During the last ice age gigantic glaciers glided across northern Italy until they could admire themselves in lakes chiseled from the earth. Lake Maggiore (the Big Lake) is the second largest in the Lake District. On the west shore in the small town of Baveno the mysteries of the past have been preserved by the fact that the Lakes used to have a water level many meters higher. This part of Italy was founded on trading that originated in the 1st Century and has vowed allegiance in turn to Roman, French, and Austrian rule.
The tradition of the European grand tour dates back to the 16th century. Those who could travel did so for reasons of health, status, culture, curiousity, adventure or unadulterated recreation. The Simpion road that Napoleon and his chief engineer Nicolas Ceard converted in 1805 to carry his Italian campaign artillery, truly heralded the advent of the tourism era. Steamboat travel commenced in 1816 and as early as 1841 Thomas Cook was selling the Italian Land of lakes. The “Il traforo ferroviario del Sempione” railway that made the Alps passable in 1906 made the region even more accessible and tourism has only increased over time.
Dating from 1857 the Lido Palace started life as the villa of the Marquis Durazzo of Genoa. The original classic architecture with 22 foot ceilings, etched glass walls and intricate white marble carvings is still very much evident although avant garde touches have been added. It remained a private home until after the famous visit by Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice in 1879, when the villa hosted many of her courtiers for the period of her stay. In the year following her visit the house was bought by the mayor of Baveno Gerolamo Rossi who was responsible for its transformation, opening it as the Grand Hotel Baveno in 1882.
As soon as the legendary beauty of the Lake District became easily accessible many famous folk came to see what all the fuss was about. Stories of the rich and royal abound and many have slept in beds across the region. Queen Victoria’s visit during which Princess Beatrice enjoyed her 22 birthday celebration in style certainly put Lake Maggiore and Baveno decisively on the map for all travelers. Wagner, Wordsworth, Lord Byron and Verdi all came here for inspiration and Umberto Giordano’s Fedora extravaganza was born here.
Room 124 at the Lido Palace was chosen by Winston Churchill and his bride Clementine Hozier (daughter of the 10th Earl of Airlie) for their honeymoon in 1908. Churchill bought tickets to Baveno from Thomas Cook. Returning to the area was a dream that he harboured from when he visited Lake Maggiore while on holiday in Switzerland as a young boy.
We have only loitered and loved – a good and serious occupation
For which the histories furnish respectable precedents
With all my affection. Your loving son W.
The suite is now our largest and its central location on the first floor allows for spectacular views of Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands.