Five o' Clock Somewhere: An Aperol Spritz at the Hotel Grand Tremezzo

Five o' Clock Somewhere: An Aperol Spritz at the Hotel Grand Tremezzo

 

Continuing our series of armchair travelling (and drinking), writer Harry Seymour recalls enjoying the quintessential aperitivo – the Aperol Spritz – at the Hotel Grand Tremezzo on Lake Como, just a stone's throw from the drink's birthplace.

Illustration by Amanda Berglund.

 

Two hundred years ago, when the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy was controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire, the visiting soldiers struggled to drink the local, stronger wine because of its high alcohol content. ‘Spritzen!’ they would supposedly yell at the tavern tenders, requesting a spray of water in their glasses to dilute the potent drink. And so so the story goes, the Spritz was born. 

 

Fast-forward to 1912 and Luigi and Silvio Barbieri — two brothers who had inherited a liqueur business from their father — set out on a mission to invent a spirit unique to their home town of Padua. 

 

After seven years of experimenting they settled on a recipe infused with orange zest, rhubarb, vanilla, cinchona and gentian, and unveiled it to the world at the Padua International Fair in 1919. They named it ‘Aperol’, after the French word for aperitif; apéro.

 

Supposedly, their secret original recipe is still the one used today.

 

Aperol was an instant hit and by the 1950’s, when Italy’s post-war boom economico was transforming the country’s fortunes, a glug of the mixture in a sparkling-wine Spritz had become the drink of choice for locals as they flooded back to their cobbled piazzas. Today, it’s estimated that more than 200 Aperol Spritz are drunk every minute in Venice alone. 

 

There will always be a place in my heart for a €3 Aperol Spritz served in a plastic cup on the waterfront at Venice’s Osteria Al Squero, accompanied with a paper plate of homemade cicchetti, but nowhere captures the Belle Époque essence of the drink more than a hotel 150 miles east as the crow files, just on the other side of the Dolomites. 

 

While Lake Como’s Grand Hotel Tremezzo can’t claim to be the birth place of the Aperol Spritz — nowhere can — its perfectly symmetrical, bright-orange Art Nouveau palazzo (which would send Wes Anderson weak at the knees) perfectly embodies the cocktail. 

 

The hotel threw open its doors in the heady summer of 1910, just as the Barbieri brothers were dreaming up their new drink down the road. It seduced aristocrats, tycoons and Hollywood stars during the Golden Era of travel, as electric trains and motorcars began making paths across the alps. In 1932, Greta Garbo even described the hotel as ‘the happy, sunny place.’

 

Inside, the hotel’s T Bar is nestled between the music salon and billiards room. It’s small but perfectly formed, and old photographs reveal that little has changed over 100 years. It houses a sleek, dark-wood bar surrounded by oil paintings hung over fireplaces and is stuffed with bright velvet armchairs that mirror the scented azaleas, tulips and geraniums grown in the hotel’s 20,000 square metre of gardens. 

 

The bar is presided over by Hatem Alouane, who has been working at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo for the last four years. ‘My perfect Aperol Spritz recipe,’ he leans over the counter in a pale-grey single-breasted jacket and matching tie to tell me, ‘consists of 120 ml of prosecco Jeio, which is a straw-yellow, fruity prosecco made by the centuries old Bisol winery, 60 ml of Aperol, a splash of Chiarella soda from the local Como mountain springs, and exactly 15 ice cubes,’ he says. 

 

‘I top it off with a slice of fresh orange and my secret ingredient — a dash of essential oils from my homeland of Sicily.’

 

Sitting on the T Bar’s terrace under Aperol-coloured awnings, I watch the sunset and look beyond the hotel’s pool that floats on the lake’s surface to pick out the grand, white villas and their manicured lawns that hug the shoreline against steep hills, and watch wooden boats bob across the water. The pleasure, I think to myself, that people take from making a pilgrimage here for the combination of this hotel and this drink, hasn’t changed in a century. What could be more Dolce Vita



Grand Hotel Tremezzo Aperol Spritz

 

  • 120 ml of prosecco (the T Bar recommends Bisol Jeio prosecco)
  • 60 ml of Aperol 
  • A splash of soda water (preferably Chiarella brand)
  • 15 ice cubes 
  • Essential Sicilian orange oil (If available)

 

Recipe

 

  1. Fill a tall, stemmed glass with ice
  2. Add the prosecco, then Aperol, then soda water
  3. Finish with a dash of essential oils and garnish with a slice of fresh orange