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Old Jul 7th, 2010, 08:37 PM
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Well, I started this earlier, but I lost it during dinner!!

We spent June 19 and 20 at the FIRST HOTEL about one mile from Malpensa Airport. It was recommended by Bob the Navigator, who is always reliable as far as I can tell, and this was no exception.

We found the Hotel with the help of our GPS - came with the car - but it would have been very difficult otherwise. Although very close to the airport, it is in a little town (suburb?) called Casa Nuove, and is just off the autostrada, but I got really turned around trying to find it. We drove around a bit to acclimate ourselves. (I always need to know where NORTH is!) and saw a lot more of the area around Malpensa, and I'll comment on other hotels I saw.

The hotel had everything we needed, and though it seemed in a strange area at first, we came to love it as we grew more familiar with the area. The staff was great, and very helpful, there was a pleasant bar, and a very nice terrace/garden out front, and a decent restaurant in the basement (don't be put off by that, it's not "basementy.") and the food was quite OK. The room was pleasant, bed comfortable, shower large enough, all spiffy and clean.

We had a chance to look at other hotels in the area, and my comments follow:

Villa Malpensa: looked like a lovely spot, very near our hotel, in a park like setting, elegant old building, no doubt a wealthy Milanese's home earlier in its life. We did not go in, but it would be a very interesting alternative.

Holiday Inn was also very nearby, but looked just like a Holiday Inn is supposed to, probably quite all right.

Hilton Garden Inn: was up further north, but only a couple of miles through suburbia, in Somma Lombardo. Somehow, I liked its location better, and so we went inside, and talked to the staff. Very attractive quite new place, and I hope would be as good as the Hilton Garden Inn in San Lazzaro di Savena, outside Bologna, where we stayed a couple of weeks before and LOVED. (see my earlier report.)

Hotel Colonne, in Varese, is actually farther away from the airport. By car it would be at least half an hour, but if you want a really fascinating place to stay, this one is in a little village on the top of a mountain with staggering views, all rooms BELOW the reception, cascading down the mountain, and has a fabulous dining room. I have stayed there twice in the past, with my intrepid Italian speaking art historian friend, who has enough confidence for both of us.

This last hotel is in the same category as those at Lago di Orta, as most interesting places to stay when flying in or out of Malpensa.

I was not sufficiently confident to stay that far away this time. I was trying to make things as easy as possible for DH, but his driving proved to be right on all the time, and though pretty deaf, he made out very well.

We had dinner at the hotel, mine was pasta pesto, with a very nice Roero Arneis white wine, which was excellent. The pasta was good, not the best ever, but quite OK.

We did take a marvelous day trip up to Lago Maggiore, stopping at Stresa, for a walk and a cappucino, but didn't stay too long, as there were big doings in the town, a huge bike race was coming through on that Sunday, and finding a parking place proved to be difficult. the drive is not very interesting until you get to Arona, and then it gets very delightful.

Stresa is a lovely town, to which I would love to return. We did see, in addition to all the elegant hotels on the front, a tiny boutique hotel, which would be a fabulous place for a splurge. It is called Villa Palazzo Aminta, and I suggest you Google that one for a look at one of the "Leading Small Hotels of The World." I just had to go in and take a look. Everything was very spiffy and gorgeous, and when I got a brochure, I found it was not any more expensive than a very good spa, per day. It is just beyond Stresa, but still in that town. (Not that I ever want to pay that much, by the way!!)

After Stresa, we drove around to Lake Orta, where we found ORTA SAN GUILIO, again upon the recommendation of Bob the Navigator. First we stopped in OMEGNA, at the top of the lake and I liked it very much. Several little restaurants along the front looked very nice. Not big elegant hotels like Stresa, but more charming and interesting.

When we got to Orta San Guilio, it was mobbed!! Something big must have been going on, we thought. So we decided to try to eat at the hotel restaurant, LA BUSSOLA, which was not a very good choice, but at least we could park on the hotel property. It had lovely views of the island, ISOLA SAN GUILIO, but that was about all it had going for it. The guide book I was using (Eyewitness Guides: "BACK ROADS ITALY") said it was as good as the Lion d'Oro, but I disagree. At least the Lion d'Oro, when we later saw it, was right down on the water.

Now this town is deceiving. We drove down farther, after lunch, and probably parked where we should not have, but then we walked through an archway, in to a magical place.
It is a charming medieval town, with cobblestone streets.

As luck would have it, and this being Sunday in Italy, there was not only an unusual art show in an unusual art gallery, but as we walked down to the waterfront, we began to see very fancy old cars! Yes, the Megeve-Simplon car rally had stopped here for the day, and all the gorgeous perfectly restored cars were lined up along the waterfront. Oh, how I wish I knew how to upload photos, so I could show you. I'll try to figure it out, somehow, a little later. The town and its building was so beautiful, and Bob the Navigator was right again!

The art show was at the Palazzo Penotti Ubertini, and consisted of two parts: inside were 19th Century lake paintings, all very romantic and evocative of all the Italian lakes. Also inside, but also outside, all around the town, were the contemporary sculptures of Rabarama. I will quote from the brochure:

"Her figurative works depict human beings with skin covered with arabesques, damask like patterns, scaly wetsuits and even snake skin."

I found them most attractive, and the whole town became an art gallery as far as I was concerned, or maybe more like a Clark Gable movie set, what with all those gorgeous old cars, the lovely park by the lake, and the tiny many-housed island just out in front on the lake. It didn't look real!

We could have spent a lot more time there, but we had to go back to organize and pack up, gas up, or rather, diesel up, never forgetting MaiTaiTom, and return the car, et cetera. We did manage to have the best gelato of the trip (chocolate, mango, and passion fruit) here in this delightful town, full of Italians enjoying a Sunday outing. the perfect ending.

We arrived back at the hotel, and by now were familiar with the area.

There were at least three gas stations near the First Hotel, but no one on duty. Apparently, we learned later, you put your DEBIT or ATM card in the gas pump, pump your gas, and hope and pray that only the cost of your gas is deducted, or you can pay cash. DH was having none of that, so back we went to confer with the hotel staff. They explained this system, but DH was still having none of it.

Just then a nice fellow walked up to the desk and asked if he could help. Well, he turned out to be our guardian angel, an Italian born Canadian business man named Mario who flies to Milan often, is fluent in Italian and English, and who, eventually, went with DH, down the autostrada a few miles, got gas from a "manned" station,(while I checked in online and got our boarding passes for American Airlines the next morning, and even drove behind us, when we returned the car to Europecar. What a doll! AND he turned out to be just about the age of our son, AND it was Father's Day!!

We all had dinner together, and enjoyed his company very much. Again, dinner at the hotel, too tired to go farther afield, and after all, we had just had more than two splendid weeks of the best of Italy. This dinner was better than the night before, grilled chicken breast, with grilled zucchini and roasted potatoes.

thus ends our TWENTY MATCHLESS DAYS - with thanks again to all the fodorites who helped along in the endless research and planning.
taconictraveler is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 06:27 AM
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Bravo! Loved reading this last part (and the first 2 parts too!) of your trip. What a lovely way to end a great adventure.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 06:54 AM
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The Villa Malpensa was built by one of the founders of the Italian aviation industry, and part of the villa contains historic remains of the old Milan train station. When Mussolini ordered the train station demolished, he let the family that owned Villa Malpensa take out interior architecture wholesale, for free, and they are now part of the public spaces of the hotel. (You can sometimes get good rates there last-minute, but nobody likes the food. Eat elsewhere.)

Although you explain your reasons for choosing Hotel First quite well, I do want to post for the sake of future Googlers who might pull up your "malpensa" report that there are lodgings in very easy strking distance of Malpensa with either terrific food or really lovely vistas or BOTH. Credit to you for describing a few of them! For most travelers looking to end a trip to Italy on a high note who don't want to stay in Milan itself, there are far more charming options with better food than Hotel First, or any of the airport hotels really.
zeppole is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 08:14 AM
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Oh, Please Zeppole, do tell us about some other places near Malpensa.

Although Malpensa has gotten awfully big, it is still a destination that we will probably use again, and I would love to know more about other places nearby.

We once went to Villa Panza, which I guess was near Varese, to see that man's incredible modern art collecion, and garden. WOW

Thanks for the info about Villa Malpensa, I should have gone inside!
taconictraveler is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 08:42 AM
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Thanks for posting this and not leaving us with the oft-heard "It is the obvious choice" and nothing else.
Dukey is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 10:45 AM
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Great report--I am delighted it went well.
I am sorry I did not make it clear that one of my favorite trattorias in all of Italy is right next door to Hotel First. I doubt if you will find a better option anywhere else near MXP. I have had a dozen clients eat there and they all love it. I am glad you saw Orta San Guilio---we love that place.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 11:27 AM
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...including the Domina Airport Hotel at Malpensa. We stayed there on our way out in March and it's pretty much a dive. Really forgettable...
rs899 is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 01:48 PM
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Oh, Please Zeppole, do tell us about some other places near Malpensa.

Although Malpensa airport has gotten awfully big, it is still a destination that we will probably use again, and I would love to know more about other places nearby.

We once went to Villa Panza, which I guess was near Varese, to see that man's incredible modern art collecion, and garden. WOW

Thanks for the info about Villa Malpensa, I should have gone inside!
taconictraveler is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 01:51 PM
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Bob, I think you did made it clear about the restaurant next door, or else someone on this site did. It just looked empty and a bit forlorn on the first night we were at the First Hotel, and then the second night we were so intent in conversation with our guardian angel, that we didn't think beyond the in house restaurant.
Now I wish we had tried it anyway!!

(Sorry that last message went up twice.)
taconictraveler is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 01:56 PM
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We've stayed at Villa Malpensa several times and always had good food there. However, thanks for the list of other alternatives near MXP. It's always so good to have a list like this.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Old Jul 20th, 2010, 08:48 AM
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Just re-reading this post makes me want to go back!!

If anyone needs any info on any parts of this trip, places, and things, and timing, and rental cars and houses, I remain happy to answer and help, because I received so much help on this forum.
taconictraveler is offline  
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