Simplon Pass to Brig

There were two options to traverse the Alps from Lake Maggiore. Over or under. Under would have taken us through the Mont Blanc tunnel from Courmayeur in the Aosta valley, Italy to Chamonix, France. Over would take us over the Simplon pass to Brig in Switzerland. We opted for over to take in the breathtaking views.

ĺ

There has been a locally used passage through here for centuries but more famously, Napoleon ordered the construction of a road way back in 1801. Thanks buddie ya really helped us out there.

At 2000m altitude it was pretty chilly at the top but the scenery was stunning. This is Emilys wtf face…

We drove along incredibly steep roads but they were super safe and well maintained. Ah, we said to ourselves. Swiss not Italian roads. Thank heavens. At the bottom of the pass about 1206m lay Brig and its beautiful castle.

As we neared the castle we could hear amazing operatic voices practicing for their performance. The accoustics and the back drop made for a pretty heady enchanting mix. We saw seats laid out and presumed the performance was tonight so we went to enquire what was on. We were disappointed to find out the performance was in 2 weeks but ecstatic to find there was an open air cinema tonight. Could it be they were showing something we wanted to watch and in english. Could we be that lucky. Well what do you know…

Emily had been raving about “Three billboards” for quite some time now after listening to the review on her podcast. It was on at 9pm and in English with German subtitles.

We wandered through the town in search of the tourist information office to purchase a couple of tickets. We then had a few hours to kill. I found a coffee shop, Emily found a flamingo top.

We then decided as it was still a bit chilly that we needed warming up with some hearty local Swiss dishes. I had a rosti with lots of melted cheese (food of the gods) and bacon. Emily had something called Cholera, which didnt sound so appealing but tasted amazing. It was basically a local pie containing potato, leek, apple and local cheese.

Suitably fed and watered we arrived early to the open air cinema to get good seats.

The backdrop of the mountains we had just driven over and the castle courtyard was too much. We couldn’t believe our luck.

As darkness decended the soft lit alcoves looked cool. They dimmed to darkness and the film began. What a cracker of a film too. Lucky us.

Day Trip to Verbania

20-08-18

We left the campsite in Baveno nice and early for a day trip to Verbania which is on the opposite side of Lake Maggiore. We caught the first ferry of the day across the lake and we had the boat to ourselves.

The ferry cut through the water seamlessly and we glided across the lake with nothing but the mountains and colourful town in front of us.

We found a cute little cafe to have some brekkie and sat outside as the morning sun started to warm our skin. The croissants came straight from a patisserie up the road and were delicious and flakey.

It was a lovely little neighbourhood place and the owner was a sweet old gentleman who stopped to chat with the locals and play with the kids. He was so friendly and made us yummy breakfast sandwiches to go with our second round of tea and coffee.

Verbania is the largest town in the region and home to Villa Taranto, a spectacular botanical garden that covers 16 hectares and has 20,000 species of plants from around the world. We walked the two mile path to the Villa which hugged the shoreline all the way.

We passed beautiful houses that had incredible outside terraces and gardens and picked which ones we’d live in if we won the lottery.

Villa Taranto is set amongst rolling hillsides of purple rhododendrons and camellias and is considered one of Europe’s finest botanical gardens.

We walked through a set of grand wrought iron gates and set along the white gravel driveway. We purchased our tickets and started following the self guided tour route which took us past wonderful fountains and immaculately trimmed gardens.

My favourite part of the gardens was the Dahlia walk which zigzagged back and forth taking on hundreds of blooms.

I’ve never seen so many different varieties of dahlias in such an array of colours and it was absolutely stunning.

Some blooms were perfectly formed with geometric precision and others were blousy with crinkled petals. We spent half an hour just in this area admiring the colours.

Next on the route was a brief look at the Villa with a sea of red flowers in front. We couldn’t get over how attractive everything looked. No dead flower heads or yellowed grass. Everything looked lush and tended to.

The formal gardens at the end were breathtaking. A carpet of green grass with tens of different cut outs of gorgeous, colourful flowers. Everything looked all the better for being bathed in wonderful sunshine.

We meandered back to the ferry after a quick stop for a cold drink (and another thrashing of uno). We made it back to the campsite in time for our daily dip in the lake. As we reach the end of our time in the Italian lakes we are beginning to realise just how much we’ll miss the scenery and weather. We are so fortunate to have this adventure.

Lake Maggiore – Borromean Islands and Stresa

18-08-18

It was gutting to leave the beauty of Como without having bumped into George Clooney at his villa, but we did so with our sights set on Lake Maggiore. This would complete our trio of Italian lakes.

Even though we gave ourselves five days in each location we only scratched the surface in terms of exploration. You could spend weeks just touring and enjoying the lakes and still not see everything, but this trip has definitely whet our appetites for a return holiday. It’s been great to limit our driving by slowing down and relaxing in each place.

It took about two hours to drive west along some more shockingly bad roads to our new campsite in Baveno which is situated in the west shore of the lake. Thankfully we pre-booked and took one of the last pitches available. We set up and then went for a wander into town.

Baveno is a pretty little town framed by a long promenade with gorgeous flower beds.

With just a few restaurants, a classic piazza and church and a little dock for tourist boat trips, it’s a perfect base for exploring. We found a cute street side cafe for a drink whilst we watched local kids running and jumping off the harbour walls. They were having an absolute ball and were so carefree. We both remarked on what a great childhood you’d have living here with amazing scenery, awesome weather and the tastiest food. We made a quick pitstop on the way home for yet another gelato.

We’ve had to start rationing ourselves because the ice cream here is so damn tasty with out of this world flavours.

The next day we packed a picnic for our day trip to the Borromean Islands located just a couple of km from Baveno. We caught the ferry to Isola Bella and it’s star attraction palace was our first stop. Palazzo Borromeo was built in the 17th century and occupies 75% of the island. Napoleon famously stayed at the villa with his wife in 1797 and the music room was host to diplomatic meetings with the prime ministers of France, England and Italy in 1935.

Neither of us had particularly high expectations of the Villa interior, suspecting it would resemble a stuffy and staid stately Home but we loved it. It was light and airy and sumptuously decorated.

Most rooms had full length windows offering incredible views across the lake. The graceful ballroom was a particular fave of mine with powder blue and gold accents.

On our way out to the gardens we were led through the ‘summer grottoes’ which were stunning. They are effectively underground basements adorned with shells, pebbles and statues in the most gorgeous of patterns.

The gardens absolutely blew us away. Perfectly preened flower beds bursting with vibrant colours and white peacocks roaming around the immaculate grounds.

The grass was the greenest we’ve seen and had the texture of a plush carpet and the box hedges were trimmed to perfection.

The focal point of the gardens was a ten tiered terrace at the back of the property with roses and climbers dripping down each level.

Statues adorned each level with an epic unicorn at the top….how did they know?! With the sun beating down and illuminating the grounds in amazing colour it felt perfect.

We left Isola Bella and hopped on a ferry to nearby Stresa. A larger town than Baveno, Stresa boasts stunning lakeside villas and grand Belle Epoque hotels. It has a prevailing air of elegance and bygone decadence that we found charming. We found a great spot to eat our lunch and then strolled along the shore line, gawping at the luxury hotels that got more elaborate and lavish as we went along. Some of them had exclusive swimming pools and bars and we saw a wedding party complete with personal security and butlers.

We had a quick pit stop to load up on cake and coffee (well we needed to keep our strength up), before our final stop at Isola dei Pescatori. With a permanent population of just 50, the ‘fisherman’s island’ is tiny but beautiful. We walked around it in about 10 minutes and loved it’s pretty, colourful houses and charming restaurants.

There were fishing nets put out to dry and Shabby little boats bobbing on the front. We stopped for a cold drink and a few games of uno at a little bar with amazing views across the lake. As if that weren’t perfect enough we found a gorgeous sleepy cat to fawn over.

We wearily returned to Baveno in the late afternoon on the ferry in wonderful golden light having had an incredible day.