Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stresa Travel Excursions: The Three Lakes

Although we've visited Lake Lugano and Lake Como on days off over the years it is not since my repping days for a UK tour operator that I have been on our Three Lakes excursion. But this Tuesday I went! I was primarily on a photographic mission as we needed photos of all the locations on the tour, but it was also a great opportunity to experience what our clients do.

I could wax lyrical about what a fantastic day I had but I'll try to keep the post a reasonable length. Hopefully my selection of the 217 (yes ... 217) photos I took will speak for themselves.

Lugano, Piazza Riforma
From Stresa to Lake Lugano
I've travelled up to the north end of Lake Maggiore more times than I can imagine, but with our guide, Barbara's interesting nuggets of information along the way, it felt like the first time. I saw the towns and villages with a whole new perspective.

Myself and my fellow travellers learned about the Borsalino style hats made at the Panizza factory in Ghiffa, the miniature railway built for excavating earth at the Villa Taranto Gardens and the Villa Anelli which throws its doors open to the public in March, April and November for the flowering of its camellia collection. We passed beneath parts of the Cadorna Line, a series of WWI fortifications devised by Luigi Cadorna who was born in Pallanza. As we advanced further up the lake we drove past Cannero where the floating castles were built with stones stolen from other buildings and Cannobio where the church was created on the site of a miracle. We gazed up in wonder at the tiny hamlet of Carmine Superiore which can only be reached on foot.

And so we crossed the border and arrived in Switzerland were we came across the Brissago Islands and the town of Ascona which hosts an international jazz festival in June. Travelling through the tunnels around Locarno I was intrigued by the fact that under the road there are nuclear bunkers which are now used for storing wine and beer!

Lugano, Santa Maria degli Angeli Church
Lake Lugano
Our stop here was in the city of Lugano itself. A modern and bustling town with plenty to see. We had 1¾ hours to explore so I set off along the lakefront to see the Santa Maria degli Angeli church. As I entered my eyes were immediately drawn upwards to the enormous fresco of the Crucifixion and the Passion of Christ by Luini Bernardino which dominates this small church. I then took a stroll along the Via Nassa, window shopping in the likes of Versace, Cartier and Hermes. Turning left I headed up Via Pessina and found a wonderful deli where you can pick up some goodies for a picnic lunch later on in Villa Carlotta gardens. Coming back down towards the lakefront I stumbled upon the delightful Piazza Riforma where people were enjoying a drink outside at one of the many caf├ęs. I carried on along the lakefront to the park which is immaculately kept and is home to the Villa Ciani where you can catch the latest exhibition.

Lugano, Parco Civico
Lake Lugano to Lake Como
Winding our way up and away from Lugano we travelled along the corniche and started our journey back towards Italy and Lake Como. Hidden beneath us in the limestone rock were a series of caves which I was fascinated to learn were once used as fridges. Down from the corniche we passed through beautifully picturesque villages which were literally hanging on to the craggy rocks along the lakeside. Cypress trees were standing upright like sharpened pencils and wisteria flowers tumbled over dry stone walls. We then arrived on Lake Como with views over the centre of the lake. I had my picnic ready so opted for the stop at Villa Carlotta which I've always wanted to visit.

Villa Carlotta
Villa Carlotta
I had about 1¼ hours here and after paying my €9 entry I had planned to head straight or one of the two designated picnic areas but was waylaid by the elegant, bright white villa which seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. Several photos later I finally ate my sandwiches and carried on around the park. The gardens are terraced up to the villa and there are lifts to aid less-abled visitors to reach the upper terraces and the villa which I thought was a great idea. I think I could have spent a good few hours exploring and will definitely go back, but it was absolutely worth the visit. As well as the green lawns, the roses, the cacti, the shrubs and trees, I was blown away by the views across the lake towards Bellagio.

Villa Carlotta
Villa Carlotta to Como City
After a short walk along the lakefront to meet the rest of the group we set all set off towards our last stop of the day, Como city. The villages along this stretch of Lake Como seem to merge into each other so as well as the lake views, there is always an interesting little church, a grand villa (including George Clooney's!) or a snapshot of Italian village life to see. As we reached Como city and the deepest part of the lake, we saw seaplanes taking off and landing in the bay.

Como City
In Como city we were dropped right by the Duomo which is so tall in such a small piazza I had to take three photos to join together! Inside the cathedral is quite gloomy but you can see further paintings by Luini Bernardino. Coming back outside into the bright sunlight take a walk down Via Vittorio Emanuele II to reach the pretty shady Piazza S. Fedele. Afterwards it was definitely time for a well-earned ice-cream! I got a very good one at a tiny gelateria opposite the ferry station. Como is also famous for it's silk and Barbara has great stories about the hungry silk worms!

Como Duomo
Full Circle back to Stresa
And so we came full circle back round to Lake Maggiore and Stresa. I have to confess to nodding off on the motorway, but awoke in time for views of Angera Castle and the grand villas that line the lakeside between Arona and Stresa.

Ok, so my post has become quite long, but there was so much to tell you about! Enjoy the photos and come with us to the Three Lakes next time you come to Stresa or Baveno! Big thank-yous to Barbara and also our driver, Claudio.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

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