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a villa's past
by Jacqueline Harmon Butler
(return to lombardy)

The Malpensa Airport is about an hour outside Milan, and since my flight had an early morning departure, I asked my travel agent about hotels near the airport. She smiled and handed me a brochure for the Hotel Villa Malpensa. Photos of a gorgeous, buttercup yellow building accented in creamy white, trimmed with lacy, black iron work and a small attached chapel, surrounded by lovely gardens complete with swimming pool invited me.

The hotel was just around the corner and down a little country lane from the airport. Within five minutes I was walking up the steps of an incredibly beautiful villa and into the sweet lap of luxury.

I was warmly greeted by Piero, the front desk manager, and shown to a beautiful room decorated in soft pastel colors with large windows looking out over the gardens. I dumped my bags, ran a comb through my hair and dashed down to the lobby in search of food. Unfortunately, it was way past the normal lunch service and the restaurant was closed. Piero suggested I might be able to get a small panino (sandwich) at the bar located in the village down the road.

It was a gray, misty day but the air was fresh and it felt good to be outside walking. I had no difficulty finding the bar Piero mentioned and, indeed, even though the adjoining cafe was closed, the bar had panini available. I bought one along with a bottle of water and set out to explore the area. I headed down toward the Ticino River and sat on a giant rock and ate my crunchy sandwich of delicious proschuitto and provolone. The mist turned into rain as I headed back to the villa so my plans to go for a swim changed to a long soak in the giant bathtub.

"Benito Mussolini was frequently the guest of honor and it has been said that Adolph Hitler was present at times."
I was dressed and ready for dinner a bit early, so I stopped at the front desk to ask Piero a few questions. He was delighted to answer them and took me on a small tour.

The Villa Malpensa was built in 1920 as the summer home of the Caproni family. They were rich industrialists from nearby Milano and traveled in socially high circles and often had elaborate week-long parties on the estate. Benito Mussolini was frequently the guest of honor and it has been said that Adolph Hitler was present at times. The family money dried up after WW II as the Italian government seized businesses and properties of fleeing Fascists.

The intricately designed wrought iron structure that forms the front verandah was originally the first railway station in Milano. It was transported by rail to the Villa and now serves as its main entrance. The adjoining bar was once the station's waiting room.

The goat is the symbol of the Caproni family and stylized goats appear on everything from carpets, bossier, the old fashioned weather vane to the elaborate iron gates of the estate.

The ballroom is magnificent with large crystal chandlers and shiny parquet floors. The walls are covered with lovely frescos representing the snake of the Visconti of Milano, the shields of Roma, Venezia and the Austrian Hapsburg family, and naturally, the stylized goats of the Caproni.

"The Malpensa Airport was originally the private landing strip for the Villa. "
The estate originally included all the land that is now Malpensa Airport, including several small villages and Vizzola Ticino, although there isn't much left of it. The buildings and homes of Vizzola Ticino, originally built to house the Caproni workers and employees, have fallen to ruin. I had wandered around them earlier in the day and thought about what could be done to restore these beautiful old buildings. It would make an ideal place for a planned community - either for artists, retirees or something like that. It would take an incredible amount of work, time and money to make this place inhabitable. The Italian government wants to have the entire village restored but does nothing to help prospective developers, and the bureaucratic red tape involved is horrendous because of the historical landmark status of the buildings.

The Malpensa Airport was originally the private landing strip for the Villa. It was made famous by the first biplane to land in Italy. The airport now covers a major portion of the original Caproni farmlands.

Today, the Villa is completely remodeled and the rooms are beautifully decorated with soft colors and comfortable beds and furniture. There are marble bathrooms, air conditioning, cable TV and minibars. The views from the windows look out across either the new buildings of the Malpensa Aeroporto, the extensive gardens and farm fields or the old village set off by a distant vision of the towering snow-capped Alps.

My dinner at the hotel restaurant was delicious. The room was elegantly decorated with candlelight sparkling off crystal and silver. White damask covered the tables and small lace doilies topped the golden chargers under the delicate porcelain dinner plates. Soft music added just the right touch as a handsome waiter presented a menu. Naturally, I wanted to try the local dishes and he suggested proscuitto melone to start, followed by Risotto Milanese, then on to roast duck with wild berry sauce, all washed down with a fine local merlot and finished with lemon sorbetto and a small glass of grappa.

see also...
-Boccondivino: a divine mouthful
-Visit Lombardy
-A villa's past
-What do you know about Lombardy?
-The Lombard Cook
-Visit other Italian regions
Piero told me that the tallest mountain seen from the Villa was called Montagna Rosa because of its lovely pink color at sunrise, and sure enough the next morning I thrilled to the colors of the dawn and the magnificent rose mountain. The mist was rising from the Ticino River, following its twisting and curling path, creating a mystical view of the abandoned village across the road.

The sun shone through the tall windows of the breakfast room, dancing across the floor and sparkling through my glass of orange juice. It was a beautiful morning and I was reluctant to leave, but right on schedule, my taxi arrived so I bid arriverdici and made a promise to return.

Hotel Villa Malpensa
Malpensa International Airport
Via Don A. Sacconago 1
21010 Vizzola Ticino (VA) Italy
Tel: (011) 392 230 944
fax: (011) 392 230 950


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