Nestled in an alpine landscape, breathtaking Lago Maggiore knows no borders: it extends about thirty miles into Switzerland; straddles Lombardia and Piedmonte; and, despite its elevation, enjoys a mild Mediterranean micro-climate where beautiful gardens and exotic plants flourish. A particularly alluring feature of Lago Maggiore is its intriguing mid-lake islands, known as the Isole Borromeo. They’re named for the aristocratic Borromeo family which still owns and maintains palaces on two of the islands.
Tiny and charming, Isola dei Pescatori (Island of the Fishermen) is the only one with a year-round population: 32 hearty souls who reside along the cobblestone streets and keep their fishing traditions alive.
The “crown jewel” is Isola Bella, a baroque fantasy that resembles an elegant ship of stone, decked with flowers, that plies the lake’s glacial waters. It was built by nobleman Charles Borromeo (he also helped finance the building of the Milan cathedral) who named the island for his wife Isabella. Room after ornate room eventually leads down to the “basement” … a lavish grotto intended as an oasis of coolness in the summer heat. Even more stunning are the exquisite manicured gardens laid out on ten terraces replete with plethora of statues, obelisks, flowers, exotic plants and the marvelous “Water Theatre” with its crowning statue of a unicorn, an emblem of the Borromeo clan. And as if all of this weren’t enough, white peacocks prance about the grounds like brides posing for their wedding photos … so hard to imagine they’re fellows!)
An easy day trip from Lake Maggiore is Piemonte’s lesser-known scenic jewel, Lake Orta, with its own charming island of San Giulio.
Lake Como may attract the lion’s share of American tourists but I hope now that Lake Maggiore is on your radar screen as you plan future adventures to La Bella Italia.
“In wine there is truth.” These now-immortal words were famously recorded by the Roman scholar—and recorder of nearly all things—Pliny of the Elder. (He also identified and named the hops plant, hence his popular namesake IPA beer.)
In the spirit of veritas there was a second part to Pliny’s aphorism that has been nearly forgotten—in aqua sanitas—which means “in water health.”
For years, In Vino Veritas has been embraced by wine enthusiasts the world over. But hard as it is to imagine, not all that long ago the land of La Dolce Vita was not even on the “wine map,” so to speak, despite thousands of years of viticulture. In 1967 the 716-page New Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits devoted exactly 4 1/2 pages to Italian wines. In truth, most native Italian wines were anything but world-class at that time.
Of course Italians, being masters of reinvention, have achieved nothing less than a total transformation of Italian wine-making—and the world has taken notice. Today virtually every wine anywhere in Italy, from Sicily to the Alps, is different (and far better) than it was 75 years ago. Have Italian wines surpassed French wines? Most experts would consider it a coin toss. Of the four wines that achieved Wine Spectator’s 2020 highest rating (97 out of 100) three were Italian and the other a French champagne . . .
And that’s the honest veritas.
“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.”
So wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, after visiting the island in 1787. Just a little over 2X the size of LA County, Sicily really packs it in per square mile of wild landscapes, dramatic seascapes, an unrivaled cultural and culinary fritto misto that pre-dates Classical Greece that never fails to enchant the curious traveler.
My friend and colleague Allison Scola, Owner and Curator of Experience Sicily and the Cannoli Crawl recently created a marvelous blog titled 52 Reasons to Love Sicily – you’ll not want to miss one of them!
In the meantime, enjoy our 52 photo homage to this endlessly fascinating and magical island of myth and legend.