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Travelogue on Northern lakes of Italy


Coming to the Easter break, I decided that something had to be done with the ten days and spending the entire stretch inside my attic didn’t seem to be a good idea. It was decided to check out the Northern lakes of Italy. There were two of them in the list, Como and Maggiore. The deciding factors were ticket prices and weather forecast.

Lago Maggiore -13

It was sulky weather everywhere in Italy that weekend. The only hopeful one seemed to be places surrounding Lake Maggiore where weather websites foretold the probability of precipitation to be just 20% which was better compared to 40-60% in Como.

Lago Maggiore -2 Lago Maggiore -4

Saturday morning. Turin was drenched in a steady drizzle from the previous day. Fine mist of a rain it was. Cars sped past with headlights peering into the fading misty darkness, a hesitant dawn. With merely an hour or so of sleep the night before, I doubted whether I would stay away during the journey. So we started off, 3 with one trailing behind from Porta Nuova at about 7 in the morning.

Lago Maggiore -5 Lago Maggiore -6

At Novara, where we had to change the train, rain displayed no signs of receding. Everything was damp, cold and gloomy. The journey from Novara to Arona was humdrum, with the sights of the northern villages and patches of desolate deciduous woods, which assume a depressing appearance in winter.

I must confess that despite my often declared dislike for the country, south of India still lives somewhere inside me, making me acutely aware of its influence on occasions like these. The train journeys back home, lashing merciless rains that seep in through the imperfect pull down shutters of rail coaches, one glass shutter and one metal shutter, the sight of swaying dark green foliage desperately fighting rain and thunderstorm. A bedlam of sounds from hawking cries of tea, raindrops pelleting train’s roof to the steady rhythm of sound made by metal wheels on metal rail.

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A friend had commented long back, “It’s the inherent craving for chaos that lives inside Indians”. The lake started being visible by the time our train reached Arona. Blanketed with a heavy mist and the steady rain, it was just a part of the shore that we could figure out through the blurry windows.

Lago Maggiore

It was not a crowded station. We ventured out braving the rain. Lake stretched before us, mild mist letting only a hazy view of its banks on the other side. There was a friendly girl at the local tourism office near the train station who suggested us to try the place Stressa if we wanted more stay options. Stresa too was on the shores of Lake Maggiore, and was about 20 minutes drive from Arona. She suggested that we take the bus instead of the train, which offered a better view and cost just about €2.5.

Lago Maggiore -18 Lago Maggiore -17

Wandering around Arona in the rain to pass time till our bus to Stresa started, froze the last bit of warmth out of me and that’s when I discovered the Italian magic portion that goes by the name of “Café Correto”. It is a normal espresso coffee spiced up with a shot of a grape based pomace brandy called grappa. As far as my taste was concerned, it was an agonizing drink to consume, but the moment it gets inside, you start thanking your stars for having discovered it. Strong coffee kills sleep, perking you up and grappa shoots heat into every cell of the body.

Lago Maggiore -16

Journey in the bus was fascinating especially with just three of us as passengers. Meandering roads traced the shoreline of Maggiore which was still enveloped by mist. Bus sped past buildings along the shore most of which had piers and a couple of boats tied to them. It dropped us at the ferry point of Stresa. There was a trackless sightseeing train that took people on a city tour which I wanted to try out but had to give in to the group plan to go to the islands first by boat.

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As we walked to the boats, a tall guy in a uniform (with a fancy naval cap) approached us and sternly asked us whether we were planning to go to the islands as there was a boat leaving in five minutes. Before we could agree upon it, he hurried off and directed us to follow him which we did, like a bunch of school kids. From a desk placed in a hole in the wall type structure, he tore down three tickets and demanded €60 (€20 each) for two islands. We obediently complied and he set us scuttling off to a boat which we promptly boarded. All this happened in about 5 minutes and by the time we realized that he made jackasses out of us, our boat was already on its way to the islands.

Lago Maggiore -12 Lago Maggiore -11 Mountain Bikin (1) Mountain Bikin-1 (1)

There were many operators and this boat was just one of them. It was not like the last boat to the islands. And cost of the ride was €18 but the guy had impressively managed to beat us off €2 each. I did, however, admire the way he did it. Maybe he had a whole repertoire of strategies from which he picked up one titled “authoritarian” and tried on us. And it worked.

Mountain Bikin-2 Mountain Bikin-3

The gloom of this setback was somewhat subdued with sight of our first island. Apparently, these islands, referred together as Borromean Islands, comprises of three small ones and two islets. Among these, we were to visit only Isola dei Pescatoriand Isola Bella as our €20 only covered them.

Mountain Bikin

Isola dei Pescatori, which we stepped on first was a fishing island with a permanent population. It had beautiful narrow cobbled streets albeit being sandwiched by too many stalls selling fancy stuff to tourists. By dusk, we returned to Stresa and having nothing much to do, hunted around for a reasonable Bread and Breakfast place. We finally fixed on one run by an old lady somewhat a bit away from the main road and got out after a much needed nap to roam around the place in the night.

Mountaineering (1) Mountaineering

It was here that I saw the moon in its most outrageous size. Huge, yellow and spotted, it resembled a roughly cut lump of cheese illuminated by a dim bulb. But that was really a great night, walking aimlessly though the shores of Maggiorewith that huge yellow moon above, the sprawling lake beside and the snow capped Alps beyond.

About Author:

I am a lawyer by profession who has quit practicing law and presently engaged in teaching. Being a rolling stone, I keep drifting around focusing more on travelling and less on being riveted to any place. I save enough money every year to do a bit of mountaineering in the summer. I am passionate about mountaineering. I do a lot of climbing around Gharwal Himalayas. Love testing hi altitude gear. Last year, I tested a basic 2K Quechua tent high on Gharwal Himalayas in blizzard. I travel a lot. I also do a little bit of mountain biking. I have explored Ketam Mountain Biking Park (Singapore) just a month back. I am also a mechanical gadget freak. I love fixing mechanical things. This includes a long list of things from alarm clocks to cars. I collect outdated gadgets, mechanical and electronic. I read a lot, especially surreal stuff like Murakami.

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