In May we went on a week’s holiday – The Best of Lake Maggiore Walking Holiday with HF Holidays. We went as a couple for a group walking holiday. Our base was the Grand Hotel Bristol in Sensa. This review concentrates on the hotel; I have done a separate review of the HF holiday. I have rated it as 4 stars but 3.5 would be a fairer assessment – it would have been 5 if the food had been good.
One of the reasons I was tempted to this holiday was to be able to stay at the 4 star Grand Hotel Bristol. It’s a magnificent building, originally built as a private residence for a nobleman in the late 19th century and extended and altered in the 1920s when it became a hotel. The public areas are elegant and feature crystal chandeliers, marble columns, grand artwork and sculptures, stained glass ceilings and roof lights. It’s somewhere we could never afford to stay independently so I knew that as a member of a group we would have standard rooms, probably in the annexe, with mountain rather than lakeside views. We arrived by coach from Milan Malpensa airport and the front of the hotel was indeed impressive with a fountain playing, underground parking to one side and steps up to the garden. We entered the grand reception area via a large revolving door; the receptionist on duty said we would be shown to our room by the second receptionist but she only took us to the bottom of the nearest lift to make our own way up to the 4th floor, which was fine but we and others in our group then spent some time searching for our room nos. and eventually found them down a long corridor in an annexe at the back (as expected); we later discovered a lift that would have taken us closer to our room. Our room, although not as opulent as the public areas, was furnished with antique style furniture, good quality draped curtains and wall coverings. We had the usual tv, minibar/fridge and safe but the only rubbish bin was in the bathroom. There was a lot of marble in the bathroom and an attractive mosaic panel on one wall. There were some niggles/quirks in that the wardrobe ran along the side of the bedroom fairly close to the large bed so there was a lot of jiggling around each other to get access to our clothes. Annoyingly there were no drawers for underwear and other non-hanging items of clothing. Our room was at the top of the annexe, under the roof, so there was height restriction in the bathroom; this wouldn’t have been a problem if the bathroom had been set out differently, i.e. with the toilet and bidet under the lower ceiling and the bath/shower on the opposite higher ceilinged side of the room. As it was my husband, who is nearly 6` couldn’t stand directly under the shower, although it was ideal for me at 5`2”. Others in our group had similar problems with the layout of the bathroom, inability to access the fridge/minibar (which we didn’t bother with) and various other faults, which were sorted out on request. Our balcony was rather nice, being very private and sheltered by brick walls on each side. We had views of a mountain and part of the extensive gardens and outdoor pool but a large crane and hoarding on an adjacent building site rather spoilt the rest of the scene.
The outdoor pool was impressive but as it was unheated we personally did not use it although others did; it was set high in the grounds to provide good views of the lake and mountains and there were sunbeds and sunshades surrounding the pool. I believe there was also at least one hot tub. The indoor pool was described as small but it was at least 25 metres long and wonderful. I only had time for one swim but I had the pool all to myself and it was warm, clean and stylish, with plenty of towels provided and a few tables and chairs at one end where I left my bits and pieces. There was also a small gym with limited equipment. In the area near the fitness suite we found a water station where we filled our water bottles ready to take on our organised walks. At the side of the hotel there was a large bar with an attached winter garden with amazing coloured glass roof that led out into the garden by the pool. Those lucky enough to afford a room or suite at the front or side of the hotel would have views of the picturesque lake and Borromean Islands. The location of the hotel is on the main waterfront boulevard opposite Isola Bella and only a ten minute walk to the pedestrianised centre of Stresa as well as the ferry station. Milan is under an hour by train from Stresa and the railway station is also fairly close to the Hotel Bristol. A wonderful hotel BUT… the food was not so good.
Breakfast and dinner were taken in a huge dining room where we had two tables allocated to our group. Breakfast was a self-service buffet with the usual cold meats and cheese, cakes, croissants, fruit salad and pots of yoghurt and limited cereals (the muesli was unpleasant and unhealthy due to added chocolate chips). There was no toaster so anyone who desperately wanted toast had to ask a waiter for it. The hot food was scrambled egg, bacon, sausages, boiled eggs and on some days spinach. I had the spinach whenever it was available as we rarely saw any green vegetables or salad at dinner. There was the usual coffee machine, generally with the invevitable long queue so I only had coffee on two occasions. I was really looking forward to eating Italian food at dinner but not much of it was what I would call Italian, more like international, and it was not as good as expected. Our first dinner was a disappointment but we thought it would improve. It did not. At breakfast we were supposed to choose our main course for the evening but there was not enough detail – `Fish` or `Meat` doesn’t really help. There was the occasional good dish – the risottos and a vegetarian lasagne were very good – but they were few and far between. One night half our table sent back their salmon as it was not cooked enough but we did receive replacements that were ok. Basically we ended up with a choice from two starters from three – pasta, risotto or soup, followed by a choice of meat or fish, followed by (no choice) dessert. We had been led to believe by HF Holidays that `dinner is a three-course offering with choices and a salad buffet and it’s all authentic Italian food`. There was no salad buffet and I don’t see how one could have been offered just to our group of 18 without everyone else helping themselves to it. I almost wish I’d said I was vegetarian as I might have had better food; one of our group had gluten free meals which were brought out separately. I think that the main problem is that the Hotel Bristol caters for many coach parties so the food tends to be mass produced and is often cold by the time it’s served up by the silver service waiters. Also, most of the coach parties only stay for one or two nights, so their holidaymakers only experience one or two dinners there.
On our final morning there was very little food at all left by 8.00 am, so even less choice than usual. Some brave souls asked the waiters for croissants and a few were found by one waiter; this led to what almost turned into a `croissant war` with the member of one group leading a sortie to grab what were left. Luckily we’d been in the advanced party when there was still a bit of food available. The poor waiters did their best and I felt rather sorry for them.
I would recommend The Bristol for anyone wanting to book independently as I assume the food in the other restaurant would be better than that served up to tour groups. Bed and breakfast might be the best option enabling one to eat out at one of the many local restaurants or a-la-carte in the Hotel’s other restaurant.