Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stresa Travel Notes: Villa Taranto - Life after the Tornado!

The Main Avenue
Sunday 26th August last year was definitely the morning after the night before for the gardeners and managers of the Villa Taranto gardens in Pallanza (Verbania). On the Saturday night Verbania had been hit by a freak, small tornado that swept across the Borromean Bay from Stresa Lido. It clipped the top of Isola Bella but the full force was felt by the gardens at Villa Taranto. You can see photos of the effect of the tornado a month on in the local pages of La Stampa.

The head gardener and managers were obviously distraught at the devastation. However, they were also determined, that although the gardens were closed with immediate effect, they would reopen for the 2013 season. And so they have! On the 16th March the gardens opened their gates to the public and they will be open everyday until the 3rd November. Like a lot of Europe we haven't had the driest Spring so we didn't get the chance to visit the gardens until the public holiday last Thursday.

It was a glorious day and, along with many other visitors, we paid our €10 and made our way up the main avenue into the park. We love Villa Taranto and have visited the gardens many, many times before the tornado, so we were a little nervous about how they would look. We were not disappointed! The gardens are still a joy to visit: the tulip beds were bursting with colour, my favourite handkerchief tree (davidia involucrata) has survived unscathed and the acers, camelias, rhododendrons and many other trees, plants and shrubs fill the parkland and lawns.

The Fountains
I think the best way is to let the photos speak for themselves (practical visitor information is at the end of the post!):

Walking through the tulips
Around 80,000 bulbs are planted for tulip week

Admiring the acers

The fleshy petals of a Magnolia flower
Time for an icecream!
My favourite handkerchief tree

The gardeners have left one uprooted tree as a reminder

Lake views from along the garden paths

Practical Visitor Information
The gardens are open everyday from 16th March to 3rd November 2013. They are open all day from 08.30 - 18.30 and entrance costs €10 for adults and €5.50 for children 6-14 years.

There are a bar and restaurant just by the entrance and several picnic tables. Half-way around the gardens there is a small bar selling drinks, snacks and ice-creams.

Dogs are allowed into the gardens but they must be kept on a lead.

There is a ferry stop just opposite the entrance and ample parking if you are there by car. The ferry journey takes approximately 45 minutes and costs €12.40 for a regular return ticket.

Let us know if you visit Villa taranto gardens and what you like best.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stresa Travel Notes: The Laveno Bucket Lift

Spring has finally arrived in Stresa! This weekend Luca and I decided to take advantage of the clear blue skies and have a day out to Laveno and a ride on the bucket lift. I haven't been on it since I was a holiday rep back in the summer of 1999 and Luca, due to suffering from vertigo, has never been. However, we'd agreed it was to be on our list of things to do this summer so I made sandwiches for a picnic and off we went.
The bucket lift
The name bucket lift might sound a bit ominous but it is well worth a go! It is akin to a chairlift, in that it is in continuous motion, but you are stood in a "bucket" suspended from the cable instead of sat on a "chair". Each bucket takes maximum two people. There are some enclosed buckets, but we think it is a much better experience to ride in the ones that are open from just above waist height.

Setting off from Intra on the car ferry
We drove around to Intra and from there we took the car ferry to Laveno as foot passengers. If you don't have a car then you can catch the ferry to Intra and change on to the car ferry. Prices are at the end of the post.

Leaving Intra (top), the car ferry crossing (middle) and arriving in Laveno (bottom)
Once you get off the car ferry in Laveno, turn left and walk along the lakefront. Follow the road round to the right and past the church. After the church take the first right, signposted "Funivia". You'll find the bucket lift station after 200m.

The Bucket Lift station
The bucket lift man helped us get on. He slowed down the lift and opened the bucket door for us to get in. We were asked to stand on markers a few metres apart so we each had time to get in. He shut the door and we were off!

Starting our ascent!
For us, the wonderful thing about travelling in an open bucket was the silence. There's just you and the countryside. The bucket lift whirs gently, you can't hear any cars or street noise and, with no glass or windows, you have uninterrupted panoramic views across the lake.

View across to Pallanza and the Borromean Bay
As we ascended the views got wider and wider. We started off with Verbania and the Borromean Bay in our sights and ended up with Monte Rosa and all the way round to the south of Lake Maggiore and Lake Varese.

Looking towards the south end of Lake Maggiore
Luca's vertigo, although not forgotten, was sidelined whilst he thoroughly enjoyed taking photographs of the views!

When we reached the top we were helped off and then chose a place to eat our sandwiches. We sat on the sun terrace but there were also grassy areas and picnic tables to choose from. If you don't take a picnic there are a restaurant and snack bar offering refreshments.  

The restaurant and panorama viewed from the sun terrace
As well as enjoying the sunshine and the panorama we watched four hang-gliders taking off from the special launch ramp (Luca says he'll try that next time but I've a feeling he's only joking!!). As well as hang-gliders there were paragliders making the most of the glorious weather.

Hang gliders queuing up, ready for take off ...
... and in flight
Then, after a restorative ice-cream we started our descent. I got to stand at the front this time and the feeling when we went off the edge of the station platform was pretty amazing!

Starting our descent: Verbania, Isola Madre and the mountains
The town of Laveno is a pretty little town with a boat-filled harbour, promenade, shops and bars. If you time your visit for a Tuesday you can also browse the weekly, local market. We enjoyed a stroll along the lakefront before catching the ferry back over to Intra.

Laveno harbour
Practical Information
From April to October the bucket lift is open everyday (full timetables here) and costs €10 for adults, €7 for over 65's and €4.50 for children. There are also reductions for families.

Ferry return Stresa – Laveno (change in Intra) € 16.80 or € 13.60 for over 65’s (over 65’s price Monday to Friday only, ID required).
Return ride on the bucket lift € 10.00 or € 7.00 for over 65’s

For drivers you will only need a foot passenger ticket Intra to Laveno which costs € 6.80 or € 5.60 for over 65’s (over 65’s price Monday to Friday only, ID required). This works out much cheaper than taking your car on the car ferry.

So ... have you tried the bucket lift? Let us know what you thought.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci