Italy: Trip of a Lifetime. Part 11

One of the many small islands on the lake.

Posts recording our stay in Italy in September. We thoroughly enjoyed it, so we’re sharing our experience. You’ll get the (almost) full story of our travels, activities, and experiences; warts and all, in instalments.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.

28th September, Friday.

Lake Maggiore, in north-western Italy, is a big body of water that spreads across the border to Switzerland. We’d seen only the local bit so far, but our trip up the mountain had displayed the potential of exploring the water itself.

In the ticket office, we asked the woman behind the counter about a possible tour of the lake by boat. Language difficulties meant a few repetitions and explanations, but we finally had what we thought was the answer, so booked a couple of tickets on the boat due to leave at 11:15. The voyage would take 3 hours, which suited us fine for such an excursion.

With a little while to wait before we could embark, we wandered the shore, found a place to sit, and watched the world go by under a bright, warm sun.

A statue to a local man, on the promenade that runs along the lakeside in Stresa.

Stresa56Yes. That car is parked across a pedestrian crossing.

Italian road laws are a little different and sometimes you take your life in your hands as you cross the road. Beware!Stresa57Part of our walk around Stresa prior to embarking.

Half an hour later, we joined the queue to board the boat; a good-sized vessel with 3 decks and lots of space. We made our way up to the open top deck, so we could get the best views over the lake as the tour progressed.

Leaving Stresa on board the boat.

The boat set off and made for the western branch of the lake. Camera at the ready, I was on constant lookout for good scenic shots. Sitting on unfixed plastic chairs spread about the open area toward the stern, we had good views all round.

The plastic chairs were free-standing and quite comfortable.

We sailed past two of the small islands that are open for short tours, places we hadn’t visited as, a bit like many British National Trust properties, they gave the impression of being home to the wealthy who invited visiting plebs merely to get money from them. So, past Isola Bella and Isola Superiore. There was no running commentary; the sort of thing you often get on a tour, but that was fine. We were happy just to look.

On the lake.

The boat pulled into Baveno and a few passengers disembarked and a few more boarded and off we went again.

One of many pleasure craft on the lake.

The lake is more or less surrounded by coastal villages and a few towns with wide areas of forested hills between. All these hills are steep and the forests dense. The nature of the country surrounding the lake makes for quiet water much of the time, so the voyage was very comfortable, and our elevated position allowed us to soak up the sun without being too bothered by wind. The experience was very pleasant, and I found plenty of sights to photograph as we continued our journey.

Teatro Maggiore; to me a monstrosity, out of place in this setting. No doubt others will love this piece of modern architecture.

Next stop was Pallanza, and then Intra/Verbania, where the contemporary Teatro Maggiore stands out amongst traditional buildings in the small town like some dreadful contemporary carbuncle (to mangle a phrase from the Prince of Wales!).

The harbour at Luino.

We reached Luino around 13:00 and then on to Cannobio. By this time, we were beginning to wonder at the true nature of our ‘tour’. We’d been aboard the boat for two hours and there was no sign of it turning round.


Stresa83The Swiss flag is raised.

With an hour of the predicted three-hour journey left, it was clear we’d have to fly if we were to return to Stresa by the advised time. But it was as we approached Brissago, and one of the crew came up to hoist the Swiss flag on the pole that we finally understood the reality of our situation.

This was not a tour boat. It was the ferry for the lake. Hence so many stops. And, if it was a ferry, the three hours must at least double in order for us to return to our starting point. Oh well, we were on holiday, with nothing else planned. We might as well sit back and enjoy it.


But, under the circumstances, a spot of lunch might be in order. I popped down to the saloon on the deck below and grabbed a can of beer for me, Coke Zero for Valerie. I also had a strange hybrid pizza/pasta thingy with lots of tomato, heated in the microwave by the steward, and grabbed a muffin and another small dessert for Valerie.

Isole di Brissago.

After Bissago, we stopped off at the rather exclusive and tiny Isole di Brissago. Ascona followed soon after, and less than half an hour later we arrived in Locarno, Switzerland.


Stresa91On the deserted deck.

Everybody got off the boat, but we stayed put, expecting the vessel to turn around after about a quarter of an hour, and happy to soak up the sun in isolation up top.

When nothing happened, and there were no signs of new passengers assembling on the small quay below to board, I thought I’d best check to make sure the boat would, in fact, return to Stresa. We had our passports with us, as I’d seen a notice suggesting there might be discounts for senior citizens (they didn’t apply to this voyage), so we could spend the night in Locarno, if absolutely necessary. Although, it turned out we wouldn’t have needed our passports after all.

There were three crew members enjoying lunch in the saloon as I entered, and they all looked, shall we say, a little surprised to see me. ‘You can’t stay aboard!’ was the message. I explained, and they apologised for any misunderstanding, but passengers were not insured during the stopover. We’d have to leave and then return for departure at 16:15.


I collected Valerie and we entered the town of Locarno. There was a clock at the front of the small departure area; one of those contemporary devices with a face and hands, but no figures. It appeared to show the time as around 14:00, which wasn’t in accord with Valerie’s watch. Were we in a different time zone? Best check what the time was in Switzerland, otherwise we might miss the boat back.

A young couple were kissing in the shade of a large statue. Valerie noticed the man wore a large watch and we waited for them to break apart before interrupting their loving. They smiled, in spite of our intervention, and confirmed that Valerie’s watch showed the right time, and the clock atop the ticket office was wrong: so much for the accuracy of Swiss timekeeping, eh?

So, we spent an hour or so wandering along the banks of the lake, enjoying the sunshine, buying a bottle of water, and generally soaking up the atmosphere of a place we hadn’t expected to visit. Another country to add to the list of those visited! Although Valerie had been to Switzerland years previously on a school trip.

The ferry that took us on our ‘tour’.

Stresa96The marina at Locarno.

Stresa98I’ve always loved the way water plays with reflections.

Stresa101Another boat leaves Locarno.

The queue for the departure was relatively small when we joined it. But it grew quite quickly. By the time we boarded, it was clear there could be a rush for seats on the top deck.

Despite our advanced years, we can be quite quick on our feet. As I approached a couple of seats in the prime location, a middle-aged woman grabbed one and put out her free hand to prevent me having the other. A garbled explanation told me she was leading a party of twenty or so Dutch tourists and they wanted to stay together. I smiled at her and we found other seats, still on the top deck, gaining the thanks of the party from the Netherlands.

We left the Swiss town behind.

The voyage back to Stresa was more or less a reversal of the voyage out, except we missed a couple of stops, presumably because there were no passengers to disembark or to join ship. But the light, as the sun slowly drifted toward the hilltops, was lovely, so I took lots of pictures again.

A private yacht just off the beach near Locarno.

Stresa108The late afternoon sun lends mystery to a castle isolated on a tiny island.

Stresa109Sunshine on water. Lovely!

Stresa111Early evening sunshine gives a lakeside village an entirely different look.

Stresa112The sun begins to set behind the distant mountains.

Stresa114Our wake livens up the water as we approach the Stresa landing.

We arrived back in Stresa around 18:45, our three-hour tour having turned into a seven-and-a-half-hour mini adventure!

Time enough for us to shower and change for dinner. As a reward for our outstanding courage under fire, and our daring raid into alien territory, we ordered a bottle of prosecco to go with the meal. Another enjoyable day.

The ferry at rest before it sets off on the final leg of its journey round the lake.

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