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Published: January 3rd 2016
It’s a cold rainy day. I am at home with a cold. I started to think of next summer’s holiday and then I remembered that I didn’t finish writing about my last holiday. Now more than three months later it’s lovely to remember the late summer warmth and colors of northern Italy. We spent the last day of our holiday in Italy at Lake Maggiore. It was a beautiful sunny day. The Lake was sparkling and the flowers were blooming in an almost surreal explosion of color. It also happened to be my mother’s birthday. It seemed a fitting tribute to remember her while visiting a place so picturesque – I’m sure she would have loved it.
We set off from Milan after breakfast on the highway and soon found ourselves surrounded by forest before a long winding descent down to Stresa, accompanied by tantalizing views of the lake. I had made a very ambitious plan for the day, as I often do. Totally impractical, of course. We saw a fraction of what we intended. What we did see was fantastic. I didn’t do my homework this time. Wherever we went was a total surprise to me – the beauty,
lushness and grandeur of nature, both natural and man-made, was awesome.
The school holidays were over, the crowds were very light, the sun was pleasant and warm and the light so clear - the day seemed magical. We parked the car in Stresa and paid for four hours parking. The islands off of Stresa are worth at least a day (or two or three – one day for each island). The Borromean Islands consist of three islands: Isola dei Pescatori
which is a small fishing island that hasn’t been developed and is much the same as it always was. It is recommended to eat lunch there. Then there is Isola Madre with its villa and large garden. We made a stop at these two islands and got a brief impression but we only visited Isola Bella.
From Isola Bella there are wonderful views across the lake of nearby villages and all is surrounded by green mountains and the snow capped alps in the distance. The entrance to the palace and gardens is 15 Euro which is expensive for Italy because the entrance and parking fees have been quite reasonable. It was definitely worth the price though. What a treat.
The palace rooms are full of original furnishings, musical instruments, paintings, artwork, etc. The rooms have intricate plasterwork and decoration with big windows overlooking the lake. All the rooms have crystal chandeliers and some have silk and gold Flemish tapestries gracing the walls. There are six natural grottoes underneath the palace decorated with pebbles and shells. In order to really take it all in you must spend a lot longer than we did. We really just passed by and got a fleeting impression of the wealth of riches on display.
From the dark, cool grottoes we walked out into the dazzling Italian gardens. The first thing you see is an elaborate construction, dotted with niches containing statues, fountains and lush tropical foliage. There are statues on pedestals and it is all crowned by a unicorn ridden by love. I don’t know, maybe it is totally over the top, but it all felt to me like a sort of fairy tale wonderland.
There is a ten-tier garden spilling down into the water. The gardens have white peacocks wandering around, flowerbeds, lily ponds, and countless tropical flowers, trees and shrubs. The colors and light are magnificent. Very opulent, elaborate, there
is something erotic about the lushness of it all.
A grand Italian family once lived here and had many important guests and parties. They must have had such a good time. I didn’t think it was at all in bad taste, as many early travel writers seemed to think: Danish writer Friederike Brun, who visited in 1795, likened Isola Bella to a mushroom emerging from the water, and the garden to an "oversized cake."
A very inviting, tasty cake, in my opinion. The day was rapidly passing. It was after 2 when we set off for the gardens of Villa Taranto in Verbania. You would think that by now we would have had enough of gardens for one day … but no, can’t get enough of them, in particular when the surroundings are so lovely, and villa Taranto didn’t disappoint.
It is half an hour round the lake from Stresa by car. The gardens are also known as the Scottish botanical gardens because of the Scottish man that bought, planned and developed it over 20 years. As the owner had no direct heirs he gifted it to the Italian state on the condition that he be buried
in a mausoleum on the grounds. These days it is run by a non-profit organization. We noticed that there are a lot of grounds men and gardeners. There was a high level of care and devotion being lavished on the plants.
It has over 7 km of walking paths and about 20,000 different trees and flowers from all over the world. It is so fabulous that it is difficult to describe in words. We spent a few really nice hours wandering the paths. We started off on the dahlia trail. In the spring it is the tulip trail. We passed ornate gardens, fountains, ponds and pools, a Victorian greenhouse and giant water lily pads. Stands of palm trees, their fronds gently swaying in the breeze, overlooked riotous flower beds. (I might have got a bit carried away here – the place inspires flowery prose.) By this time it was quite late in the afternoon and we had no more time for the other sites around Lake Maggiore. A week is not too much time to spend here – there is so much more to do and see.
We drove back to Stresa with its grand belle epoque hotels
lining the lake front. We found a nice little square in the middle of the town and had one of our best meals in Italy. Micha had osso bucco and saffron rice and I had trout from the lake. Afterwards we strolled around the backstreets and bought some souvenirs – lemon soap and local rose oil.
We headed back to Milan to our luxurious suite for one last night before our trip home the next day. A lovely day and a great end to our very memorable holiday in northern Italy. Think I will be back soon to beautiful Italy with its warm, welcoming people.
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