That Italy is timeless almost goes without saying. But what exactly is timelessness and why does Italy practically define it?
Timelessness transcends the past, present and future; it carries a sense of permanence. Timelessness is both a state of being and a state of mind.
Italy, more than any other country, has bequeathed the world a treasure trove of art and architecture with these very qualities.
And Mother Nature has bestowed some of her most glorious gifts on this little boot-shaped peninsula that is barely the size of Arizona.
Less poetically, Italy possesses a human culture and natural allures with no expiration date
But more than this, Italy possesses a special alchemy that has attracted dreamers and travelers alike for centuries.
I sense it most in the quiet—a paradox since Italians are the most expressive and exuberant of people. They’re people who just seem to know how to live.
Including, most especially, how to revel in the joy and wonder of small things.
And what could be more timeless than wonder!
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.