Spending a Day on Lake Maggiorie

This morning in Stresa we discovered a neighborhood of tiny cobblestone streets and piazzas behind our hotel. It's fun to watch a town waking up in the morning. Shop owners were putting up their umbrellas and awnings, arranging appealing displays outside, and cafes were busy selling coffee and cakes. Even though it wasn't yet 11:00 am, families were enjoying ice cream cones and many were posing with them too.

We took a boat to Isola Bella, an Italian villa on an island which is still in use today. Dating back to the early 17th century, the villa has been witness to some significant developments in world history, including a two night visit by Napoleon in1797, and in 1935 it was the setting for the failed Stresa Conference in which the Allies tried to encourage Mussolini to help them stop Hitler. When Napoleon and his entourage visited for two nights, the staff said they were appalled at the mess they left behind.

The villa has a staggering collection of artifacts and artwork collected from around the world. Two interesting rooms in the palace included their massive collection of marionettes and several grottos which are covered floor to ceiling with black and white perfectly formed pebbles and shells. The purpose was to be a cool respite from the hot sun of Italy and it was very cool in there. I envy those who have lived here, There are striking views of the lakes, the islands, the mountains including snow capped ones in the distance, and tiny towns from every room.  Outside are immaculately maintained terraced Italian classical gardens with lily pools. There were so many families posing for photos it was hard to get to the top. With all this beauty a funny moment was when all cameras aimed at a tractor driving up two flights of stone steps pulling a wagon of bottled water and paper towels. I have to admit I have never seen this maneuver either.

Just 10 minutes away by boat is Isola Madre. Located on its own island, the villa has an interesting story, In August 2006 a tornado swept through the area uprooting an enormous cyprus tree which had been the pride and joy of the villa. The seeds for this tree had come from the Himalayas in a paper bag and were planted back in the 1800s. Almost immediately a rescue effort was launched and through the use of several cranes delivered by helicopter, it was pulled upright into a position where the roots were replanted. Today it is held upright by a series of cables which anchor it. It is thriving and while it may never return to its former glory, it is beautiful and as the sign says, it has seen the past and looks forward to the future. 

While walking through the villa which also has an amazing collection of marionettes, a young woman stopped us on the stairs. "Have you seen the exotic birds?" she asked and we said we had in the aviary, "Find a hidden path, listen for crunching, and then look under the bushes. The most beautiful birds are hidden there." She showed us some of the colorful birds she had photographed.  While we didn't discover any hidden birds, we did enjoy the gardens which are English and much less elaborate than the Italian ones at Isola Bella. 

Tonight we walked around town and checked out some of the older grand hotels. Tomorrow,we  have a busy day planned for tomorrow, we are taking a boat tour into the Swiss side of the lake for a day trip.


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