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Archive for the ‘Train day trips Lake Region’ Category

Where Italy and Switzerland Meet

Lugano, with its temperate climate, is a city with an incredible history and musical heritage. Sited on the northern shore of a crystal clear alpine lake, this is the largest Italian speaking city in Switzerland.

Lago Lugano, the city that gave its name to the lake, clings to the shore and hills above the water like the icing on a delicate Swiss pastry. Along the impeccably clean promenade, couples stroll as ferries come and go from the dock.  In the distance, the Casino beckons with visions of James Bond, tux and all.

When I have the opportunity I plan at least a two day visit to Lugano.

The first day is spent on the lake enjoying lunch served aboard a special ferry that calls on various towns along the shore of the lake. I have always found this to be a wonderful way to experience the pace of life in this region of Italy. Spectacular views of the alps from the comfort of my table or from the open air seating on deck are always memorable.

The midday cruise boats leave from the Lugano Paradiso dock at 11:50AM each morning, early April through late October. Lunch is served shortly after heading across the lake. A  fixed menu is served offering excellent food (not fancy). With five stops along the lake in each direction, the pace of enjoying the meal moves at the pace of the boat. The boat returns to Lugano Paradiso at 1:50PM. You can also board/return from the main Lugano Ferry Building. For further details, see “If You Go”.

Piazza della Riforma
Lugano

When I return to the city, I usually choose a table at one the lovely small cafes in the Pizza Riforma. Directly off of the waterfront park, this is great place to relax with an afternoon coffee or aperitif.  The main shopping streets of the city lead away from the square and there is no denying that window shopping in this country of watchmakers offers temptations aplenty.

My evening meal is usually enjoyed at Bistro Cyrano. Located an easy walk from the central city square, the small space, while not fancy, offers delicious meals at a reasonable price, especially in Switzerland. The chef uses only the freshest ingredients and there is everything about the Italian table to enjoy. Great wine list, as well!

On the second day, I take time to visit two of the most beautiful churches in this area of Switzerland, Santa Maria degli Angioli and San Rocco.

The church of Santa Maria was originally part of a Franciscan Monastery. The buildings were started in the late 15thCentury, with subsequent improvements and additions made over the centuries. What makes Santa Maria so very special is Bernardino Luini’s masterpiece, and the largest fresco in Switzerland, The Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. The fresco covers the main part of the interior wall that separates the nave from the altar. The intricacy and detail are amazing, and to be able to spend time studying an incredible art treasure without the usual crowds is a gift. The church is easily located on the western size of the city, not far from Piazza della Riforma.

The other church, San Rocco, is on the opposite edge of the main city center and only steps from the Giardini and Piazza della Riforma. The 17th Century structure has a very plain façade, yet the interior offers gorgeous frescoes depicting the life of San Rocco di Montpellier, a venerated saint in the Catholic Church. During the summer months, there are a number of world famous music festivals in the city. Last year, I walked into San Rocco and enjoyed hearing a young pianist practice a Rachmaninoff piano concerto.  Unforgettable.

Sunrise on Lugano

This is a city for those less inclined to the busy day to day bustle of tourist sites. An easy drive from Milan or Lago Maggiore or Lago Como, the lanes and byways of this lovely city offer time for contemplation and relaxation. A city more known to the European visitor, fewer Americans are encountered here especially after the day buses depart. Evening offer well lit streets, the quiet of a Swiss town and time to enjoy yet another jewel of the Lake Region.

IF YOU GO:

Lugano Tourism offers plentiful resources.

Navigazione del Lago Lugano (Lugano Ferry System information and timetables) For lunch cruise information, click on “Midday Cruise” on the left side of the home page.

Hotels:

There are plenty to choose from. I’ve stayed at each of these over the years. They offer clean rooms for a fair price. Nothing fancy, mind you, but for a clean bed and a great location, they are difficult to equal.

Hotel Aquarello

This lovely hotel is located within the arcades of shops in the center of Lugano. Easy access to the lake and sites right outside your door. The town is usually very quiet after 8:30PM and you need not worry about traffic noise. The Balmelli family offer attentive service.

www.acquarello.ch

Piazza Cioccaro 9 – 6900 Lugano

Tel: +41 (0)91 911 68 68

Hotel Delfino

Due to its position south of city center and in a more residential area, the Delfino is both a bit higher in price, yet offers lovely rooms with balconies and lake views (request such when reserving). It takes about ten minutes to walk to the center of Lugano from the Delfino.

www.delfinolugano.ch

Via Cassarinetta 6  6900 Lugano, Switzerland
Tel: +41 (0)91 985 99 99

Restaurants:

Bistro Cyrano

Corso Enrico Pestalozzi 27

6900 Lugano

Tel: +41 (0)91 922 21 82

www.bistrocyrano.ch

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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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MILAN – DO I GO?

I’ve mixed feeling about visiting Milan. After ten visits to Da Vinci’s Last Supper at Santa Maria della Grazie I’m not enthusiastic about all the insanity you have to go through to see, next to Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the most visited work of Renaissance art in the world. Truth is, its frustrating. Large tour companies book entire months as much as a year in advance. They do, essentially, control any/all ticket sales. Any individual tickets that become available are almost entirely based on cancellations made by the tour companies.

Recently, tickets were not available ten (yes, ten) months in advance of one of my small group tours. If you wish to make reservations with Viator, or other large tour companies in Milan, to see the city by bus – and they do offer very good tours that way – then that’s the way to go.

If you wish to give it a try, link here to see if tickets for your desired date are available.

Despite the challenges presented by a visit to the Da Vinci, this very modern Italian city offers many other delights. Read on.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan

The Duomo: What a confection of white marble! Spectacular. The Piazza that fronts the cathedral of Milan is one of the largest in Italy. The scale of the structure dwarfs even that huge space.

Inside the cathedral are stained glass windows, behind the main altar, designed by Marc Chagall. These windows were installed after the bombings of WWII.

Marco d’ Agrate’s
Saint Bartholomew
1562

Marco d’ Agrate’s 1562 sculpture of Saint Bartholomew is one of the most unusual in Europe. The saint was flayed alive (that is, skinned alive) so the sculptor chose to depict Bartholomew’s musculature exposed, his skin wrapped around his body. Fascinating and disturbing, at best.

If you wish to visit the roof of the duomo – and I highly recommend you do – go to the southeast corner of the church where you will find the elevator to the roof. The number and beauty of the statues and gargoyles is mind-boggling.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and loggia walkways around the Piazza Duomo.

Next to the Cathedral of Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Completed in 1877 it is the first covered ‘mall’ in Europe.

Today, fashionistas rub elbows with tourists in the many cafes within. Impeccably dressed Milanese move effortlessly in and out of gorgeous, expensive clothing and jewelry shops. The mosaic and inlaid floors are, in and of themselves, a wonder to behold.

At the center crossing of the galleria floor are mosaic coats of arms of the four major cities of Italy. Turin, west and south of Milan, uses a bull as its symbol. Tradition has it that, if you place your foot on the bulls, ahem, private parts and spin 360 degrees without your other foot touching the floor, you will have good luck. It is really fun to watch people try this from an unobtrusive corner. And yes I’ve tried several times, all to no avail!

If the deep depression in the floor above the unfortunate animal’s lover-section is any indication, a great many tourists and locals believe in the tradition!

La Scala and the Piazza della Scala

At the north entrance to the Galleria is the Piazza della Scala which fronts the world famous Opera House of the same name. This is a lovely park area in the center of Milan. There are benches for a much needed break and people watching, a national sport in Italy, is always fascinating.

For those obsessed with, or just interested in, opera, a visit to La Scala offers interesting glimpses in to the world of music. There is a small museum inside the building and visitors are also afforded the opportunity to view the interior of the theater from one of the third level private boxes. This is certainly not any waste of time; if anything, the visit underscores Italian’s love of music and their dedication to the opera composer’s art.

Via Montenapoleone:

If your interests tend to the current trends in clothing design, then this is your street. Known as the headquarters of  Italian fashion, the boutiques for shopping, and the people watching, offer fascinating glimpses into the world of “La Moda.” This wide, truly monumental, boulevard shares its justifiable reputation with the Fifth Avenue in New York and the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.

This is one of the most expensive commercial / residential areas of Milan. Be aware that costs for meals and beverages are at least one and a half times the average cost for such things in other areas of the city.

Fortezza Sforzesco

In the heart of Milan stands one of the most historically intriguing and architecturally powerful buildings in the world. From 1392, when the Visconti family began improving and strengthening the fortifications, to the time of Francesco Sforza who transformed the buildings into his private ducal residence, this is a building whose construction reflects the political history of Italy.

You can visit the fortress in about two hours. There are several spaces within the structure now used for art and fashion shows, so it is very helpful to check the site’s web resources before you visit. See information below under “If You Go.” A MUST even if you find history boring. This is one place  guaranteed to fascinate.

 . . . and finally, the Navigli Neighborhood

Surprisingly enough, there is an area of Milan that is crisscrossed by navigable canals. Southeast of city center, and easily reached by using the Green Line of the Milan subway system (watch your personal belongings!), you will exit at the Porta Genova train station. As you exit the station you are in the heart of Milan’s answer to Venice. If you go in the winter months, don’t be surprised by maintenance work and dry canals.

This is one of the liveliest arts districts of Milan. Evenings are always crowded with all ages, some heading to clubs, others to galleries that tend to the newest Italian talents. Enjoyable, fun and truly memorable.

IF YOU GO:

Milan’s Stazione Centrale is one of the largest train stations in Europe. Connections to all cities across Italy are available, from regional trains to the fast Eurostar Italia. There is a huge subway station under the station and access to all areas of the city are easy. There are kiosks throughout the station that facilitate the purchase of tickets. The kiosks have touch-screens and offer numerous language options for the simple step-by-step purchase process.

NOTE: Be very careful with your personal belongings while in the Metro stations and trains in Milan. Pickpockets are plentiful and determined.

The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci

Santa Maria della Grazie

Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, 2

20123 Milan, Italy

Tel: +39.02.467.6111

Remember that you cannot just show up at the entrance for the Last Supper and expect to enter. Pre reserved reservations are mandatory.

Tickets? Try Last Supper Tickets

Duomo:

Hours: Every day: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Last admission at 6:45 p.m. Free admission.

For detailed history and information about the cathedral:

Duomo Milan

La Scala Opera House:

Tickets: Euro 6.00 per person, From 9 am to 12.30 pm (last entrance at 12 noon) and from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm (last entrance at 5 pm)

(NOTE: Visits are closed from 12:30PM to 1:30PM)
The museum is open everyday except: 7 December, afternoon of 24 December, 25 and 26 December, 31 December afternoon, 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 15 August.

La Scala Information

Fortezza Sforseco

Hours: Open daily
7.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. (in winter) | 7.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. (in summer)
Free admission (except for castle museums)
Public transport:
Underground: MM1 Cadorna, Cairoli – MM2 Cadorna, Lanza
Buses: 18,50,37,58,61,94

Castle Museums: Entrance ticket Euro 3.00

For more information and to check event schedules at the fortress:

Fortessa Sforzesco

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Across Lago Maggiore from the western shore of the lake, you can discern the stucco and terracotta tile roofed  buildings of Santa Caterina del Sasso. In the photo to the left, taken from a walkway just north of Stresa, you can see the monastery in the distance.

It was during an 11th Century storm on Lago Maggiore that a merchant by the name of Alberto Besozzo was cast from his boat into the violent waters of the lake. Not a man known for his kindness or generosity, he prayed that he would be saved. Once safely on shore, he vowed to create a place of remembrance for the miracle of his survival.

Alberto ensured that a chapel, dedicated to Saint Catherine of Egypt, was built on the rocks. The chapel was built directly above where he swam ashore during the storm.  That chapel is now contained within the larger church of San Nicola. Between the 14th and 17th Centuries, brothers of Sant’Ambrogio from Milan cared for the hermitage. In latter centuries came the Carmelites, Dominicans and Benedictines.

Within the chapel are the remains of the venerated Alberto Besozzo. The intimate interior of the space gives you a sense of the centuries; frescoed walls, floor tiles polished by the shoes of thousands and a revered silence in keeping with the history of the place. An event described as a miracle occurred in the latter part of the 18th Century.

Several huge boulders fell through the roof of the church, but stopped suspended, above one of the side chapels. After this event, the hermitage became known as “Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro (Saint Catherine of the Dancing Rock).

This is a site known more, by visitors, for its incredible position along one of the steepest rock faces on Lago Maggiore. The buildings literally cling to the rocks. Approaching the structures for the first time is breathtaking. Due to its rather remote position on the lake, there are far fewer ferries that provide transport to this magical place.

For a virtual tour of the site, visit: Santa Caterina Virtual Tour

IF YOU GO:

Best time to visit is in the afternoons. There is a ferry at 2:15PM from Stresa directly over to the monastery. Visits take only about an hour. If you wish to have some refreshment, you can walk to the new elevator, recently opened, that connects the lake level to a hotel and cafe. Check times before ascending the elevator. Hours are unpredictable.

Hours: From March through October open every day, 8.30 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.00.

For further information about the monastery and its history:

Santa Caterina del Sasso

For ferry schedule information for Lago Maggiore:

Lake Maggiore Ferry Schedule and Info

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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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