Italy: Trip of a Lifetime. Part 12

The lake, viewed from the Lido at Stresa.

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. Part 11

29th September, Saturday.

After a hearty breakfast to fuel our proposed excursion, we wandered along the lakeside promenade toward the Lido. The cable cars were running, so we joined the short queue that climbed the stairs inside the ticket office leading to the point of departure for Mottarone.

Aproaching the ticket office for the cable car.

Had a bit of banter with a pleasant couple from Virginia, USA, who we asked about Hurricane Florence (quite appropriate, given we’d been in Florence only days previously!). Their good news was that a neighbour had contacted them to let them know their house was unaffected.

The mountain-bikers join the queue.

As we were chatting, four guys with mountain bikes joined the queue just behind me. Valerie is seriously claustrophobic, and I knew the journey up the mountain in the confined space of the cable car would be a real challenge for her. Four guys with big bikes didn’t seem like good news in such a confined space. But, typical of my lovely, brave wife, she just shrugged and said she’d cope; she was determined to get to the top of that mountain.

We reached the woman selling tickets at the booth and asked for a one-way trip to the top. She looked at our grey hair and, with serious eyes, asked if we were aware it would take us at least four hours to descend on foot. We assured her we knew that, and were happy to do it. She gave us one of those looks that said, quite clearly, ‘Crazy English!’ and handed us our tickets.

Waiting to board the gondola.

The guys with bikes were given access first to load their machines, using up a good third of the space. That actually meant that by the time we boarded, the places left were right next to the door, which suits Valerie very well: an exit, no matter how impractical, is always a useful device for her to use to cope with tight spaces.

The views as we ascended grew more and more spectacular and helped keep her mind off the confined nature of our carriage. Mind you, the two American women who insisted on crying out in what might have been pretend alarm, but might also have been genuine, at each point where the wire passed through a support tower, swinging the gondola, didn’t really help settle her nerves.

At the halfway point, we had to disembark and get into another gondola for the last half of the journey: apparently this stretch contains a section that used to be the longest unsupported cable ride in the world! Once again the bikes were placed first and we managed to get positions right by the door.

The view from the landing post.

At the top, we stepped out and walked to the edge of the landing area to look out over the lake and landscape below us. Now it was my turn to control my fear: I have a dread of falling, which is always translated by others as a fear of heights. Whilst a fear of falling may be considered rational, a fear of heights might be seen in the same light as a phobia. No matter, as long as I have something to cling to, I’m okay.

The mountain-bikers take to the road.

The views were nothing short of spectacular! One of the bike riders saw us on our way to the start of the footpath down and suggested we walk the short, but steep, distance to the very top, to get the best from our experience. We followed his advice and were very glad we did. There’s a chair lift to take visitors from the top of the cable car ride to the peak of the mountain, but we chose to climb the narrow road and then a steep grassy hill to get there, enjoying the scenery along the way.

Our view on the way up to the peak.

Stresa123Feels like you’re on the top of the world up here.

Amazing up at the very top of Mottarone, with views in all directions, some showing the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland through the clouds. We spent time up there, just wandering around, looking, and taking photographs. The wind was more noticeable at this height, but the day was warm and comfortable.

The chair lift brings other visitors to the peak.

Stresa126You can see all the way into Switzerland from here.

Stresa128Valerie loves the open views from high places.

Stresa131And I was happy to rest for a picture to record the fact we’d made it all the way to the top.

The walk is mostly well way-marked, and we now recognised the red and white stripes applied to roads, rocks, trees and posts along the route. And most of the paths were relatively obvious as they wound down through the dense trees of the forest.

There’s a sign recording the height as 1,491 metres above sea level.  That’s 4,891 feet in old money!

Stresa133There are a couple of houses and a small trattoria at the foot of the final slope to the peak.

Then we began our descent, stopping at a small trattoria for a bottle of water to take with us to supplement the one we already had.

Stresa138A forest track very similar to those we use back home in the Forest of Dean.

Here and there we crossed the lines of the cable car as it carried the gondolas high above us. The forest paths and flora reminded us strongly of our walks in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, in England, where we live. The similarities were really quite startling: same species of trees and same mix of broad, gravelled tracks and steeper, narrow paths across the surface soil.

However, about a third of the way down, having walked through a good stretch of dense forest along these varied paths, always steep, we came to a flat area with a few deserted buildings at one side of the path and followed the finger post from there.

Along the way, we came to another very small building with the door broken off and the sound of running water issuing from inside. I peered through the darkness and discovered a severed copper pipe spewing water onto the floor and along a deeply eroded trench to flow out and down the path we were about to take. It looked as though that pipe had been leaking water for many years.

Abandoned buildings on the way down the mountain.
A small shrine. I didn’t feel the effort of a climb to discover to whom was necessary!

We’d come across few other walkers along the route, and we continued along our route. However, the way-markers vanished. We trod a relatively broad track that grew increasingly wild, until it became clear we’d somehow come the wrong way.

Retracing our steps, we returned to the abandoned buildings and the finger post just as a brave soul on a mountain bike was ascending a narrow track, approaching the finger post. His route was unmarked on that post. He stopped for a rest and we had a brief chat in English, though his accent suggested a Scandinavian origin.

We discovered he’d climbed from the point we should be making for; it looked as though someone had shifted the finger post to point in the wrong direction. Recalling my experience with the loose post by the waterfall, I wondered whether the misdirection was the deliberate act of a fool, or the result of someone trying to help. We left the cyclist to shift it and continued on our way down.

The gondolas pass almost at the same level as the track in places.

Stresa147A view on the descent.

Stresa148Overlooking Levo, with Stresa way below.

Soon enough we found more way-markers and ultimately landed in Levo, one of the small villages we knew to be on our route. Here, again, the way-markers gave out as we made our way through narrow, winding streets, until we eventually found more on the very edge of the village.

Stresa149The narrow streets of the village that clings to the mountainside.

Stresa152This, believe it or not, is a village football pitch. Kick the ball too hard here and it’ll probably travel all the way down to the lake, several hundred feet below!

Stresa151One of the more leisurely lanes we encountered on our way down.

Here, we had a choice. We could either follow the tarmacked road on its snaking way down via plenty of hairpin bends, adding many kilometres to our journey, or take a more direct route through more of the forest. Naturally, we opted for the latter. It soon became clear we’d found the upper end of the footpath we’d first seen by the side of the Cascata la Pissarota.  We knew where this path emerged, so followed it down.

Stresa153And the one picture I took of the walk down to the waterfall, where there was at least a safe place either side of the track.

Definitely not for the faint-hearted, the track was narrow, rough and hazardous in places where the edge was eroded over a precipitous fall of several hundred feet through trees clinging determinedly to the side. I took no photographs along this route; concentration on the placing of our feet was rather more important! But we made it safely, occasionally thankful for short, intermittent lengths of sometimes broken wooden fencing. It’s a route in need of some real TLC, but that’s a job requiring courage, skill and a lot of hard work!

We emerged at the bottom and had another look at the waterfall before continuing our now familiar route to the hotel.

Almost back in Stresa.

The shower was a welcome sight. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but were too foot-weary to bother by this time. A short rest followed. Dinner was a much-needed and enjoyable refreshment, and that bottle of prosecco was definitely well-earned!

Another fascinating and exciting day that had tested us and provided a challenge we enjoyed and felt we’d faced well.

7 thoughts on “Italy: Trip of a Lifetime. Part 12

    1. We all have our limits, Caron. For us, this was a ride worth taking, and certainly the only way we’d have got to the top! Hopefully, my pics have given you at least a taste of what you otherwise won’t get to see.


    1. It was funny, Bojana; the ticket lady really did seem amazed we even considered walking down. Glad we did it; so many opportunities to see the place in all its splendour.

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