Lake Maggiore – north of Italy

With yet another detour from our original plans we have ended up at Lake Maggiore not far from the town of Stresa. Our campsite is amazing – right on the water’s edge – with good facilities. We have realised how reserved the Scandinavians are compared with the people we are meeting this year. We always had to make the initial approach  last year. At most of our campsites this year we have been struck by how friendly everyone is- in France and Piedmont our fellow campers were mainly Dutch and German with a few English. Now it is mainly Germans and Swiss. All speak some English otherwise they would find it difficult travelling. I certainly need to pick up a few more Italian phrases. I have the numbers sorted now. 

The afternoon we arrived we decided to explore Stresa and pick up information on things to do around here. Came across this lovely spot for an aperitif- aperitif hour seems to start quite early here. In fact, I am amazed at how many people are drinking before lunch. I am now hooked on Aperol Spritz.

The lake is very beautiful with villages along the shore and smaller one high up on the surrounding hills. One night we chose a restaurant in a village high up – the weather was atrocious- and the roads were a challenge especially coming back in the dark – definitely not wide enough for 2 cars to pass most of the time (reminiscent of Norway).

As Milan is only an hour away by train we thought a day trip would be worthwhile. The Duomo is amazing but overall I found Milan a bit overwhelming- it is a huge city after all. The terraces of the Duomo around the roof were well worth exploring – the decorative structures are incredible. 

Back at the lake we drove as far as the last small town before the Swiss border – Cannobio. Weather was bit wet but it was a pretty place despite the rain. A typical medieval village with stepped cobbled “streets”.

We decided to splurge for my birthday and have a long lunch at the Villa Crespi at Lake Orta, a well known restaurant about 35 minutes away whose chef is held in high regard in Italy and is a TV celebrity.  The building alone is worth a visit- built in 1879 with a very strong Moorish influence. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen. Our lunch was also amazing. We felt so full for the rest of the day that we couldn’t manage anything for dinner at all. 

Some of the courses!

First time I have had a “liquid salad” in a dish (middle photo). Octopus salad was divine.

My cod (on left) was very yummy. Dessert was too much ( there was a pre dessert as well!) – we made a valiant effort but couldn’t finish. 

The town of Orta San Guilo by the lakeside was very pretty. After lunch we took a ferry boat out to the small island which had been heavily built on for centuries, like most little islands on the lakes here. There had been a monastery on the island and the small church was stunning. 

The town of Orta San Guilo.

We have had mixed weather so far. Some really good days but quite a bit of rain until recently. But at least it is warming up now -or so we thought until we took the gondola up to this viewpoint over the lakes and mountains. Nice and sunny when we left with a good forecast but when we got to the top it started to pour with rain and the cloud came in. It was also cold. We had left our parkas in the car – silly us. We beat a hasty retreat into a mountain restaurant at the top – some warming food was needed. We gave up on the views.

We made sure we had good weather for a trip to Isola Bella, one of the 3 small Borromean Islands near Stresa, not far up the lake from us. We had heard the gardens were amazing but were also blown away by the interior of the palace, the large building on the left in the photo. It rivalled the interiors of the palaces at Potsdam, near Berlin, that we saw last year. Two of the islands – the ones with the beautiful gardens, have been owned by the Borromea family since the 15th century.

The 3 storey high reception room.

The art collection is also incredible – this gallery room is completely covered in valuable art. 

I loved these puppets from the 1800’s which were used to entertain guests at the palace. There were several displays of them. 

The gardens were amazing.

We went on by boat to visit the Villa Taranto gardens which were recommended to us but we were disappointed with them – bad timing perhaps. Heavy rain a few days earlier had destroyed most of the remaining rhododendron blossom and large areas which would normally have displays of annual flowers were being redone. 

Isola Superiore

Next stop – Lake Como

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