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Kicking off the new year in style

Published 3 January 2010
News Review
859th article

Geraldine relaxing at the Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda (Arnold Crust)

My first words of wisdom for 2010 are illustrated not by a photo of me but my adorable fiancee, Geraldine, recumbent by the pool of the Villa Feltrinelli in Gargnano, backed by a sliver of Lake Garda.

Ms Lynton-Edwards asked me to say she's wearing no make-up. People look better without make-up. I'd greet beautiful and famous movie stars at 6am as they tottered toward their Winnebago motor homes to be made up. They looked fantastic. When they came out of make-up they appeared less than fantastic.

Sophia Loren, a marvellous person, always made herself up. She looked orange. For the last scene of my movie Firepower I employed a childhood hero, Victor Mature. Greeting him outside the Pierre hotel, New York, I remarked, "Your hair looks green, Victor."

"It's normally white. I dye it for you," said Victor. "Something went wrong."

"Marvellous," I said. "For our finale I have the orange woman meets the green man. That'll send 'em out laughing."

In front of the movie lights they both looked great. Sophia still does. Victor's not at his best as he's been dead for 10 years.

Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator, has been dead for 65 years. Il Duce took over the beautiful Villa Feltrinelli and lived there until April 1945 when he and his mistress, Clara Petacci, who had a lakeside villa nearby, fled for Switzerland. They were grabbed by partisans, shot and strung up in Milan.

The Villa Feltrinelli was eventually bought by an American hotelier who intended to live there, but he re-married and his oriental wife thought Lake Garda boring. So he sold to a Swiss group.

The Villa is now beautifully run by Markus Odermatt. I named it best hotel in Europe at my Winner's Dinners book launch. The award was handed over by Chris Rea. He'd visited as a result of my recommendation just as he stayed at Sandy Lane on my advice.

Villa Feltrinelli offers fantastic meals from a young chef, Stefano Baiocco. He writes down the date of every food item that comes into the kitchen. If he thinks it's been there too long (and he allows only a very short time) he throws it away. Markus assured me Stefano kept the kitchen perfectly, "like a hospital". Some of the hospitals I've been in were filthy. But Stefano keeps everything spotless and in order.

"The oranges have to be perfectly in line. He keeps the staff cleaning the kitchen for an hour and a half after service," explained Markus. "It's like the surgery of a hospital."

"In that case I'm surprised I'm not in it," I responded. I won't bore you with how many operations I've had. We'd be here forever. Nor can I be bothered to tell you exactly what I ate.

Villa Feltrinelli re-opens on April 15. It has only 31 rooms. Book now. Before that be home on February 26 and the following three Fridays. That's when my ITV1 show Michael Winner's Dining Stars appears. Get a TV dinner, book a seat in your living room for 9pm and sit transfixed with amazement, laughter and wonder. If you have to make a cuppa, please do it during the commercials.

  • No recession for my staff. They got lovely Christmas presents, a champagne reception in my house with excellent canapes from Gary O'Sullivan of the Belvedere, then dinner at the Bombay Brasserie. This year they thought service, food and recent re-decoration were poor.

    My superb cook, Lulu, said, "I had the fish and the chicken. Both tasted the same."

    I said to Arun Harnal, the general manager, "How is it when you know they're my staff, that they'll report to me and I'll write about it, that you didn't at least see the service was good?" I've only been once since the makeover. My chicken was mushy. I never went back.

  • Eric Handts, the surly restaurant manager of my local horror, Kitchen W8, ignored me and my guest when there were only two other people there. He also upset a friend, significant in the hospitality game, who was invited to the restaurant's "soft opening". Handts offered, "Have two glasses of champagne." My friend accepted, thinking they were from management. He was surprised to find them on his bill.

  • Richard Swan, product manager of Leica cameras, introduced me to the world of digital photography by lending me the D-Lux 4 camera. It baffled me, so I rang him.

    "Read the instruction book," Richard suggested.

    "I'll never understand that," I said. "It took me two hours just to get the camera out of the box."

    Richard came and patiently showed me how the thing worked. So photos with this column are now taken on my Leica digital. Except this week. That's on my celluloid Leica Minilux with a fixed, non-zoom lens. They're always a bit crisper.

    Richard says a new digital camera from Leica is coming out soon. I'm assured it's a considerable advance and simpler to operate. That means it'll only take me six months to figure out. Watch for the photo improvement then.

    Michael's missives

    Who was the inmate of the old folks' home in last week's photo? There were three very smart gentlemen in suits and ties (no white coats) standing in front of Homewood Park for retired gentlefolk. Behind them was an old bloke in pyjama bottoms, carpet slippers, borrowed biker jacket with a travel rug round his neck, looking quite menacing. I hope Michael wasn't being stalked by this character.
    Andy Webb, East Sussex

    In your recent photos, instead of taking star position at the front, you take a bit-player place at the rear. Is this a new-found modesty or are you sparing us the close-up effects of decades of staying out late?
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    The obituary column got pretty close to yours last week. I hope somebody's not trying to tell us something.
    Gordon Staples, Wiltshire

    Sad as it may be, I tend to skip past the international business stories, the world wars and the latest sporting news in The Sunday Times and read your articles first. I am, of course, seeking ongoing medical help for this condition.
    Clive Peebles, Glasgow

    Here's another Michael Winner anagram: We march in line.
    Ian Stephenson, Lancashire

    My anagram for Michael Winner is Calm her in wine.
    Caroline Richardson, Norwich

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk