Had a very lazy two days in Stresa on Lake Maggiore at another charming hotel – where the doors and walls in the rooms are hand painted, the view is gorgeous and nice treats appear each evening. So pretty. I also visited the Borromean Islands – three tiny islands in the middle of the lake – they take about 15 minutes to walk around but are cute and a good place for a coffee and gelato.
Villa Aminta, Stresa
Isola Pescatore and Bella, Borromean Islands
Next and last stop in Italy – Milan. I think I might be doing some shopping!
Last time I visited the lakes in Italy I was with my parents and aged around 9. Don’t remember much except of being scared by the tiny lizards basking in the sunshine (in my defence, I grew up in London). This time I will definitely remember the visit. I stayed in the middle part of the lake – opposite the small town of Bellagio (which is somewhat different to its namesake in Las Vegas). In October it tends to be very misty over the lake and that means it is hard to see the mountains but it is still beautiful (and not at all crowded) and as you will see on my last day the sun appeared and what a difference that made.
I treated myself to stay in a hotel hat was built in 1910 in the grand tradition of palazzo style hotels. It is quite lovely as it has the tradition as well as some touches of modernity.
When visiting the lakes the days are made up of relaxing and enjoying the views and getting on one of the ferries to visit other towns and check them out. All very civilised. Many of these towns have villas you can visit – partly for the buildings but mostly for the amazing terraced gardens which even in Fall are pretty amazing (Paulette if you haven’t done this part of Italy you would love this). Next to my hotel was Villa Carlotta and over in Bellagio was Villa Melzi. Some garden and interiors from both are below. Paintings by Hayetz (who I saw a lot of in Florence and yes that’s Romeo and Juliet again) and also beautiful sculptures by Canova – who seemed to be one of Italy’s great sculptors as well as a renowned mentor of younger artists. I still like Bernini the best but Canova comes a close second.
Bellagio is charming although it would have been more so if I had bumped into George Clooney. I looked very hard but no luck.
And then when the sun came out it looked like this from my hotel. Just lovely and I feel nicely chilled.
Verona is another of those small towns that make for a great day trip. I was staying nearby in the Valpolicella wine region at Villa de Cordevigo.Although it was somewhat misty I really enjoyed my day there.
Here is where I stayed – very picturesque and Italian
Verona is famous for a few things. Firstly its old amphitheater- which although it looks in worse condition than the Coliseum is used for concerts during the summer – everyone from Adele to Robbie Williams in May and June and then it is open air opera exclusively in July and August. Would love to do that one time. Also an old Roman theatre which is now a museum that looks over the town. As usual lots of nice piazzas to hang out in and buildings in every hue. And as ever lots of churches – the gruesome figures at the bottom are from St Anastasia.
Secondly, it is of course the place where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was set and indeed there is a balcony that pretends to be “the one” – a bit rich really given it is a made up story. Even more interesting I thought was the Juliet Club (see below) – I had heard about this place from a documentary years ago. Basically it is staffed by volunteers who respond to hundreds of letters from all over the world written to Juliet asking for guidance on their love lives. (Which seems a bit strange really given she was all of 15 and as I recall it didn’t end well for her or Romeo) – but anyway a sweet notion.
Things to bear in mind
- Weather can be very wet in October but we never saw a single rain drop and had sun most days. Often days start cooler with fog which burns off later to get quite warm. So just imagine you are in Melbourne – layers work best. Also bring comfy shoes – you will be walking up and down steps more than you thought possible and a lot of the roads are cobble stones.
- Get out of town at the weekend to avoid irritating crowds and selfie sticks – try Murano, Burano, Padua or Bologna – easy by train or boat for a day trip.
- Visit during the Biennale period if you can (each year alternates art and architecture and usually covers May to November period). Much of it is free to see and at the very least you get into many old palazzos you would not be able to access otherwise and of course the architecture/art is cool too. I used WalktoArt for my Biennale focused week. They are excellent and Melbourne based. Thanks Bernie.
- Tick off a few once only things like a gondola ride (best with a lover I think so I skipped that one: and settled for the vaporettos and the occasional water taxi); a Bellini or coffee and this amazing cream cake speciality at Harry’s Bar (remember no photos allowed – this place is probably a precursor to a gondola ride; a outdoor drink at the B bar in hotel Bauer overlooking the Lagoon; a Tazza chocalata at the Florian Cafe on San March Square while the orchestra plays – a cup of liquid dark chocolate.. Take out additional mortgage to fund these things – but they should be done once. Best free thing is to walk around San Marco as the sun is setting or rising.
- Visit Peggy Guggenheim museum. Do the 8pm private tour of the main cathedral. About 20 people only and at one point all lights are turned off and the they come on so you can appreciate the mosaics (a memorable effect); the Secret Itinery tour of the Ducale Palazzo also worth it as they take you parts that no-one else sees including just under the roof and the prison cells thatCasanova was held in.
Some final pics of Venice below.
THE BUILDINGS – Piazza San Marco day and night, Rialto Bridge and Bridge of Sighs. Note this is not particularly crowded!
THE CANALS – plus gondolas.If I never have to hear O solo Mio, Volare or Que Sera Sera for the rest of my life it won’t be a moment too soon!
THE CEILINGS – Part 1 Palazzo Ducale
THE CEILINGS PART 2 – Evening small group tour of the Basilica – those are all made of tiny mosaics
Another great place to visit when in Venice over a weekend is Padua. Only 20 minutes away by train but far less crowded. It is an attractive and walkable town and perfect for a day trip.
On arrival I stumbled on a Jewish museum so I signed up for the tour of that and the adjoining synagogue. Turns out Padua has a centuries long history of Jewish leaders and this was well explained in a very good movie they have just produced.the Italian synagogue was designed by a Christian architect long ago so is quite baroque in style – unusual.
Then out of sheer luck it turned out that Padua had a one day food festival. Below is the central municipal building which houses booths of the most amazing food.
I got four vouchers and once I had bought my glass of red I could wander around glass in hand picking what to exchange my vouchers for. I choose a local dried ham, steak tartare, a duo of dolcelatte cheese – one infused with truffles and the other with walnuts (bliss) and then 3 macaroons (fig, zabaglione and vanilla). A bargain for just 10 Euros and one of the best meals I’ve had.
While I’m having a food moment – below is last night’s dinner. Savoury amuse bouches (the apparent cherry is really a cherry glaze filled with foie gras pate: the tomato was filled with a goat cream cheese; my favorite was the onion filled with pan fried and crispy sweetbreads; finally spelt linguine with black garlic and topped with caviar roe. Good thing I only eat like his once in a while!
I’d never even heard of Burano before I researched Venice. It is an island in the Venetian Lagoon beyond Murano (of glass fame) and about 30 minutes by vaporetto from San Marco. It is well worth a visit, not just for its lace for which it is famous but because it has loads of colorful houses that the locals actually live in. It is a perfect place to visit on a weekend when Venice is too unbearable with weekenders swarming all around. It is much quieter and nice to wander around. If you eat dinner there try their famous Risotto – it is a fish version and white so not much to look at but it was very tasty indeed.
Loved the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Fab palazzo where she lived on the canal, great collection of modern art (she collected modern art extensively before it became trendy) and she was just an eccentric lady . All in all – loved her collection. She is credited with discovering and mentoring Jackson Pollack and seems to have had affairs with many of the famous artists she collected. She had a strange and sad life – father died in the Titanic, she was a relatively “poor” Guggenheim so was funded by her uncle and she had some unhappy marriages and 7 abortions, the man she really loved was killed in a car accident and her daughter committed suicide. Check out the documentary “Art Addict” if you want to know more – it is excellent.
Here a few of her pieces – must not be missed if visiting Venice.