by Edward Kiersh
Villa Castagnola Italy – The adventure begins by first snaking past long-abandoned border outposts, into and out of Switzerland and Italy every few miles. Houses and small hillside farms also seem to be forsaken, and that’s understandable. The one lane roads here, twisting and turning, are mean and harrowing, edging precariously close to cliffs dropping off into oblivion.
It wasn’t easy leaving the comfortable confines of the five-star, Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola, an 1880-built getaway once home to a noble Russian family that sits wondrously right on Lake Lugano. Instead of braving “mad” Italian drivers hurtling through hairpin turns, it would have been far less blood-curdling to sit at one of the Villa’s bars smoking a Cuban cigar, dining in the Michelin-starred Gallery Arté al Lago restaurant, or simply watching the world go by in the Castagnola’s sculpture garden.
Just drive slowly! Very carefully, and don’t be beguiled by the stunning views of the Valle Intelvi, an alpine region cradled between Lakes Como and Lugano known for its softly-rolling slopes, picturesque meadows, and “Italy’s Balcony,” the 4,311-foot high Mount Sighignola.
Braving this 1000-meter uphill trek also has other rewards, namely the friendly, even boisterous welcome and breathtaking 360-degree panoramas at the 9-hole Lanzo Golf Club.
The true epitome of mountain golf, this 2800-yard course winds through the Plan delle Noci, always offering remarkable views of the Alps, and invariably confronting golfers with exasperating, sidehill lies.
The 379-yard, dauntingly-uphill 4th is dramatically torturous. It bedevils golfers with a ridiculously narrow landing area, while anything left or right winds up in pastures studded with braying sheep.
Like most of the holes here, the 4th green is the size of a New York City closet. The putting surfaces are also lightning fast, and shots out of bunkers must have the meticulous deftness of a Swiss watchmaker.
The 5th, a rather uncomplicated, 118-yard par 3 offers a golden birdie opportunity. The 360-yard 6th, an acutely sharp dogleg left, means skirting ravines and keeping tee shots away from dense clusters of trees on both sides of the fairway while avoiding the ever-looming slopes that take balls in a dizzying variety of directions, is another problem. Then there’s the elevated green. It’s carved into a hillside, protected by three long bunkers, and Indy-500 fast.
At 3280 feet above the Valle Intelvi, tee shots seem to rise majestically towards the Alps—and on the 432-yard 8th, every bit of muscular flight is needed. Stay to the right for the left side is thickly wooded and sloped, so much so, shots appear to careen backwards.
Once all these travails are over, visitors who gamely try to speak a little Italian will be greeted with a glass of local Ticino wine, some cheese, and lots of good-natured bonhomie in the clubhouse.
Such genuine hospitality makes it easy to forget errant shots, and the challenge that lies ahead: appreciating the awe-inspiring scenery while remaining focused enough to handle the hazardous drive back to the Castagnola.
Once back at this stately hotel some measure of self-indulgence may be in order, either a sauna and massage, or a casual walk along the lake to find just the right cafe for a refreshing glass of Prosecco. You’ve survived! Now is the time to celebrate, and to again enjoy the “scenery” of sorts in the local bistros, for the nightlife in Lugano is electric—and that can promise something far sweeter than mere Swiss chocolate.
Golf and travel writer Edward Kiersh has written for such publications as Golf Digest, The Robb Report, SPIN Magazine, and Cigar Aficionado where he wrote about resorts and golf course designers. He also wrote a golf feature for the New York Times Sunday Magazine section, and a best-selling baseball book, ‘Where Have You Gone, Vince DiMaggio?’
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