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Archive for the ‘Borromeo Islands’ Category

Isola S. Giulio
Lago Orta

It is a dream, this island illuminated by ocher lights amidst a golden hazed sunset. Alpine born breezes carry the scent of jasmine and lemon blossoms. As if the lakes of northern Italy could hold no more surprises, you discover Lago Orta.

Lago Maggiore, east of Orta, is by far the larger lake. With over 150 miles of shoreline, Maggiore dwarfs the twenty-one miles of this lake’s lovely shores.

In the midst of Orta’s crystal clear waters is the island of San Giulio. It was in the 5th Century that the local patron saint, Julius of Novara, was buried on the island. Subsequent improvements to the island were made between the 6th and 19th centuries, most notably the seminary built at the end of the 12th Century. A castle was also constructed on the island at the beginning of the 13th Century.

In 1844, a convent was built on the ruins of the medieval fortress. It is in that same building where the Sisters of the Monastero Mater Ecclesiae, Convent of the Mother Church, now reside and work. In cooperation with the association of the arts in Florence, these sisters repair priceless tapestries. Well after sunset, a number of them carry their completed work down to the water’s edge where the  tapestry is lovingly transferred to a small boat and, from thence, to a truck on the mainland. The Sisters usually pick up yet another aged tapestry for repair.

To watch their small boat surreptitiously float across the midnight blue lake, a small lantern hung from the bow of their boat, is nothing short of breathtaking. It is, as well, an unusual gift to catch a glimpse of a white robed Sister during the day as she makes her way among the corridors and small bridges that cross the encircling paths of the island. They are phantoms from our imagination in a place of indescribable peace.

The Sisters also tend to the task of maintaining the reverence of the island. In the latter part of the 19th Century, they created two pathways –  the Way of Silence and the Way of Meditation. Depending on the direction you circle the convent buildings, you are greeted with signs which encourage you to stop and meditate on place and silence.

An examples “If you can be yourself, you are everything.”

Another reads as a poem.

Ascolta il silenzio
Ascolta l`acqua, il vento, i tuoi passi
Il silenzio è il linguaggio dell`amore
Il silenzio è musica e armonia

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your steps
Silence is the language of the love
Silence is music and harmony

Some of the frescoes on the main pillars of the Basilica’s nave are etched with notes made by members of ancient religious communities. Inscriptions as mundane as the weather, jealousies between Brothers and thoughts about their faith cover many of these treasures of Renaissance art. As visitors take time to study the labor of generations, all are reminded of those whose humanness reflects our own.

When your visit to the island is completed, you can retreat to the small village of Orta San Giulio. The medieval lanes of the town are little changed over the centuries. The Renaissance Town Hall dominates the main square, small though it may be, and the quiet of the tiny piazza is only interrupted by the occasional arrival of the parking area’s shuttle. (See “If You Go” below for information about parking and access to the village square).

I admit a strong preference for staying along the shores of Lago Orta. This is a treasure still not well known by visitors, a retreat for those seeking anonymity and escape from the tourist crowds. Far from cities, away from the madness of trains and buses, cars and ferries, this is a place to treasure for its uniqueness, a place special and apart even in the midst of Italy’s northern lake region.

IF YOU GO:

Lago Orta is easily reached by car from Lago Maggiore in about forty-five minutes. Best train connections from Milano Centrale Station are to the city of Gozzano, locate at the southern end of the lake. You can take a bus or taxi from the Gozzano train station to the ferry landing where you can purchase a ticket for travel on the lake.

Ferries on Lago Orta operate on a regular schedule throughout the day.  A wonderful way to pass time here is to take the ferry around the entire lake-only an hour’s trip. Gorgeous lake side villas and small towns dot the shores and hillsides.

For schedules of the ferries on the lake, go to www.navigazionelagodorta.it

Visits to the Basilica and pathways of the island of San Giulio (visitors are not allowed in the convent at any time) are possible from 9:30AM – 12:15PM and from 4:00PM – 5:45PM. These hours are strictly enforced as the Basilica is used by the Sisters who live on the island for their services. Photographs without flash are frowned upon, but permitted.

NOTE: If you are driving, you must park above the village. There are shuttle trains that will carry you into the village center of Orta San Giulio. Once you ride through the perilously narrow lanes to get to the main square in the city, you will understand why you have to park way from the village center!

Places to Stay:

Hotel San Rocco

Residence La Casa Sul Lago

Also, check out the many apartments for rent around the lake. If you are staying for longer than a few days, these are exceptional options especially if you rent in a town where there is direct ferry service on the lake.

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If you are looking for a relaxing and easy day in the lake region, then I heartily recommend the Lago Maggiore Express on Lake Maggiore. The trip takes the better part of a day and offers views of both the beauty of Lago Maggiore as well as the foothills of the Swiss and Italian Alps.

I always originate my travel on the Express in Stresa, located on the western shore of the lake. The trip can be taken in one of two directions. You may start by train from Stresa, take the Centovalli, Lago Maggiore Express train across the foothills to the Swiss city of Locarno, and return by ferry to Stresa. The other option is to start your trip on the ferry from Stresa to Locarno, enjoy lunch on the boat as you travel north and return to Stresa by way of the Lago Maggiore express.

I always take the lunch option on the ferry to start the day. You get to enjoy an easy morning in town and get to Stresa’s ferry building by 11:25AM. The ferry departs Stresa at 12:00PM Noon.

Lunch served on the ferry is generally good food. Don’t expect fancy. The fmeal is served by very attentive wait staff who bring seconds by on a regular basis. There is a supplement for wine or beer consumed. Always request a reservation at a table along the starboard (right) windows of the dining area. This side of the ferry stays mostly in the shade as you travel north toward Switzerland.

Upon arrival in Locarno, which is around 3:15PM, you can enjoy about a one hour break between the lake and the train. The trains depart from the underground station below the Locarno Main station.  The cars always immaculately clean – this is Switzerland, after all – and you can just sit back and enjoy the one hour and twenty minute ride through the foothills of the Alps. Waterfalls, bridges across spectacular ravines, lakes and alpine villages replete with slate roofs abound.

When you arrive in Domodossola, the end point of the narrow gauge train from Locarno, you easily transfer to one of the direct Italian trains that run between Domodossola and Stresa on a regular basis.

This is a memorable and easy day in the lake region. Every year, our clients have enjoyed the experience of both good food, an alpine lake and the Alps.

IF YOU GO: (BRING YOUR PASSPORT!)

Passports are required as you travel between Italy and Switzerland during the trip. It is rare for you to be asked to present your passport, but you must carry it with you for this trip.

Information about the Lago Maggiore Express, including timetables and information about the trip can be found at this link:

Lago Maggiore Express

Here is a sample time schedule (effective 2012)

Depart Stresa at 12:00PM Noon

(Lunch on the ferry)

Arrive in Locarno at 3:15PM

Train depart 3:47PM or 4:47PM, Arriving in Domodossola at 5:36PM or 6:36PM

Depart Domodossola at 5:58PM or 6:58PM, Arriving Stresa at 6:24PM or 7:24M

Truly, a remarkable and easy day in the lake region. Enjoy!

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When I travel in the Lake Region, my preferred ‘base’ is the small Lago Maggiore village of Stresa. Strung along the western shore of the lake, it offers gorgeous views, reasonable prices and  easy access to the entire lake region of  Italy.

For accommodation (and I have stayed at all of these hotels over the course of years traveling in Italy), I recommend the following short list:

PLACES TO STAY: STRESA/BORROMOEAN ISLANDS

Hotel Regina Palace: Luxury along the lake. Lovely hotel, completed modernized and renovated with easy access to the lake and ferry building. Not as pricey as the Grand Hotel des Isles Borromees down the street and rooms and service are nearly equal. The Charleston Restaurant, located on property serves good food, though I recommend eating in one of the places listed below!

Hotel Italie et Suisse: This is a very clean and comfortable hotel directly on the lake side Piazza Marconi in central Stresa. The three star service is exceptional, the rooms simple and very clean. The views from the lake side rooms, with small balcony, are breathtaking. The breakfast buffet is excellent and the price for the lake region can hardly be beat. This place is a winner.

Hotel Verbano, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: If your preference is to enjoy the quiet on one of the Borromeo islands, this is one of two choices I recommend. Located at the southern end of the island, some of the rooms have views of the villa on Isola Bella, others offer views over the lake toward Switzerland or the western shore of the lake. This is a hotel with atmosphere; don’t read that as old and musty. It has a feeling of comfort that is reinforced by the service of the owners and staff. There is also a restaurant on property, with a terrace on the lake. Lovely in the evening. Remember that the only way to get to the mainland after the regular ferry schedule is by private launch.

Hotel Belvedere and Restaurant, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: This is my other favorite option on the island. Located on the north end, this property, which includes a marvelous restaurant, has views north toward Switzerland and the lakeside city of Intra. Rooms are very clean and comfortable. Don’t expect a lot of frills, but the experience of a peaceful island evening makes this is another great choice.

PLACES TO EAT, LAGO MAGGIORE/STRESA

The restaurants and osterias listed here are those I have eaten in many times. I recommend these based on personal experience. They all offer a balance of fair prices, great food, excellent service and memorable meals.

Stresa:

Osteria degli Amici: Located above the main square in the village of Stresa, the menu offers a wide variety of meat and seafood dishes. This is not a fancy place in any way, yet the atmosphere, the energy of the staff and the wonderful food make you forget all about the small ‘stuff’. I’ve had many different meals here over the years – all excellent.

Via Bolongaro Anna Maria 31  28838 Stresa Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 30453 (Reservations recommended but not required)

Carmela, Owner
Pizzeria Mama Mia

Pizzeria Mama Mia: Who can pass up a pizzeria named “Mama Mia”. The family brought their creative cooking skills from Sicily and the Naples area, birthplaces of great seafood and pizza in that order! Carmela, the owner, is a joy to meet and the attentive and well timed service is always exceptional. Can’t tell you have many wonderful meals I have enjoyed on the terrace in the warm weather, and in the welcoming warmth of their lovely dining room in the winter. Go!

Via Principe Tomaso 11, 28838 Stresa, Italy

Tel: 0323 30124 (Reservations strongly advised!)

Verbania:

Osteria Castello, Verbania

Osteria del Castello, Verbania: This one is a ways from Stresa. You can reach the town of Vebania on many of the ferries that run to the Borromeo Islands and continue north along the lake. The ferry trip from Stresa to Verbania takes about an hour. This small, lovely, romantic Osteria offers an exceptional wine list. Located in a very small piazza, but not far at all from the boat landing/ferry building, the staff always provide very good service and excellent light fare. Best at lunch or, if you are staying near Verbania this is a wonderful place for a drink before or after any meal.

(To reach this Osteria: After you exit the ferry, turn RIGHT and walk along the tree lined lake side walkway. At the FIRST crosswalk on your LEFT, carefully cross the road. Turn LEFT and you will very quickly see a bookstore ahead of you. To the LEFT of this very good bookstore is a small covered alleyway. Walk through that alleyway and you will see the Osteria del Castello directly ahead. Enjoy!)

Piazza Castello, 9  Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 516579

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Isola Superiore dei Pescatori
Lago Maggiore

In my previous post, I discussed the most famous of the Borromean Islands, Isola Bella.

Now to the other two islands, one of the fishermen (Pescatori) and one of the earth (Madre).

Isola Pescatori

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori, called ‘superiore’ due to its position as the northern most of the three islands, is no longer owned by the Borromeo family. (For purposes of this post, I will refer to this island as Isola Pescatori). Only Isola Bella and Isola Madre remain in the hands of that family.

A little over 1200 feet in length and 335 feet wide, the small island offers narrow lanes, geranium laced balconies, and plenty of places to enjoy a lunch or dinner. The Church of San Vittore was probably built on the foundations of a 9th Century church. Evidence of island occupation to that century exist on both this island and Isola Madre.

Vendors in stalls and small shops cover this island, as do many restaurants and small hotels. If you visit Isola Bella in the morning, Isola Pescatori is the perfect place for lunch and a break during your day visit to this area of Italy.

Isola Madre:

Isola Madre – Villa
Lago Maggiore

The island of Madre is located about ten minutes, by ferry, from Isola Pescatori. There is, as on Pescatori, evidence of a 9th Century church and cemetery. During the 16th Century, two important activities started on the island; the first was the start of construction on the family villa and the second was the introduction of citrus trees brought from the province of Liguria along the Mediterranean coast.

In the latter part of that century, the family completed the villa in Renaissance style. The garden, which now covers over ninety percent of the island, was substantially diversified. It now includes a wide variety of botanical specimens from around the globe. The scala dei morti (stairs of the dead), dedicated to the memory of the 9th Century cemetery, are now covered in different varieties of Wisteria.

This is the least developed of the Borromean Islands, so do not expect vendors and lots of commercial activity. Today, visitors find peaceful and beautifully maintained gardens and villa. Of all the Borromean Islands, this is the most tranquil.

IF YOU GO:

Both Isole Pescatori and Madre are reached by ferry from many of the lakeside towns around the lake. Tickets are  available at all ticket offices. Double check last trip departures from these islands to ensure that you are not left behind. If you do, indeed, miss the last ferry from either of these islands, you will have to pay for a private launch to return you to your home base.

For ferry system information and schedules:

Lake Region Water Transportation

For further information about the specifics-opening times/closing times by season , entrance ticket costs and further history:

Borromeo Island Visitor Information

Where to eat and stay?

See my next post “Lago Maggiore-Where to Stay and Where to Eat”.

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Lago Maggiore View

Imagine a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by a crowning circle of Italian and Swiss alps, its shore ringed by romantic villages. Lago Maggiore, easily reached from Milan, is in the heart of Italy’s Lake Region.

Very close to the lake’s western shore are three small islands: Isola Bella, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori and Isola Madre. It was in 1632 that Carlos III of the House of Borromeo began to build a villa dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda. The island, originally named l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto,  is named in Isabella’s honor.

The completion of the villa and gardens suffered through the onsets of Plague, political power plays and other vagaries of the day. It was not until the latter part of the 18th Century, under Giberto V. Borromeo, that the villa and its gorgeous gardens were finally completed.

The gardens and villa were designed w by the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli. In 2008 the gardens reopened after detailed three year restoration and the results show. From the upper level garden terrace with its multi-storied grotto to the views of the lake and villages from the lower steps of the south garden, this is one of the finest and most beautiful gardens in Italy.

Isola Bella
Garden View

The Lake Region itself attracts visitors from all over Europe. The area is surprisingly free of the tourists hoards who descend upon Venice, Florence, Rome and other large Italian cities.

Access to the islands is very easy (see below) and you can visit the Borromeo Islands in one day.

Map Lago Maggiore

IF YOU GO:

If you are in Milan, trains run on a regular basis, about every hour, from Milano Centrale Station to Stresa (Recommended starting point for your visit to the islands). I recommend using the faster/cleaner Eurocity fast trains that leave Milano several times a day. These stop at very few town north of Milan and make the journey far more comfortable and faster than are the regional trains. Travel time between Milan and Stresa on the Eurocity trains from Milan is about an hour. Note that the regional trains are, indeed, less expensive-but slower!

To check train schedules:

Trenitalia English web site

On arrival in Stresa, you can either take a taxi or walk to the ferry building. By taxi, six minutes, by foot fifteen minutes-and it is all downhill from the station to the ferry building.

Transport on the lake ferry’s is very easy. Ticket offices are located in all of the ferry buildings that dot the villages along the lake. From Stresa, the trip to Isola Bella takes all of ten minutes. Fares vary by departure point. For further information on fares and schedules, check:

Lake Region Water Transportation

Isola Bella Villa and Gardens: The villa and gardens are open from March 24, 2012 – October 21, 9:30AM – 5:00PM. Tickets for both the Villa and gardens are Euro 13.00 for adults, Euro 5.50 for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Children under 6 years of age enter at no charge.

Where to stay?

Watch for future posts with details. My recommendation is to use the town of Stresa for all your explorations of the Lake Region, with the exception of Lake Garda. More to come!

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Welcome to the world of Private Italy Tours LTD

The goal of our journeys is to expose travelers to the exceptional heart of this stunning country. Clients have time to explore and relax on their own; in Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany, afloat on the canals and lagoons in Venice, along the narrow streets of villages in Umbria, amidst the Roman ruins in and around Rome, while driving along the spectacular Amalfi Coast, or exploring the beautiful remains of Greek and Roman civilizations in Sicily.

Most importantly you will meet the people of Italy – the true heart of the country. We bring Italy to YOU!

We know you love Italy; come see it through our eyes.

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