Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stresa Travel Notes: Summer Sagra Season

Yesterday was Luca's birthday and we went to the sagra in Vedasco for a birthday dinner with friends before watching the fireworks across the lake in Pallanza.

So I thought I'd write a post about sagre in general and let you know about some of the main summer ones in and around Stresa. I'll also include a glossary of the most common foods found at our local sagre.

Look out for signs around town!
A sagra is a kind of outdoor party with food, drink and music. Sometimes they are themed around a particular food (here on the lake that is often fish), but can also be a general mix of grilled meat, sausages, polenta etc. In wine producing areas you may also find sagre devoted to the local wine. 

The Alpini Troops Fish Sagra in Stresa
A lot of the sagre here are run as fund-raising events for various local associations or clubs so, by taking part, you know you are also giving something back to the community.

Lunch at the Alpini Troops Party in Stresa
I often find it a shame that so few tourists come to the sagre. They often do lunch as well as evening events so next time you see one pop in. Have a look at the glossary below as I know they aren't always geared up with translations of the menu.

Music from the Alpini Troops Band
So if you decide to visit a sagra how do they work? Firstly you need to find the cassa where you will see the menu displayed. Tell the guy at the cassa what you'd like (including drinks) and pay. You will be given some kind of record of your order. Sometimes it is a printed sheet with your items ticked and totalled up, sometimes it is different coloured tickets with the items you've chosen pre-printed on. Either way, head to the "kitchen" area and the bar, hand over your tickets and collect your food and drinks. If you forget something or want to have something else after you can always go back to the cassa and order more! We tend to do this, preferring to wait and see if we have room for cheese and dessert!!

The Festa Fonti in Baveno - we loved the 80's disco night!!
The Chestnut Sagra in Stresa
Seating is usually on long trestle tables and benches, so just find a spot and enjoy!

Sagre in and around Stresa that we enjoy
These are some of the summer sagre that we enjoy going to in and around Stresa and their approximate dates:

The Toma Cheese Sagra in Nebbiuno - mid-May
The Alpini Troops Fish Sagra in Stresa - first week of June
The Alpini Troops Party in Stresa - second week of June
The Festa Fonti in Baveno - each weekend end July/first half of August
The Vedasco August Sagra - each weekend second half of August
Taste of the Lake "Sapori di Lago" Fish Sagra in Baveno - last two weekends of August
The Chestnut Sagra (Castagnata) - beginning of October

Salsiccia - sausage
Salamino - another type of sausage, usually fatter and sometimes grilled butterflied
Bracciola - pork chop
Fritto Misto - mixed fried fish
Calamari fritti - fried squid rings
Brasato - braised meat stew, often served with polenta
Spezzatino - stew, often served with polenta
Patatine fritte - fries
Castagne or caldarroste - roast chestnuts
Toma - a type of cheese. Each area has their own Toma. In Stresa you will find Mottarone, Valsesia, Crodo and other local Toma cheeses

Friday, August 1, 2014

Isola Pescatori: A Local Artist's House, Studio & Secret Garden

**Updated 30/03/2015 with opening dates/tour times**

Yesterday afternoon Luca and I were fortunate enough to have a couple of hours to go to Isola Pescatori and visit the newly opened gallery of local island artist, Andrea Ruffoni (1925-1990). The visit is guided and free and really is a must see for any visitor to Isola Pescatori.

The ferry arriving on Isola Pescatori
The gallery is in an island house which makes it a unique experience. The average visitor (myself included!) doesn't normally get to visit an island house and it is so much bigger than you think it will be. With such narrow lanes and higgledy piggledy buildings, you can't imagine what is inside. The rooms are light and airy with amazing views over the lake and down the lane that runs though the centre of the island. You will see Isola Pescatori from a whole different perspective!

View from the front balcony
Your guide is Monica, whose family are from Isola Bella. She has lived in England for 30 years but always loves coming back to "her islands". She remembers Andrea Ruffoni from when she was growing up and is the perfect local guide to show you around the gallery. It was a wonderful tour with just the right amount of information and explanations about the artwork and the artist. Monica has her favourite spots in the house and is keen to surprise you with her favourite views of the island.

Entering the house/gallery you immediately climb a spiral staircase and in the first room Monica gives a short introduction about Andrea Ruffoni and how he lived and worked.

At the age of 30 he travelled extensively in Europe to study modern art, including an extended stay in Vienna, and it was on one of these trips that he met his wife. They were on a train and both noticed that they were each reading a copy of the catalogue from the same art exhibition. Returning to live permanently on Isola Pescatori, Andrea set up his studio in 1976. His first works were in plexiglass, black lacquered plaster (which gives it the look of ebony) and drift wood from the lake. He then started using rubbish, mianly discarded plastic bottles, which he melted onto metal mesh and used concrete, sand, ashes and burning to create the effects you see in many of the artwork hanging in the gallery. In many of his works he tried to reflect the mark we are leaving on the earth.


Your tour continues throughout the house with the chance to step out onto the balconies and see snapshots of the island: across the tiled rooftops, looking down on the narrow lanes, or watching the hustle and bustle of the boats coming and going below.

The gate to the secret garden
Monica then takes you next door to visit the artist's simple but beautiful home before taking you further down the lane to the island's secret garden. Now, I must have walked past this gate a thousand times and never imagined what was behind. It isn't fancy, it isn't ornate and there are no exotic plants, but it is the most wonderful little green oasis on Isola Pescatori. It was once the vegetable garden belonging to the artist's parents when they had a bar/café on the ground floor of the gallery building. In his will, Andrea insisted that the garden must remain and garden and never be built on. Along with his artwork, I think this was an outstanding legacy to leave to the island and its visitors.

I urge you to go and visit the Andrea Ruffoni Gallery and Museum - it is a unique experience and Monica is a fabulous guide. The tours are free and take place every day (except Monday) from 1st June until 2nd October 2016. Tours are limited to eight people at a time, first come, first served every hour 11.00-17.00.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci