Close to the summit of Monte Mottarone, we sit in silence soaking up the 360-degree views. To the east, far below, sparkles Lake Maggiore. A handful of other lakes shimmer in the late-afternoon sunlight, while layer upon layer of rolling hills and the jagged snow-capped Alps melt into the horizon. We’re lucky: the bright, cloudless skies are a boon, and I’d be hard pushed to namecheck a more beautiful landscape.
There’s easy access to this north Italian panorama via the 20-minute cable car ride from the lakeside town of Stresa. My friend and I, however, are on a walking holiday between Lakes Maggiore and Orta, so arrive on foot after a four-hour hike from Alpino, the cable car’s half-way stop.
At almost 1,500 metres, Mottarone is a popular skiing spot in winter – the ski club here, one of the first in Italy, was founded in 1909 – and we pass under a toboggan and ski lift before Villa Pizzini, a restaurant with rooms near the mountaintop, comes into sight and our day’s hike is done.
“You’ve earned your dinner,” says owner Ivan Fiorilla as we check in. There’s a surprising south London twang to his accent – he lived in Peckham for years before returning to Italy to open this place with girlfriend Sabina (an architect turned self-taught chef) in 2015.
It took the couple a year-and-a -half to renovate the abandoned 19th-century hunting lodge. There are five comfy rooms and the forested setting overlooking Maggiore is spectacular, but it’s the cuisine – using produce from their own gardens and local farmers – that people come for. That night we devour velvety pumpkin and chestnut soup, beetroot pasta with goats’ cheese, and mushroom mille foglie with delicious Piedmont wine (the extensive list features 100 from this region alone). It’s an intimate space with just 28 covers, and with a four-course tasting menu for €40 (or €52 for six courses), it’s good value too.
From up here we can see Isola dei Pescatori, the island in Lake Maggiore where we’d stayed the previous night. One of the three Borromean islands, it’s a short boat ride from Stresa and at sunset its cobbled streets were almost deserted, the day-trippers gone.