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Posts Tagged ‘Small group tours Lake Region’

View from Room 220 La Perla

As I write this article, I am sitting in a small hotel in the village of Vocogno di Craveggia (VB) in the Valle Vigezzo of northern Italy. Located a mere two hours by train from the intensive noise and traffic of Milano, you will find peace, quite, tranquility and rest in this lovely area of Italia. Frequented by Italian and Swiss travelers, this particular valley has been overlooked by all but knowledgeable international visitors for centuries.

The Vigezzo river valley meanders through the Lapontine Alps in Italy, bordering the Swiss Canton of Ticino on its northern perimiter.   It is known, among other things,  for its annual celebration of the chimney-sweepers, “spazzacamini” in Italian. Each September, the village fills with those who come to honor this special and much honored traditional work.

Spazzacamini Santa Maria Maggiore

A Time Honored Tradition – Chimney Sweeps – A Spazzacamino during the Annual Celebrations

The buildings here are mostly stone and stucco. Granite and slate roofs top barns and homes and the sense of this place is as much Switzerland as it is Italy.

Santa Maria Maggiore Val Vigezza

Town Square, Santa Maria Maggiore

The Hotel La Perla occupies a marvelous site above the village. Mattei, the owner, or his son Francesco, offer to pick you up (and return you at the conclusion of your visit) in Santa Maria Maggiore. The hotel is located some distance, uphill, from the station so this is a much appreciated service. Without a car, you should plan to walk; special requests for pick-up and drop off can be made with the owners.

The three-star hotel La Perla offers very simple, clean, uncluttered rooms. If you ask for a mountain/valley view you will not be disappointed. Some rooms on the second and third floors offer terraces and stunning vistas of the valley and villages below. Don’t expect fancy; expect clean, friendly and well-managed accommodation.

Sunday Morning sunrise Vocogno di Craveggia

The View from Room 220, Hotel La Perla

The restaurant in the hotel offers memorable meals. Dinner last evening was a Caprese salad, followed by some baked potato gnocchi prepared with a special regional cheese. The sliced local beef was beautifully prepared with some patate fritte to accompany the secondo. Francesco, the son of the owners, is the chef. His capabilities are more than evident in a flavorful and well-prepared “cena” (dinner). The restaurant also offers a good selection of local and regional wines. The views from the dining room are spectacular, as well.

Your days here can be filled with rented electric bicycles, hikes in the foothills of the alps, easy strolls through the valley villages. Not unlike the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast of Italy, the chain of small towns are linked by the “Centovalli Vigezzina“, known locally as the Centovalli train. You can purchase tickets to/from various villages and walk back or just enjoy time in each one, returning to Santa Maria Maggiore at the end of an easy day. (Click on the map for easier reading).

Image result for mappa centovalli and vigezzina

Be sure to plan a few days in this region of Italy. Hotels are not plentiful, so reservations are strongly recommended. Most accommodations are three-star with a few four-star available.

If your time in Italy is limited, you might enjoy the full day excursion  known as the Lago Maggiore Express. Our blog article provides details and information.

IF YOU GO:

Trenitalia offers regular service from all over Italy to Milano Centrale and from there on to Domodossola, the last large city before entering Switzerland. Those coming from Brig, in Switzerland, will find trains available on either the Italiarail or Swiss Bundesbahn web sites.

From Domodossola, you can purchase tickets for the Centovalli train (though online purchases in advance are recommend, as this will guarantee you seats especially during the busiest months of August, September, Christmas Holiday, January and February).

Valle Vigezzo Tourist Information

Train Information, Valle Vigezzo

Hotel La Perla

28852 Vocogno di Craveggia (VB)

Via Belitrandi, 2/A

Tel: 0324 98 071

Fax: 0324 98 88 98

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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