Astonishing … a Moorish palace (with a two-star Michelin restaurant) by a northern Italian mountain lake, authentic down to every detail, built in the 1870s by an Italian cotton merchant named Crespi. It brings a little of Baghdad to the heart of Europe.
  The outside is eye-stoppingly encrusted with Moorish style plasterwork and a banquet of harmonious pastel colourings. Reception is in a superb atrium, rising to a first-floor gallery, with more fine plaster work. Floors throughout are beautiful inlaid wood. The ground floor public spaces include several connecting rooms devoted to the restaurant (choose the impressive blue room if possible). People come a long way for the celebrated food of chef-owner Antonino Cannavacciuolo. A cool, contemporary mirrored cocktail room and outdoor terrace complete the ground floor.
  The staircases – lit by large, circular windows, encased in delicate filigree artwork – are an event in their own right. Upstairs colour schemes in the bedrooms are rich blues, red and golds. Ceilings are high, and all the bedrooms are graciously spacious. Six of the bedrooms on the top floor have Lake Orta views, four partial lake views, but to be accurate, the villa is some way back from and above the lake, which is mostly screened by trees. The building’s fabric is of such high quality that it would take another few million euros to furnish it with appropriately fine pieces – so instead the owners have done their best.
  The garden is smallish but pleasing with fleeting glimpses through trees to the lake. There’s a large tent for functions – it’s popular for weddings. Lake Orta is calmer, not such a tourist trap as its bigger neighbours.