland - Park Hotel Vitznau pool
northern italy and switzerland - Park Hotel Vitznau spa aquarium

I had heard rumors about the hotel’s heated outdoor infinity pool, and it does not disappoint. It’s 70 feet long and looks directly out over the magnificent lake and mountainscape. The spa also includes an ice grotto, a tepidarium and a floor-to-ceiling saltwater aquarium. Lounging by the pool, we’re delighted to notice a wedding being held in the grounds adjacent to the main building. True to the hotel’s nature, it’s a beautiful, elegant affair, and the music and general merriment drifting over from the party felt like a warm addition to our stay.

The next day, we go for a hike and are treated to more sights of lush, rolling meadows, wild alpine flowers and sheep scattered along the landscape. We wrap up our short Swiss interlude with dinner at a traditional restaurant up the road, Rütli, serving authentic, hearty Bavarian cuisine.

AN ELEVATED ESCAPE

northern italy and switzerland - Dolomites

Looping back around into the province of South Tyrol, we head to the final stop of the trip—FORESTIS in the Dolomites. As the sun begins to set, we make our way up the long, winding road linking the town of Brixen to the hotel, and there, I get my first glance at the majestic towering peaks that inspired this trip.

northern italy and switzerland - FORESTIS room

It’s true what they say: FORESTIS is paradise for outdoors enthusiasts. The welcome drink is made of flowers and pinetree sap; the furniture, soaps and shampoos are made of spruce, stone pine and larch; the baths are carved from Dolomite stone. Every aspect of the hotel is pared back and simple, letting nature take centerstage.

northern italy and switzerland - Forestis Forest Cuisine dish
northern italy and switzerland - Forestis Forest Cuisine dish

After a long day of travel, we’re excited to head to our first seven-course meal in the amphitheater-style dining room. Every night offers a different Forest Cuisine menu, curated by the chef and based on local, natural ingredients. Each course blows us away, from the pumpkin ravioli and roast beef with artichoke mash to the raspberry sorbet with pistachio and whipped ricotta for dessert.

northern italy and switzerland - Dolomites view at sunset

The next morning, we join a guided walk and Wyda energy session in the forest. Wyda is Celtic yoga and is always done outdoors, with the aim of achieving mindfulness through connection with nature. Local to the nearby village, our guide tells us all about the beauty and simplicity of life in the mountains.

northern italy and switzerland - Dolomites view
northern italy and switzerland - Dolomites viewed from FORESTIS pool

The rest of the day we make our own. While Darcy dips into the incredible spa facilities, I spend most of my time outdoors, getting lost in the mesmerizing labyrinth of trails. There’s a ski resort directly behind the hotel, so the options to make your way up the south-facing Plose slope are endless. From every trail, I could look over my shoulder and get another glimpse of the iconic Dolomite views. In the evening, we enjoy a glass of wine on our balcony while watching the sunset fade behind the craggy peaks.

northern italy and switzerland - FORESTIS outdoor forest sauna and cold plunge
northern italy and switzerland - FORESTIS pool

I join in on the spa activities the next day. Following the example of the Celts, the glorious wellness offerings use only elements found in nature, and the hotel’s alpine location 1800 meters above sea-level makes it an ideal spot for R&R. We float in the pool, read our books in one of several relaxation areas and try the various steam rooms and Finnish saunas, including an herbal one and a cabin in the forest. Every section has floor-to-ceiling glass windows, so the mountain views are present at all times.

On the last night, we get pre-dinner cocktails and take them outside to enjoy by the roaring fire. The isolated location makes it a perfect spot for stargazing and quiet contemplation. We savor our last 7-course meal and then reluctantly prepare for the journey home. Taking more trains than we could count, Darcy spa-ing to her heart’s content and me fulfilling my alpine wanderlust (for now, at least), our trip involved a lot of things. Still, we spent a whole lot of time doing nothing at all, in the very best way.

About the author: Olivia Betts is a Kiwi Collection Marketing team member and Passport Magazine Staff Writer always in search of her next adventure.

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