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Come and Explore Lake Maggiore - Gusto e Passione Await You
Lake Maggiore – so close to little Lake Orta, but so different in so many ways. Gusto e Passione await you – come and explore a little further …
Pettenasco to Stresa via Gignese
It doesn’t take very long to drive from little Lake Orta to neighbouring Lake Maggiore, but they are world’s apart. Five times the size of Lake Orta, Lake Maggiore (the second largest of the Italian Lakes) stretches across the border into Switzerland and offers a completely different perspective. It is much busier – and much more touristy – than it’s more subdued neighbour, but the change in vibe is exciting.
Driving through the tiny winding mountain roads between the two lakes eventually brings you to Gignese, a panoramic village sandwiched in between them.
Climb to the top of the little town to see the beautifully restored church perched on the top and pause to take in the spectacular view over Lake Maggiore and it’s environs.
Be sure not to miss the fascinating Museum of Umbrellas and Parasols on the outskirts of Gignese. Their very sizeable collection fills two floors. Information boards (with English translation) tell you all about the development of the industry over the last two centuries. The exquisite workmanship on some of the exhibits has to be seen to be believed.
The museum tells of the over 170 umbrella making family dynasties from 52 towns and villages around Gignese and how pioneer members of these families expanded the business further afield in Italy, then to Europe and America.
Umbrellas were originally made to give shelter from the sun rather than the rain. “Umbrella” was borrowed from the Italian word ‘ombrella,’ a modification of the Latin ‘umbella,’ which came from umbra, meaning shade.
Giardino Botanical Alpinia - Stresa
Just a short distance out of town, the Giardino Botanica boasts a collection of around 1,000 alpine flowers and gives you superb views over Lake Maggiore from its sweeping terrace.
If you love these little alpine plants – as I do – you might be interested in joining the Alpine Garden Society and finding out more about them?
Tip for Future Travellers
Take enough cash with you. There is only a very weak Wi-Fi signal. It costs just €5 pp.
Rock music takes on a whole new meaning in this garden!
On arrival in Stresa, head for the Tourist Office – just a few yards up the lakefront road – which has all the information you need to make your selection from the variety of excursions that are possible from here.
Take some time to explore the pretty little streets of Stresa, lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. Yes, it is touristy here!
Osterio Mercato is a particularly good restaurant I can recommend. Booking is essential.
Isola Madre and Isola Bella
Eventually, the magnetic pull of islands to make you feel you just have to go to them will probably get the better of you and you will inevitably find yourself at the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore. The public boat service to Isola Bella and Isola Madre leaves Stresa Waterfront every half hour and costs €30 return. Cards are not accepted – you have to pay in cash.
Isola Madre is the first stop for the ferry. You can buy combined tickets for Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Parco Pallivicino here at a discount.
Don’t miss Isola Madre’s legendary Cashmir cypress tree towers above the Palazzo. Grown from seed from the Far East and nurtured sine 2862, this much prized specimen was sadly felled by a ferocious whirlwind in 2006. Fortunately, there was a pretty miraculous rescue attempt – involving concrete and cranes – and the tree survived.
Brightly coloured exotic birds – pheasants, peacocks and parrots – roam freely in the gardens.
The first camellias to be introduced to Europe were cultivated here in the late 1800s. Until then, they were confined to the Fat East. September isn’t a great time to see the collection of 150 species that is held here though. You will have to content yourself with blue tropical water lilies, bougainvillea and the ever reliable and ubiquitous Autumn stalwart – the hydrangea. They do grow HUGE here though!
There is also a protea garden – a rarity in Europe as they are very difficult to cultivate at this latitude. If you really want to see proteas, make the long journey to South Africa and visit the Kirstenbosch Gardens in South Africa.
There is a ferry to Isola Bella from Isola Madre every half hour, so if you make an early start, there is plenty of time to complete both your visits in time for lunch.
Isola Bella (Beautiful Isle) was the dream home of the wealthy Borromeo family. It’s extensive gardens are quintessentially Italian Baroque. The glorious terraces are abundantly planted with a wide variety of flowers and lavishly dotted with fountains and statues.
The palazzo itself is sumptuously extravagant and immaculately preserved. Amidst all this opulence, I couldn’t help enjoying the very strange Grotto area the most. Six strange caves built from pebbles, tufa fragments, stucco and marble were conceived to amaze their guests. I suppose when money is no object, you can just go ahead and build construct whatever takes your fancy?!
Tips for Future Travellers
You might like to experience all the delights of the Isola Bella from sunrise to sunset (and avoid all the crowds) by staying on the island itself? When the ferries stop running, I imagine it would be much more peaceful.
Isola Madre and Isola Bella have been owned by the RHS since 2002, so if you are a member, don’t forget to bring your card so you can visit for free!
Parco Pallavicino - Stresa
You can easily while away a couple of hours in the grounds of the Parco Pallavicino. Just a short walk from the Hotel Residence la Luna Nel Porto, the Parco Pallavicino has beautiful flower lined avenues, ancient trees and an impeccably maintained rose garden. It also has a small farm with llamas, sheep, goats and a collection of owls, kangaroos and even zebras to amuse you.
I love how they commemorate the addition of a new baby animal by fixing an appropriately coloured ribbon to the enclosure.
There are plenty of shady picnic tables and a small play area – lovely if you are travelling with a family.
All through the Italian Lakes, elegant resorts like Stresa string themselves along the shores of shimmering deep blue lakes. In between, pretty medieval village with brightly painted villas are chiselled into the hillsides. The hills that rise up behind them are clad with the peaceful greens of olive groves, chestnut and beech woods. It is pretty hard to keep your camera in you pocket here – especially when the sun is shining.
Cannero, on the dramatic northern shores of Maggiore, offers yet another perspective of Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains.
In complete contrast to Stresa, Cannero is very peaceful indeed. It is tiny and the only real reason to visit is to stay in one of its lovely hotels. The lack of tourist attractions makes Cannero an idyllically tranquil base on Lake Maggiore.
That does not mean that you have to spend your time just sitting twiddling your thumbs though (unless you want to?).
The ferry stop is right outside Hotel Cannero (see Accommodation Reviews). Regular ferries visit Cannobio (market day Sunday) and Luino (Market day Wednesday).
You can also visit Isola Bella and Isola Madre on the ferry from Cannero – so on a short break, you could skip the crowds if Stresa and just stay here if you wanted to?
Buy your tickets 15 minutes before departure. Cards are accepted here (which makes me wonder why they weren’t at Stresa …??!!)
Take the early morning (9.10 in season only) ferry out from Cannero to Cannobio and arrive in time to enjoy a coffee break on the picturesque waterfront. The walk back to Cannero is about 7km – allow 3hrs. It is steep and rocky in places, but generally, the hillside paths are all very well maintained. It is slightly easier to walk from Cannobio back to Cannero rather than the other way around.
The red and white flashed path is easy to find and leads through Carmine Superiore, a beautifully preserved village of medieval origin, accessible only on foot.
If you time your walk to hit midday, you will be able to hear the assortment of church bells chiming merrily ad you wind your way back through the hillsides and shady forested paths. The fact that none of the clocks chime at the same time gives you around 20 minutes of musical accompaniment. If you were telling the time by these chimes, it could be annoying- but with so many alternative timepieces available – is there anyone who still actually does that these days?!
Glad I Packed
Collapsible Leeki walking poles . This is Nordic Walking country. There are an impressive 6 different walks you can take from Hotel Cannero. You could stay a week in this little town and do a different walk each day! Download the walk details on the link below.
Souvenir I am Glad I Bought
An Opinel knife – purchased from the Musee Opinel at the overnight stop we made en route to Italy from France at Saint Jean de Maurienne.
The museum is free and open all year round. You can learn a bit about the history of knife making in this region and admire a selection of the sharpest most elegant Savoyard knives in the museum shop. You can buy your own No 8 traditional Opinel knife and have it engraved (if you want to) for an extra 6 euros. The one we bought had a corkscrew inside it to – now how useful is that?!
Opinel knives have a rotating cuff that enables you to lock the knife firmly in place when it is open, but shut it safely away in its handle when it is closed. They are a great little knife to keep in your picnic bag, gliding effortlessly through anything from a lemon (glad we had it in Stresa), hard cheese (like Castelmagno,) and – the ultimate challenge for any knife – alpine sausage. They also double up as an out and about general explorer/adventurer knife – the knife retracts into its elegant handle for easy carrying.
They also have an excellent range of knives designed for children and specialty knives – perfect for a rather special and practical gift.
Foodie Firsts - Passione e Gusto
Yesterday’s lunch was a plateau of local cheese and Barbera wine at Hotel Cannero. It was a nice intro, but the slices of cheese were rather small and were served with gristicks rather than bread and a large pot of honey, which personally, I didn’t think worked too well.
Today’s lunch was a much more enjoyable affair altogether enjoyed on a sunny bedroom balcony with a panoramic lake view (from Hotel Cannero Room 104). Half a bottle of Barolo, a chunk of mature, crumbly Castelmagno and a generous wedge of a soft, slightly squashy cheese with a look, taste and feel as smooth as silk. What more could you wish for? We have enough left over for a picnic tomorrow too (conserved in the little mini bar fridge overnight).
Tomorrow’s picnic will be en route and accompanied by fuzzy water as the Barolo is – happily – all gone. One must live for today, they say?
Rock music takes on a whole new meaning in this garden!