A farewell to Lake Maggiore
By Jack Troughton LAKE Maggiore spans the Italian and Swiss border and is surrounded by alpine mountains; its natural picture postcard beauty has historically attracted the great and the good; - once a ‘must’ place to visit on the Victorian ‘Grand Tour’.
American writer Ernest Hemingway rocked up twice; once to recuperate from wounds suffered as an officer working with the Italian Red Cross behind the wheel of an ambulance on the frontline in 1918 where Italian and Austrian troops clashed in the Great War – later using some of his experiences in his classic A Farewell to Arms – and returned in 1948.
He stayed at the Art Deco fivestar world went through seismic social change, other names in the book include: the King of Italy, the Queen of Romania, the Prince of Prussia, the Duchess of Genoa, King Alfonso XIII of Spain and the Queen of Portugal.
Famed classical musicians also took a break there; Mussolini (prior to becoming the boss) stayed; as did John Steinbeck, and Clark Gable.
The modern-day martini at the hotel has yet to be sampled; actually the hotel and its rooms still await a road test. However, the Hotel Du Parc overlooks the rooftops of Stresa and from a top floor window guests can look up the length of the lake and see the mountain tops of Switzerland; a reshaped 20th Century villa with wonderful gardens, it also serves a mean cocktail – the rather scrummy Aperol Spritz, an enjoyable aperitif topped up with prosecco, ice, a slice of orange and a splash of soda - and its comfortable rooms echo a grandeur of the past.
Stresa is a magnet for visitors and the manicured promenade along the shore of the lake is a must, possibly walking in Hemmingway’s footsteps. The pathway and its colourful gardens wander by the Grand Hotel and other establishments, all slightly past their glorious best – a bit like some British seaside and spa towns, the products of another age. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes – the Black Cat Bar probably didn’t exist back in the day but Hemingway would certainly have approved.
Certainly the peak of Mount Mottarone was certainly visited by the American writer. From the top – almost 1,500m high, it is possible to see seven lakes on a clear day; get to the top by car or cable car – in winter there are ski facilities.
Immediately down below are the Borromean Islands – Hemmingway apparently enjoyed the view – and they can be visited by water taxi or one of the many steamers sailing between the communities of the lake, the best way to get around.
And it is impossible not to be impressed with the 360 degree views. Even in summer there is a backdrop of high snow capped mountains; the original designer of Toblerone chocolate bars may have stood here too and been inspired; on a clear day all seven major lakes can be seen.
The mountain separates Maggiore – Italy’s second largest lake - from the much smaller neighbour Lake Orta; the town is small, quaint and its narrow streets just right for a peaceful meander.
Like most of the towns dotted around the Italian lakes, many of the shops are designer ‘high end’ affairs or have Chinese bazaars posing as boutiques; however, there are one or two gems to be discovered including some fascinating art galleries.
The central square has a number of cafes and it is an ideal place to watch people take a boat out to the island of San Guillo or enjoy the views across to the western shore of the lake which is much less developed. Ryanair flies from Valencia to Milan’s Malpensa International Airport, the closest to Lake Maggiore, it also offers a service to Milan Bergamo; nearer to Verona and Lake Garda.
Isola Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island), Lake Maggiore
A room with a view at Stresa
View from Mottarone’s peak
Hemingway stayed at the Grand Hotel
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