Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lake Maggiore

Here we are arriving at Stresa on Lake Maggiore.  It's about a one hour train trip from Milan.  Lake Maggiore is the second largest Italian lake.  The city of Stresa was on the Victorian Grand Tour circuit.  The resorts here have names like Astoria, Bristol, and Victoria.  

The most palatial hotel is the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees.  It was the first hotel built here and remains the most prestigious.  Ernest Hemingway came to The Grand to recuperate in Stresa in 1918 after he was wounded as an ambulance driver for the Italian Red Cross.  He returned in 1948 and stayed in the same suite.  Guests can stay in the same room for a couple of thousand dollars a night.  Winston Churchill honeymooned here.  Nice! As we strolled past, we saw a young couple exiting the hotel and leaving by private helicopter - with what looked like bodyguards standing next to it. No, we didn't recognize them! - but everyone around us looked pretty excited.

Bob, Becky, George and I came to enjoy a day of relaxation and beauty away from the bustle of Milan. Here's Bob getting into the spirit of the day on a park bench.

Our first item on the agenda was to find a boat to take us the short distance across the lake to Isola Bella - an island that belongs to the Borromeo family.  In the 17th century the island was named after Isabella, the wife of Carlo Borromeo III. The Palazzo Borromeo was built for the family.  Napoleon and Josephine stayed here in 1797 and Charles and Diana visited in 1985.  The Borromeo family now lives in Milan but spends a few weeks on Isola Bella each summer.  When their blue and red family flag is flying from the top of the garden, the family is in residence.  

As we wandered the garden, Becky pointed out the flag!  Unfortunately, the only people we saw strolling around the gardens appeared to be fellow tourists.

As we approached the island, we could see the beautiful ten-tiered Italian gardens.  Then, as we proceeded around the island, the palazzo.

Here are the steps leading up to the Palazzo.

Here are pictures of the Grand Hall.  It reminds me of beautiful blue and white English Wedgewood china. This dome is 80 feet high.

The formal dining room:

The famous bed where Napoleon and Josephine slept:

Downstairs in the "daylight basement" is the grotto which was designed to provide a cool place to escape from the heat.  Becky and I thought it was a bit creepy with floor to ceiling shells and stones on the walls.  This statue of a sleeping Venus is nice, though.

Next we passed through a hall of Flemish tapestries:

Finally we exited the Palazzo and went into the gorgeous formal Italian garden! It is considered one of the finest examples of Italian Baroque garden design.

Chinese white peacocks

After a little shopping and lunch on the mainland, we headed down to the lido to catch a ride on the Mountain Cable car.  It took us to the top of Mount Mottarone (about 5,000 feet) where we enjoyed great views of the lake and surrounding countryside.

The Alps are over there hidden by clouds.

And finally here we are, on top of the mountain, enjoying a little celebratory drink!

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