Villa Crespi Arabesque Fairy Tale

by Joelle

On my inbox four months ago I receive an-e-mail  with the title : ” Save the Date !” – Luxury & Finance meet at a gala dinner hosted by Vogue Italy ‘s Creative Doyenne Franca Sozzani and my long time friend Raffaele Jerusalmi CEO of Borsa Italiana to celebrate the “Made in Italy ” brands at the prestigioius Palazzo Crespi in Milan . Exited with the upcoming event, I check on line flights, dates and  possible acomodations.

Browsing the Crespi keyword my attention gets caught by a beautiful picture of a spectacular Moorish villa apparently built in 1879. The villa’s arabesque architecture and it’s stunning gardens is  situated just a few steps from the enchanting Lake Orta between the region of Piedmont and Lombardy. The small Italian Taj Mahal called Villa Crespi is part of the renowned hotel chain Relais & Chateau and according to Google Map it’s located only one hour and a half driving distance from Milan.

Intrigued by the concealed beauty of the place I decide to contact directly the management for availability during the time I will be in Milan. I receive the most welcoming reply from Cinzia Cannavacciuolo wife of the Neapolitan two starred Michelin Chef and now famous TV star ;  Together  they crown this  magnificent small estate into the queen of Italian Luxe hospitality.

From Malpensa airport the GPS on my I-pad gets us at Villa Crespi in only 40 minutes time. Even without a GPS it is practically impossible not to notice the charming building entirely covered with intricate adornments looking from far just like my Middle Eastern grandmother’s lace handkerchief.

A team of young and pretty receptionists dressed in black suits and white shirts welcome us into the majestic entrance hall. At least 5 floors high ending into a blue roof with several golden stars and a rich 19th century chandelier, this is not the Mecca I know, but where exactly am I?

It’s almost 3 in the afternoon,we are invited into the 70s style eclectic bar . The kitchen is closed and Chef Antonino this afternoon went to Florence to receive one more of his prestigious awards. Cinzia, a pretty blonde woman looking just like me and you, has just arrived and already guessed that we are starving.We are in Italy right?  And food  in this country is a serious matter .

While we are doing the check in and our suite getting ready we are offered two glasses of local red wine , large slides of tasty aged Parmesan cheese , black olives and a delicious home made Focaccia bread. I good start I must say!

135 years ago, offered as a gift of love to his wife, the king of cotton manufacture Cristoforo Beninho Crespi bought the land at Orta San Giulio to build what would be the family Summer House . In love with the architecture he discovered on several of his journeys in North Africa, and the Middle East, he commissioned architect and interior designer Angelo Colla at that time very popular  among the Milanese elite  to design among other Palazzos in the city  and build  his  “Villa Pia ” a construction site  that would import for more than 18 year  highly qualified  Middle Eastern artisans and workers.

Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce is served in what once was the terrazza, a long corridor with large glass windows overlooking the beautiful park . The hand-painted walls in yellow, cream and  light blue stucco  are magnificently adorned according the Andalusian and Islamic traditions.

After the delicious pasta we are walking up to our assigned suite. It’s the Presidential  my friends!  Like in a Venitian dream of the past, the red upholstered brocades around the room walls speak for themselves. The spacious room offers a set of 19th century sofa , comfortable armchairs and 18th century  furniture in birch wood from Lombardy . On the table a large gramophone as if it were sending it’s melodic tunes  silently to the partial view of lake Orta surrounded by tall pine trees.

The bathroom my favorite piece in the suite , has details in marbles varying from Giallastro Bocatello of Spain, Rosso from Levanto, green from  Polcevera , Lumachella stone from Sweden and precious Jasper from Sicily exquisitely enhanced by the sublime floral and geometric motifs parquets of wood on the bedroom floors. I am in a true fairy tale , an atmosphere stopped in time like in a dream.

Later , the dilapidation of the Crespi family obliged them to sell the villa and their valuable furniture to the Marchesi Fracassi Ratti Mentone di Torre Rossano whose important and habitué guests were among others the future king of Umberto of Savoia. The house was then auctioned together with all its furniture until one lucky day , it was offered to Cinzia’s father coming from a renowned  family of local hoteliers.

Antonino, arriving from Naples in at the age of 24  just after a devastating alluvion of ’94 found the villa in a deplorable state. With the intent of learning for just 6 months about the behavior of sweet waters fish he not  surprisingly  falls in love with a local ” Mermaid ” the beautiful Cinzia to be later  his wife. :  Once married,  they  decide to take on themselves  the challenge of renovating the  damaged site creating today the most beautiful pearl of the Relais & Chateau group.

Antonino knew that being a talented chef  he would have to compete at one point with the beauty of the Orientalist architectural masterpiece whose poignant personality would make it difficult for any dish to be savored on the deserved space without one having to look up admiring the ceiling.

But  everyone knows that to be a great chef one needs to be wise, balanced, constantly present and Antonino understood more than anyone  that different  ingredients need to blend harmoniously on a perfect environment where  time place and space and just one.

Soon , we will show you how!


Joelle’s Tips:

E-mail :
Website : 
Owners: Family Cannavacciuolo
Maître de Maison: Cinzia Primatesta Cannavacciuolo
Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux: Antonino Cannavacciuolo


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