Another reason why we should all be jealous of Bavarians besides their stinking riches is that they can drive to Italy in just a few hours. Northern Italy is therefore a very popular holiday destination for the Bavarians, with no hassle of catching flights, boats, or trains required. Just jump in your car and go!
The Great Italian Lakes are a top spot, with many Germans popping down to wonderful places such as Lake Garda for some rest and relaxation. Yep that’s right. While us Brits have the windswept Isle of Wight, the Germans have Lake Garda. No contest there then really.
On the day we left Bavaria just a few weeks ago it was 6C and raining so heavily half of Germany flooded. When we arrived in Italy four hours later it was sunny and 22C. It’s consoling to know after such a long harsh winter in Germany that warmth and sunshine is just a drive away.
The journey there took us to the very south of Germany, then through Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, then over the border into Italy. Five countries in just a few hours! With a one-year-old! Needless to say Max wasn’t in the best mood after that trip.
Lake Maggiore is not one of the better known lakes, and that’s why we decided to head there. Italy’s second largest lake straddles the border of Switzerland and Italy, and is just an hour’s train journey from Milan. Its beauty is immense, with its clear waters framed perfectly by the mountains, rich green peaks, and picturesque rustic towns, some hundreds of years old. Historic villas, palaces, botanic gardens, and crumbling churches add to its allure. The colours and scenery are among the best I have ever seen. I truly fell in love with it.
We were surprised to find that somewhere so close to the Swiss border was still so enthusiastically Italian, with passionate people with the fiercest hand gestures in the world, lots of designer handbags, a plethora of pizza and pasta, and the smell of rich coffee filling the air. For someone who loves nature and has forever longed to be in Italy, this was my dream world!
I could have spent every day of our week’s break sitting in one of the many cafes watching the Italians go by. ‘Ciao!’ ‘Prego!’ and ‘Bella!’ seem to be the only words you really need to learn in Italy. The Italians all seemed to love our son Max too. Here is a little old lady in a bakery doing a dance for him, and blowing him kisses. Italians are the opposite of Germans – crazy! I loved them.
There were so many little towns and sights to see around the huge lake, we sadly couldn’t do it all. These were our favourite bits:
Villa Taranto: A spectacular 16 hectare botanical garden that really isn’t as boring as it sounds. The plants and trees here are from all over the world, with seeds collected by a Scottish captain on his travels. Neil McEacharn created the garden on a whim after buying the villa in the 1930s. He left it to the Italian Government when he died aged 80 in 1964 to carry on his work. What a great travel legacy to leave behind.
Stresa: Beautiful town where old-school Italian glamour meets relaxed, lakeside charm. The magnificent hotels overlooking the lake here have welcomed kings, princes and the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to put on a nice dress and heels and sip pink champagne. Unless you’re a ‘real’ bloke.
The Islands: You can catch a boat to the islands on the lake. We went to Isola Bella, and toured its remarkably opulent palace and wonderful gardens. We also visited Isola Pescatori, an island popular with fishermen and lots of German tourists in socks and sandals.
Lake Orta isn’t too far away either. We found it to be a mini Lago Maggiore, but much quieter and less touristy.
I am already planning my next trip to Bella Italia – the country, not the awful chain restaurant. Until then, Tutti Frutti!