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Lago Como & Lago Maggiore

Early Sunday morning we depart Rapallo, heading north to Lake Como. George was off getting married in Venice so unfortunately we couldn’t stay with him!

The GPS decides it knows a quicker route around Milan and takes us off the freeway. It’s looking like a dodgy part of town and this is confirmed when we spot a frequency of scantily glad women standing on street corners. We’ve hit ‘that part of town’ again.

Our thought is to stop at the town of Como, situated at the southern end of the Lake. On approach it’s looking very busy and the main piazza near the waterfront is crowded with people making the most of a sunny Sunday. We can’t say we gave it much of a look, but decided it didn’t ooze enough charm to stop.

We continued driving up the west side of the lake, passing through little villages nestled on the waters edge, but didn’t find anywhere that enticed us to stop. A little disillusioned with our plans to stay somewhere on the lake we arrive at the village of Argegno and decide to stop for a bite to eat.

We stumbled upon La P’osteria. Nestled beside the canal, the colourful italian buildings line the wide walkway where a dozen or so tables are laid in waiting.

The setting looks good and the meal proves to be just as good. Fresh pasta’s and a wine list from which they will open anything and serve it by the glass. A pity we had to continue driving, or it would have been a very long lunch.

We had decided that Lake Como was not the place, I know everyone raves about it and George clearly loves it; but none of the small villages we had passed seemed to offer much.

Lake Maggiore lies a bit further to out west so we head there. We take a very windy road up behind Argegno over the mountains, it takes us briefly into Switzerland and back.

It might have been the most direct route (if you’re a mountain goat), but I am not sure it was the quickest. Don was driving, but I think I was concentrating harder on the road, so as to avoid throwing up.

We eventually arrive at Laveno on the east side of Lake Maggiore . We’ve timed it perfectly to catch the next ferry across to the town of Verbania on the opposite shore.

So far today, Jane is taking credit for us finding the delightful lunch spot and for our good timing with the ferry!

From Verbania we drive south along the shoreline checking out possible accommodation options. Lonely Planet recommends Stresa and it was clearly the spot. The little town presented more charm than any of the others we had seen on the way.

We follow the standard program – find a bar with wi-fi, order a drink and start searching. Don went off to check out a couple of places nearby and came back with rooms secured. It wasn’t anything flash, but it was clean and well located.

The guide books also rave about how spectacular the sunrise is over the Lake. So, next morning, I dragged myself and Don out of bed for an early morning walk. Jane declines and goes back to bed.

Whilst there was a bit of fog and cloud around, it was an impressive sight to watch the pale morning light break through the clouds as it rises up over the horizon.

On the way back we stop for a coffee – local style (standing up at the bar). The cafe is like stepping back into the 1950’s, art deco decor and mirrored walls. It made great coffee.

The breakfast in the hotel was basic, the coffee like dishwater, the cereal and breads stale. The best option being a yoghurt and watery juice. So, it goes without saying that the first stop each day was our coffee bar.

We spend three nights in Stresa; exploring the little islands in the lake, checking out the surrounding towns and local markets (which I can say didn’t rate at all).

It’s close proximity to Milan has made Stresa a popular holiday destination for Italians. Grand villas and palatial hotels enjoying spectacular lakeside views. A piece of trivia: Hemingway recuperated here from a war injury in 1918.

The three Borromean Islands sit just off Stresa ; once predominately fishing villages they are now predominately tourist traps! I’m being very cynical as they do posses some charm, but you pay ‘captive’ prices for everything and besides getting off the ferry, walking around the island and hopping to the next, there isn’t much to do. Regardless, it is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

We sent Don off to play golf. It was a poignant thing to do that day, being the anniversary of Ann (Don’s Mother) dying suddenly a year ago. He did confess to thinking as he teed-up up on the last par 3, how fitting it would be to have a hole-in-one; “for Annie” and perhaps she could lend a hand?

Annie would be having a chuckle and saying “it doesn’t work that way.” He promptly thumped it into the bushes.

Meanwhile, Jane and I decide to peruse the shops – without Don lurking in the shadows. Of course, we’ve timed it with lunch and all the shops close between 12-2. There is nothing we can do, but find somewhere to enjoy a leisurely lunch.

We choose a restaurant outside in the little Piazza, but after considering the menu we both agree there is nothing that really grabs us. No point staying for the sake of it, so we up and leave.

Circumnavigating the village, we choose another restaurant. Probably a bit more expensive than the last; the more hungry you are the more you’re prepared to pay. However, minutes after we sit a tour group arrives and is ushered in. Oh no, we’re not eating with a tourist group, as we get up to leave the man besides us comments that he would too if he could (he’d already ordered).

Just down the alley is a little wine bar I had spotted earlier that did share plates. It had a spot for us outside in the shade ready and waiting. Well, after 2 disasterous attempts we enjoyed a platter of meats and cheeses along with a bottle of wine (actually 2 carafe’s, so it was a litre).

Hence, we both decided an afternoon nap was required after that. I think we were lucky to even see Jane again that night.

We make a day trip to Largo d’Orta and the medieval village of Orta San Giulio, a very quaint town. In the central piazza the 16th Century Town Hall shows the remains of its frescoed facade. In a narrow cobblestone street hidden from the main thoroughfares we find Al Boeuc, little wine bar serving simple tapas style bruchettas brunettes for lunch.

One of the things I discover about my sister is her total lack of sense of direction. Stresa is a tiny village, a little piazza and maybe 6 streets running around it. Jane confesses to having ‘misplaced’ the hotel on several occasions, only by luck eventually finding it again.

On our last night we designate the task of choosing the restaurant for dinner to Jane. She takes her task seriously – as she should; we’ve been pretty lucky with the meals we’ve had and she wouldn’t want to be responsible for a bad one!

Jane reports during the day, she has found a spot. The only problem was finding it again – which we eventually did. And yes, the meal was another great Italian fare.

This is our last night in Italy, it’s been a brief gourmet tour. We have excelled at eating and drinking our way through Tuscany, the Italian Riviera and Lakes regions. Our waistlines have no doubt expanded, but it was worth it.

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