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Posts Tagged ‘Lake region Italy’

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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