Ever since George Clooney bought Villa Oleandra, Americans have been flocking to Lake Como in the Italian Alps. But, for the moment, the Italians still have nearby Lake Maggiore to themselves. Thanks to LinkedIn, Richard was able to reconnect earlier in the year with Daniele, a former work colleague, who grew up and still lives on this picturesque lake. This renewed friendship led to a fabulous week in a place we'd not likely have ever visited and that we got to know through the eyes of a proud native.
We enjoyed our first ride on the "Italo" high-speed train line. The hour and fifteen minute ride from Bologna to Milan was fast and comfortable. It would take us about the same time to go half the distance from Milan to Verbania on the standard "regional" train. Then a short bus ride took us to our AirBnB in Intra - "All New - Vacation on Lake Maggiore" - where we quickly settled in after picking up groceries at the nearby COOP Supermarket (we love grocery stores in new places - a real window on the local culture).
Daniele - who we learned is way more adventurous than we - was arriving late from an impromptu trip to Tbilisi Georgia ("Why? Because the flight was cheap.") so we arranged to catch up with him the following evening. After nearly 20 years we immediately recognized each other and shared a good Italian embrace. He gave us a quick walking tour of Intra and we caught up over an aperitivo at one of his favorite cafes. He happened to mention that there was a jazz concert that evening at the new theatre "Il Maggiore" and we all agreed to meet there. The building was fascinating and the music was top notch - made us miss being close to Berklee College.
The next morning Daniele took us up to the top of nearby "Mottarone" for his favorite view of the area. We saw our first snow since arriving in Europe and were glad for all the layers we wore. The views of the Alps and the many area lakes were worth the hike up the mini ski slope.
On the way down, Daniele's 13-year-old Mini overheated and had to be left at a roadside garage. The unexpected trouble led to a lively chat over coffee as we waited for his wife Renata to pick us up. He was filled with stories of his adventurers as a tour guide around the world. His habit of finding lo-cost flights (using "SkyScanner" with the destination of "Everywhere") and taking them wherever they led inspired us to do the same. At Renata's suggestion, they dropped us off in Stresa where we hopped a ferry across the lake past the Barromean Islands with their beautiful villas and gardens before hiking around the peninsula from Pallanza to Intra along the lake.
On the way, Nancy noticed a tall hill across the lake with what looked like a ski-lift going to the top. Sure enough, the next morning Daniele texted us and recommended that we take another ferry to Laveno-Mombello and ride the cable cars to the top of the hill. Nowhere had any of the tour guide sites mentioned this, and it was a hoot. The cable cars fit two people standing up (we opted for the open version) and the ride up is a good ten minutes to more amazing views of the lake. We enjoyed a glass of wine and an Aperol Spritz at the hilltop cafe and hiked a bit further up the hill. We had a good laugh when we saw the unprotected platform dangling off the hillside that we later learned was used by hang gliders as their take off point - an insurance liability to say the least. On the ferry back we bumped into Daniele who had come on his own for a hike up the hill (no cable cars for him!) and enjoyed the sunset cruise back to Intra.
Following Daniele's suggestion we ventured out to the nearby town of Cannobio where there was a bustling lake-side market every Sunday that attracted as many Swiss as Italians. We splurged on a wedge of truffle-laced Pecorino (sheep's milk cheese). When we missed the bus back we camped out at a nice cafe and collaborated on an overdue blog post while waiting for the next one. The American Christmas music playing in the background made the moment bittersweet.
Daniele and Renata had us over for dinner where we met their 18-year-old son Ricardo who'll be spending his Christmas break in Nepal - no surprise, the trip is a gift from his parents. We discovered that we all were in love with Camogli and that they met when Daniele presented a slide show of his adventures in Galapagos. Daniele did all the cooking - have you ever had blueberry risotto? We had long hugs at the end of the night, grateful for all the time and advice they shared with us.
Our final night on Lake Maggiore was our 42nd Wedding Anniversary. We dined in style at Daniele's favorite Intra restaurant - La Latteria - where he and Renata had just enjoyed their own anniversary dinner two nights before. As we sipped our wine we vowed to try to return to the lake in the late summer.
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Nancy McCabe &