Most people will know that we had to come home early last year so we did not get our visits in to some of the Italian Lakes. We carried with us then a magazine article that followed a couple on their travels to Lake Maggiore in a motorhome with all the details about what they did and saw there. We brought the article out with us this year so that is why we chose Camping Village Parisi because that is the campsite the couple stayed on
The campsite is right on the edge of Lake Maggiore and the view from our motorhome over the water of the lake was quite stunning. Once we were set up we wandered along to where we would catch the ferries for the trips we wanted to do on the lake. We found out that we had to wait until the Wednesday to do the big trip which would take us on the lake to Switzerland which included two train rides back to Baveno but more of that later. There are three islands on Lake Maggiore and you can decide to buy a ticket to do just one island or to do all three on a hop-on, hop-off basis. The weather turned distinctly wet so we spent the next couple of days forlornly looking out of the windows of the van waiting for the weather to change to make the boat trips worthwhile. Whilst we were waiting we spent some time reading about the lake.
Lake Maggiore covers an area of 107 square miles and at its widest is 6 miles across. It is approximately 38.5 miles long and it stretches from Sesto in Italy to Minusio in Switzerland. The lake has a maximum depth of 372 meters and is the second largest of the Italian Lakes. Monday the weather improved sufficiently for us to do the walks that that were recommended by the Tourist Information bureau and these took us up some of the hills that overlooked the lake and off the other way to a pretty lakeside village called Feriolo. I felt forced to buy some beautifully decorated, local biscuits/cakes…….they kept saying buy us, buy us and then eat me, eat me after I had tasted the first one. They didn’t last long despite the fact that Elaine refused to join in the cake fest.
Tuesday we went back to the quay and paid for the three island tour. The operator there gave us a timetable for the boats so that we knew what time we had to be ready to catch the next boat. After a nice little boat ride we arrived at the first island called Madre. Imagine the shock for my Yorkshire born wife when we had to stand in a queue to pay another 46 euros to gain access to this and the next island. We weren’t the only ones who hadn’t been told so we had to wait a little while to get to our turn to pay. As it was the gardens of the large house on the island were beautiful and the azaleas and rhododendrons were out in full colour and there were lots of colourful birds roaming around.The house was well worth seeing although we did find the downstairs a bit gloomy with lots of quite austere paintings but a lot of the upstairs was taken up with rooms displaying puppets and puppet theatres and that was quite fascinating.
Island 2, called Bella totally placated Elaine. The grounds were superb and although we only got to see the ground floor of the magnificent house the gardens were superb and how lucky were we that we were visiting when there was so much colour everywhere. It is hard to describe the hard landscaping that was the feature of the rear of the house so I will let the pictures tell the story of what we saw there.
By this time Elaine was talking about how reasonable the entrance fees for the islands had been so I was pleased she wouldn’t be losing sleep over our extravagance that night. Guests of the house, over the years have included Napoleon and his wife Josephine, The Treaty of Stresa was signed there in 1935 of by the French prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald and Benito Mussolini and Lady Diana also went there but I bet none of those had to pay 46 euros to visit the house.
The third island is called Pescatori and here we found nice harbours, narrow streets and lots of restaurants and gift shops and it was thronged with visitors as boats were constantly dropping off and taking away visitors to and from the island.
We had a great meal at a restaurant right on the waterfront and so far our expectations of Lake Maggiore from the article were being fully realised.
Wednesday we were up early because we had we had to be back at the quay to catch the Lago Maggiore Express. We wanted to do the boat ride first and on Wednesdays the whole day trip has the bonus of a stop at Luino for the large street market that is held there. We got our tickets and got on the large ferry.
The beauty of Lake Maggiore is the narrowness of the lake all the way up meant that as the ferry sailed up the lake calling into town after town a great view was had all the way up. In the distance the snow covered mountains could be seen ……and we knew we were on our way right up to the top of the lake.
It was a very large market that covered a lot of the streets of Luino. Back on the boat it continued to zig zag back and forth across the lake whilst I continued to take pictures all the way. Where we moved into Switzerland was hard to tell as there is no painted line across the lake to let us know but we did start to see Swiss flags dotted along the shore. Finally we arrived at Locarno and we had some time to look around the city.
The next part of the trip was most enjoyable journey on a single track railway from Locarno to Domodossola and it rose to 830 meters above sea level and the views down to the river that ran all along the valleys for most of the journey were quite breath-taking.
Above us we could see snow covered peaks and there were the occasional waterfalls running down the mountains.
At Domodossola we then caught the Milan train back to Baveno. Here I had to laugh! We were in Italy and Elaine speaks only a few words of Italian. She had read the brochure so she knew we needed the Milan train. There were Dutch, French and Italians that were looking for the train to take us back and in the middle of them all was Elaine who led them to the right train and reassured them all and even told them how many stops there were to our station. Always a leader!
The weather forecasts didn’t look at all good for the next 10 days and it was the same for Venice as it was for Croatia and even for much further down Italy where we could catch a ferry over to Croatia from there. That evening we even discussed whether we should change everything and pop over to Corsica where the weather looked quite decent. We had much better weather last year.
21st-23rd April …..Pescheira del Garda, Lake Garda
We checked the weather forecasts again and everything had changed. I think the forecasters’ sea weed had dried out over night because suddenly the weather looked half decent so we decided to go back to plan A. We set off towards Lake Garda and after 155 miles we pulled into the campsite entrance which was just over the road from the water’s edge. A French woman, quite excitedly, pointed to our rear tyre and told us it was fairly flat. I hadn’t felt that anything was wrong as I drove over. I tried to change the wheel and broke the wheel nut spanner trying to loosen the nuts. Fiat….I was not impressed! We couldn’t find details of a tyre company so the next day we trecked to a caravan showroom and they arranged for a mechanic to come and sort it out.
So, later that afternoon we went out again to look at the local town and to see what Lake Garda is all about. The first impression was that this lake is vast and the distant shore was a long way away. The town centre of the small town was made up with lots of narrow streets full of high class clothes shops, expensive shoe shops and touristy, souvenir shops.
Boats were tied up all along the water’s edge and large ferries were parked up down back waters, probably waiting for the busy summer season. I know this may go against most people’s opinions but I wasn’t impressed; I had been spoilt by everything I had seen the whole length of Lake Maggiore. We stayed the 3 days here but didn’t want to go away without giving Lake Garda a proper chance.
Unlike the roads we had followed up Lake Maggiore we went well away from the coast line before heading in to the town that gave its name to the lake. Again, this campsite was right on the lake’s edge and we were lucky to get a pitch because we found out that we had arrived on Independents Day which commemorated when this area was liberated during the war. We were given a card that would open the lakeside gate and we were soon promenading towards the small town of Garda alongside many happy (loud) people and family groups. Bars we passed were packed, most playing music, and there was a lovely, festive feeling.
The lake at this point appears to be even wider and the distant shore just looked like a blur. Around the narrow streets of the centre by the lakeside there were umpteen restaurants and bars all packed with happy diners and drinkers. As an aside, we had noticed that a very popular drink was a large wine glass filled with ice and a bright drink the colour of Tizer. Elaine asked a barman and he told her it is Aporol Spritz; one part an orange Aporol liqueur, 2 parts white wine with one part soda over lots of ice. Of course we had to try one and it is as good as it looks.
We went to the ticket office of the ferry company and because I wanted to give Lake Garda as much of a chance as possible to impress me then we decided to return the next day to do an eight hour cruise up to the end of the lake before returning back to Garda. We packed a lunch and took drinks for the day as we knew the bar on the boat does not operate off season. I popped our Kindles in the bag and made sure my camera was fully charged. Off we set and the boat zig zagged across the lake picking up and dropping off passengers.
Elaine and I got a table right at the front so we had a great view and everything looked nice every time we moved towards a stopping point by one or another of the towns on the lake side. Other than that the boat sailed well away from the lake side and there wasn’t much to see except houses and odd towns perched on top of the very high hills surrounding the lake.
The lake covers an area of 222 square mile and it is just over 10 miles wide at its widest point and it is 30 miles long. Where the lake narrows and where the mountains come down to the water’s edge the odd towns are linked by tunnels through the mountain sides and occasionally you can see vehicles before they disappear back into the next tunnel.
What a magnificent engineering feat it is…..shame it is so difficult to build that tunnel just to go under the area of Stone Henge.
We got a break from the boat at Riva for an hour and had a wander around the town there and brought some more food because like bored kids we had long since eaten the food that was supposed to last us all day. We also brought a padded jacket each because it was quite warm when we set off but were now quite chilly.
It was also a bit of an excuse really because we had both been admiring this style of jacket that is worn by many Italians. Thank goodness I had packed the kindles because we both read most of the way back because we had seen everything on the way up. Sorry Italy: Lake Maggiore is a treasure but Lake Garda has done nothing for me. Maybe if we had visited in summer when all the ferries were operating and when there were a lot more boats on the water then I may have a better impression of the place. We did see, in the distance, a massive theme park with its roller coasters and rides and in the evenings we could hear music from some of the surrounding hotels so obviously everyone else enjoys Lake Garda but I am just saying how I found it.