Private jets are the only way to travel as Melissa Emerson discovers when she touches down for a city break in Milan before hopping over the border to the lakeside sanctuary of Lugano
The prospect of enjoying the journey as much as the destination always seems doubtful, but when I arrive at the Harrods Aviation private terminal at Luton airport to travel to Milan with JetSmarter – and am greeted with “please, help yourself to champagne and your pilot will greet you shortly” – I start to change my mind.
Often referred to as the Uber of the skies, JetSmarter’s subscription-only service for private jet travel has three tiers including private charters, shared charters and JetShuttle. For the latter, members pay around £12,000 a year and are allocated credits to book available seats on existing jet routes up to two months in advance, via the app.
After a smooth sunset flight and feeling just a little bit famous in my sunglasses, I disembark from my leather seat at Milan’s Linate Airport private terminal. With no security queues or luggage hassle I’m smoothly chauffeured to my first stop, Magna Pars Suites Milano.
A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collective [SLH], Magna Pars Suites calls itself the first Hotel à Parfum and is housed in the Martone family’s former perfume factory. Keen to preserve its heritage, the family has opened an artisanal on-site perfume laboratory, LabSolue, where I experience the hotel’s unique olfactory check-in. Greeted on the red carpet, I enjoy a cocktail inspired by a particular seasonal ingredient (it was pomegranate at the time of my visit) before working my way through a variety of scents captured in conical cloches. There are 39 cocktails in total – one for each of the hotel’s suites – divided into woody, floral and fruity base notes, and guests have the chance to choose their suite based on the scent they like best, depending on availability, or buy the fragrance to take home. The apricot-scented Nespolo candle encased in green glass is probably my most precious holiday souvenir to date.
My high-ceilinged room, with its wall-to-wall window, is white-washed with just a splash of colour from the red leather sofa and the array of coffee table books, and feels like an artist’s studio, which seems in keeping with the creativity of the surrounding area. Situated just off Via Tortona, the hotel sits in an artistic district where I spy photographer’s studios and stylish artisan shops, as well as Giorgio Armani’s Armani/Silos museum, an archive of the designer’s creations.
After stopping by tourist hotspot Duomo di Milano and the historic shopping arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II next door, I head back towards the hotel, via a gelato shop, and to the much newer Mudec, or the Museum of Cultures. The building is an industrial architecture salvage project and the illuminated, curved walls of the main hall are worth the visit alone but, if you have time, do look in at the performance theatre and design store and wander around the fascinating permanent collection of cultural artefacts.
Back at the hotel, dinner is held outdoors at Da Noi In sheltered by the hotel’s lofty central courtyard garden, where I enjoy an array of innovative dishes. The Caged Egg is a highlight and comes slow cooked inside a cellophane bag with a grana padano cream and white and black truffle. The produce used is predominantly locally sourced and I can’t resist picking up a bottle of the hotel’s home-pressed olive oil after the meal.
Although it’s time to leave Italy behind the next morning for part two of my break, I’m heading to Lugano in Switzerland’s only Italian-speaking region, Ticino. Known as the sunny side of Switzerland, it’s popular with Swiss holidaymakers, thanks to its lake bordered by palms, parks and promenades.
THE VIEW Lugano, another SLH property, offers a chauffeur-driven service, so I enjoy the 50-mile journey over the border from Milan in the back seat of a Bentley. Even the private jet didn’t have a built-in seat massager, I think as we take the scenic route.
The hotel’s luxury extras however can’t be beaten by its views. All of its 18 suites look out over the lake, and thanks to the marine teak floors, wood and mirror-panelled walls and shiny, black design details, you can almost convince yourself you’re on a luxury yacht. Digital controls for the lights and blind come via a removable iPad on the wall while a pre-check-in menu sent by email gives me a choice of pillow type, sheet fabric, room fragrance, and toiletries – Jo Malone and pink toilet paper if you’re wondering.
My first stop after check-in is THE VIEW Spa, where I soon trade proper swimming in the 18-metre pool for lounging in the adjacent whirlpool with massage jets. The pink-hued bricks of the Himalayan Salt Room and the Kneipp circuit – a series of hot and cold water jets you walk through, a method thought to boost circulation – are worth spending some time in. Even my suite is fitted with a chromotherapy shower, designed to impact mood and wellbeing with its changing lighting, and the capacious, egg-shaped bathtub on its raised, spot-lit platform makes a striking feature.
As well as the spa, the ground floor is home to restaurant Innocenti Evasioni at THE VIEW, where I enjoy aperitivo on the terrace and marvel at the large globe-shaped structures of fairy-lights, before dinner, when a seasonal menu is accompanied by music from a live pianist.
The next day, I head down to the lake itself to meet my Ticino guide Monica for a boat trip. We lunch at Grotto San Rocco, stepping right off the boat onto the lakeside restaurant’s steps in Caprino (also charmingly the name for a goat’s cheese).
Owner Michel Walser has a casual but passionate approach to dining, and inspired by a flavour thesaurus he works with the best local ingredients and pairs them with accompaniments accordingly. I even observe a few items being freshly plucked from the gardens following my order of quadratino, a small square cheese, wrapped in smoked ham and served with a cabbage salad and a dish of caramelised figs with fresh goat’s cheese. Local Lugano-produced wines also take pride of place on the menu, and Walser lets us peer into the chilly stone cellar in the rocks – one of the town’s many historic fridges.
Curious about the wines of the region, I later enjoy a tasting at the Moncucchetto winery. Its charming hosts ply me with platters of salami and local cheeses, as I find my favourite: refolo brut, a sparkling chardonnay and pinot noir blend.
Down in Lugano itself, which guests can also reach by hiring one of the hotel’s smart cars or electric bicycles, the most striking piece of modernist architecture on the lakeside is Lugano Arte e Cultura or LAC, which opened in September 2015. A centre of music, visual and performing arts, it hosts theatre and dance performances in its 1,000-seat hall, and I stop by for the Paul Signac exhibition.
Art is also on the menu at my final stop, Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola, where it is paired with food at its Michelin-starred Restaurant Gallery Arté al Lago. Specialising in lake fish, the restaurant rotates displays of work by local and international artists twice a year. I’m beginning to see why the locals say the region offers the best of Italian culture and food, but with Swiss standards of efficiency just as my Bentley arrives on the dot to whisk me back to Milan and my jet home.