The only happy outcome of Laideybird’s Super Mega Gross Illness a few weeks ago (other than an improved immune system, I suppose) was a postponed trip to northern Italy, specifically Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. We laughed as we left behind chilly Lucerne for temperatures rumoured to be in the balmy double figures. The rumours were true, and we weren’t the only ones out to celebrate. All around town hints of spring could be spied.Lago Maggiore straddles the Swiss and Italian border and boasts crystal waters and, of course, Alps. Like its easterly and slightly more popular cousin – Lago Como – it is dotted with cobbled villages, peppered with islands, and circumnavigated at alarming speeds by packs of lycra-clad cyclists (at whose fortitude for hill climbing we marvelled, all the time scoffing our pizza and wine). We rolled into town on a glorious Saturday morning and promptly took a stroll along the shore of the lake, ditching layer after winter layer as the weather delivered on its promises.
Although hints of spring were around, and the change of season hung heavy in the air, most of the trees are still bare. We could almost feel the green bursting through. There was certainly enough available foliage for our lass to pick her first posy, which she insisted on shoving into my hair to match her own blossom. I not-so-discreetly removed it and carried on with my lunch wine. I’m fairly sure she didn’t notice, as she was perfecting the art of the slippery dip with her father.
The town of Stresa, like many Italian villages, has as its focal point the main piazza. Narrow cobbled streets (which proved somewhat challenging for a toddling toddler to navigate, not to mention her not-so-coordinated mother) weave around the piazza, concentric yet seemingly haphazard, spider web-like. We spent the morning ducking in and out of these alleys, stopping for espresso and puppy-spotting. And maybe gelato and frittelle (a type of Italian doughnut). Because Italy.
The afternoon held island-hopping. We jumped on one of the local ferries and made the short trip across the lake, Motsy taking advantage of the opportunity to add to his ‘flags on boats’ collection.
The three Borromean islands sit off the coast of Stresa – Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola de Pescatori. Named for the aristocratic Borromean family, the three islands have different but complementary purposes. Bella holds the estate – a grand palace where the family resided. A perfectly manicured garden is adjacent to the palace (although not open to the public until the following weekend. Our snooping through the palace fence can, however, confirm its perfectly manicured status). The main gardens are on Madre which is nearly exclusively covered in exotic, manicured foliage (again, not open. This information also gained by snooping). The final village is the poor cousin of the three (and perhaps not unsurprisingly, completely accessible to any old tourist): de Pescatori, a preserved fishing village.
Tired of all the palatial snooping, we made our way back home, safe in the hands of our wee captain.
The night was spent as I hope all nights (and for that matter, lunches…and who am I kidding, breakfasts too) are in Italy: with pizza and red wine. We had a fairly cruisy Sunday, spent stopping at markets, more street roaming, driving in the olive-clad hills, and – I confess – more pizza eating. During the street roaming, I had the excellent fortune to overhear a dapperly dressed Italian gentleman on the phone. Clearly distressed about something, and gesturing wildly, he bellowed ‘mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia’ into the ear of whomever he was talking, and straight into my stereotype-loving heart.
We’re still trying to perfect our weekend away game plan. This trip, we left early on Saturday morning with the intention of returning in time for Tim to start work on Monday, leaving at about 5am which is revolting but manageable, especially when you consider the state of pizza in Switzerland. Apparently Ademalaidey received a typo on her itinerary. She seemed to think that getting up at midnight for a super-early start was on the cards. Given the echo of a baby’s cries in a tiled Italian casa we decided to cut our losses at about two (yes people. In the a.m. Yes, the morning. Let’s never discuss it again) and head home. On the plus side it was a cyclist-free drive but also…hoo boy. Let’s just say if I didn’t love said pizza so much, my one-weekend-getaway-a-month plan might be seriously compromised.