And now, to steal a line from Monty Python's Flying Circus, for something completely different. It's the Italian-influenced Swiss canton of Ticino (te CHEE no), whose southern tip pokes deep into Northern Italy. Not only is a different language spoken here (though less Italian is heard in Ticino than French in Vaud), the architecture, cuisine, climate and vegetation are decidedly Latin instead of Germanic. Ticino is tropical plants, sunshine and red tile roofs. A simple, family-run restaurant is a grotto instead of a gasthof and serves risotto or polenta instead of rösti or dumplings.

Lugano, the canton's largest city and center of tourist activity, sits on the north shore of Lago di Lugano, a wandering lake on whose inlets and isthmuses are found dozens of charming towns and villages. In one of them, Caslano, about eight kilometers southwest of Lugano, we found Albergo Gardenia (Editor's Choice), a beautifully restored villa with some 25 tastefully decorated and furnished bedrooms.

Those who have come down from Austria or Germany, or even from central Switzerland, will immediately be struck by the hotel's almost tropical setting and how different it is from where they have just been: palm trees fronting a plain, square, white façade relieved only by shuttered windows and a little grey trim.

Once inside the hotel, one's eye is immediately drawn to the distinctive contemporary art. It is what set the Gardenia apart. There are pieces in every guestroom and, in fact, the hotel publishes a list of the art and where it can be found in the hotel. In Number 11, for example, is a work by Christo entitled Calle de Serano. Among the other artists displayed are Franz Falch, J. P. Pincemin, Paul Rotterdam, Robert Indermaur, Max Reiser, Peter Frie, Steve Joy and Pierre Terbois

But even without high-quality art, the Gardenia would be a special hotel. Breakfast in good weather (much of the year in Lugano) is served on a sheltered terrace overlooking the grounds. In very good weather the hotel's excellent Restaurant Bacco sets tables on small, individual patios scattered over the garden. As twilight deepens on a summer night, and candles flicker at each table, it is a lovely place to be.

To put a final touch on the evening, stroll to the center of the village, find a table at the water's edge under strings of bare electric bulbs and order coffee, mineral water or something more fortifying. Watch the people and the lights on the other shores. There are only a one or two hotels in Caslano and the crowd will be mostly locals.

But back to the Gardenia. The guestrooms have a sort of minimalist elegance about them and are quite comfortable. All amenities are offered including terrycloth robes. Our black and white marble-tiled bathroom was large, well-lit and had a window overlooking the inviting, rock-lined swimming pool. At night, when no one is in it and the pool lights are on, it looks like all the water has been removed. This an absolutely first-rate hotel in a fascinating part of the world.

Street Address: Via Valle 20
City: Caslano
Country: Switzerland
Phone: 0041 91 611 82 11
Fax: 0041 91 611 82 10
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Quality: Rating: 5 stars
Value: Rating: 3 stars
Price Level: $$$-
Type: Hotel