Today is Oct 20 and just past halfway through our Lake Como holiday. What I really like about this holiday is the leisurely way it was organized. No optional tours were built in to help you kill time. And the daily tours will end just for us to arrive back at the hotel past 5pm in time to bath, rest and head for dinner. There is plenty of time to socialize or rest. Unlike many other tours I've been which often end past 9pm, this one is really relaxing, the way I wanted and which I recommend for both couples, seniors and families. This is the sort of quality tour I've been looking for.
Today we move to another lake, Lago Maggiore, or the major lake in Italian. However this is not the biggest lake in Italy. That honor belongs to Lake Garda. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. It is a popular holiday location and is located in northern Italy, about half-way between Brescia and Verona, and between Venice and Milan. Garda unfortunately is not on our itinerary. It is too far away. Perhaps I should like to tour it and the region on another trip. On this holiday we are sightseeing the other three smaller but no less scenic lakes - Como, Maggiore and Lugano (which we will visit on our final day of the tour). Italy and the surrounding countries of Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Hungary are truly blessed with beautiful lakes which were formed during the Ice Age from the melting glaciers. They make excellent destinations for holidaying should you enjoy the natural beauty of lakes and mountains like I do.
This morning before sunrise we walked to towards the left side of the hotel toawards Menaggio until the jetty. It was chilly but very nice. We had been well rested the night before. After breakfast I asked Andrew if what we enjoyed yesterday on the ride up to St Moritz is available year round. He said no. The sceneries in spring and summer are quite different and there'll be no snow on the tracks. So we actually got a really great deal yesterday which I cannot promise you will get too! However if you like to play with snow I suggest you check with your travel agent and go during late autumn like we did.
Today we visit nearby Lake Maggiore and its most attractive lakeside town, Stresa. We left the hotel at 8.35am and 40 minutes later left Como and the lake and turned westward towards Lake Maggiore. We had a different driver today. Obviously the coach company Rampanini rotates their drivers. This morning I nearly got into another Rampanini coach doing the identical tour by Riviera. The motorway operates just like in Malaysia. While we have the Smartag to collect toll wirelessly they have the Telepass and there is a dedicated lane for registered clients so there is no waiting at the toll plaza.
The roads in Lake Como are very narrow with occasional pedestrian paths. Sometimes the roads are just wide enough for a coach and opposing traffic either give way or back up to let each other pass. Clearance may be as tight as a foot from the side building or the next vehicle. Quite obviously the drivers here are very skilled. Most of the cars are hatchback and coupe. Luxury and larger sedans are few. Maybe only in the cities with wider roads. Some new buildings are coming up by the banks of the lake. These are modern in design and use more glass than bricks. Without new and wider roads traffic in Lake Como is expected to worsen in the next few years. This reminded me of Queenstown in South Island, New Zealand which faced the same problem of congestions and pollutions. Existing houses in Lake Como were constructed on the hilly slopes. They are small and tight. It require great skills to move about.
At 9.30am as we head towards Stresa, the pretty lakeside town on Maggiore, the skies turn gloomy. Hopefully it won't rain. Andrew gave us a comfort break where we bought a set of acrylic ski cap and souvenir scarf costing €18 which my children will enjoy.
We took the optional boat ride to Isola Bella and nearby Fishermen island named Isola Prescatori costing €20 per head. Isola Bella which means 'beautiful island' is one of the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore in north Italy. The island is situated in the Borromean Gulf 400 metres from the lakeside town of Stresa. Isola Bella is 320 metres long by 400 metres wide and is divided between the Palace, its Italianate garden, and a small fishing village. Isola Bella was transformed by a 17th century count, from a barren rock into an amazing terraced garden. The palace wasn't exciting but the garden was very exquisite and nice. Took lots of photos. Bought a Pinocchio puppet costing €5 as a souvenir.
Isola dei Pescatori (meaning Fishermen’s Island) is just 5 minutes boat ride from Isola Bella. The island is about 375 metres long by 100 metres wide. While the traditional occupation of fishing still exists—local restaurants providing a ready market for the fish—tourism has become central to the economic life of the island as its picturesque charms have made Isola dei Pescatori a popular destination, particularly for day-trippers. We didn't get to explore much but had simple Italian lunch of beef pasta and grilled fish served with fresh bread. I had a bottle of Italian beer. As in most new destinations I like to sample their local beer. At 2.30pm we boarded a boat to return to Stresa via Isola Bella. We didn't have time to explore Stresa, which I'm sure have some hidden jewels further from the lakeside. Being close to winter, most tourist shops are closed. We took photos of the lake views and waited for the coach to bring us back to the hotel.
We had another wonderful day with great weather. We reached our hotel at 5.20pm. We made friends with a lovely couple, Ralph and Pauline, who stay in West London nearby to Windsor Castle. They're in their 70s and have 5 grandchildren age 22-26.
Dinner was at 6.30pm. Today is effectively our second last day since tomorrow is a free day, day after we visit Lugano, and on Friday we'll be flying back to Heathrow. My dear wife commented this is the best holiday of all, better than New Zealand we visited in 2006. I agree. The sights of the lakes, the quaint villages and the majestic and snow cladded Swiss Alps blow every previous best sights away, including the Canadian Rockies and the Buchart Gardens. If we never travel again at least we have kept the best for last.
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