Wednesday, August 29, 2007

July 2007 - Stresa, Italy - Tiny Islands on the Big Lake

Just off Stresa's shore sit the three Borromeo Islands. We visited the two closest to shore, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatore.

Here's a view of all three from the Alpine Botanical Garden, half-way up Mount Mottarone (see previous blog entry).

Like Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore is amazingly blue. And the wide body of water off of Stresa's shore, where those three islands sit, is possibly the most beautiful section of the lake.

Behind me to the left you can see the island furthest from Stresa's shore, Isola Madre. The white dots on the opposite shore is Verbania.

Here we are on the wooden water taxi that would take us first to Isola Pescatore.

As you can see, the shore of Lake Maggiore, like that of Lake Garda, is lined with mountains. Behind Casandra is the open body of water that leads to the northern part of the lake.
While the views of the lake from high up on Mount Mottarone were breathtaking, you really experience the beauty of the lake from on the water. It's shockingly gorgeous from the perspective of a small boat.
That's Isola Bella in the distance, the island closest to Stresa.
But we passed that island and stopped first at Isola Pescatore, which . . .

is the smallest and most residential of the three islands, housing 35 families. There's not much to do on the island but stroll around it and enjoy the views. We did just that and soon came across a fisherman, reminding us after whom the island was named.

Here we are on the shore facing Isola Madre, which you can see in the distance to the left.

Here's the island bell tower.

And behind Casandra is the island's tiny town center.
This is the makeshift dock where the boats stop to let off passengers.
Behind us is Isola Bella, our next destination.

I made Casandra pose in front of the island once more as this sailboat passed. It was a lot more dramatic in person.

And here's a closeup of just the island.

We soon got back on our water taxi and made our way to Isola Bella.

That's Isola Pescatore behind our wake.
On our way to Isola Bella, I took some pictures of the third of the Borromeo islands, Isola Madre, which we didn't visit. It's the island furthest from Stresa's shore.
Here's a closer shot of it. You can see the first Borromeo palace, built during the Renaissance, amidst all the foliage from the extensive gardens that cover the island.
As we approached Isola Bella, we got a great view of the baroque palace of Carlo Borromeo who named the island for his wife Isabella.
Before touring the palace and gardens, we stopped for lunch on a narrow sidestreet just up the road from the town center. We were almost immediately greeted by one of the few locals on this touristy island.

Once she realized we didn't have any food for her, she curled up on my backpack and waited for lunch to arrive.
Smelling Casandra's tuna salad, yet another kitty appeared from out of nowhere, looking for a handout.
And then there were three. This pretty little thing begged for a short while, gave up and tried another table.
But our first visitor stayed with us the whole meal. She seemed to want a nap more than a snack. We had trouble getting her off the bag when we were getting ready to leave. But Casandra wasn't trying very hard.
On our way to the palace, another tourist offered to take a picture of us. It's one of the few normal (not self-taken) pictures we have.
Behind Casandra is the dock belonging to the palace, which is used by the Borromeo family who live in Milan during most of the year but spend summers here.
The original plan was to make this rounded portion of the building the grand entrance of the palace.

But this entrance, near the dock, is the one that's used today.
This is the main courtyard just up the stairs from the dock.

Here is a view from the terrace of the palace's Grand Hall, into which the orignal grand entrance would have led. The room is capped with an 80-foot high dome.
Perhaps the most unique part of the palace is the grotto which included several rooms decorated from floor to ceiling with shells and black and white stones. The purpose of the grotto is to provide a refuge from the intense summer heat - and it still works! This particular room featured a beautiful marble statue of a woman lying down by Gaetano Monti.

Another room provided a great view of Isola Pescatore and the mountains along the lakeshore.
There were stunning murano glass chandaliers in many of the rooms, including this one which was one of my favorites.
Here's a view of the main courtyard and the palace's dock from a room on the second floor.
The palace extends from the north side of the island all the way to the south side, where its beautiful formal gardens begin. The terraced gardens rise like a pyramid out of the water. When we exited the palace, we had to climb this staircase to reach the main level of the gardens.
The garden's exotic resident, the snow white peacock, fits right into this over-the-top display of baroque era wealth.

We're on the garden's main level now, with its extravagant baroque fountain (being renovated) behind us.
The grounds were perfectly manicured, providing a worthy playground for the peacocks, one of which you can see in the small patch of shade provided by the marble urn on the lawn.
We then climbed up to a higher level to check out the lake views.
There were cypress and palm trees and various flowering plants all over the grounds.
Below are some of our favorite views from the gardens, which is surrounded by the lake on three sides.

Check out those roses!
There was also an aphids section to the garden, considered very exotic in these parts. Here's one of the many orchids.
And this is a staghorn, common in the Miami suburbs as Casandra explained to me but not in this alpine region.
Finally, there was a greenhouse jam-packed with many trees and plants we recognized from home.
After leaving the garden, we walked back through town to the dock and hopped our wooden water taxi back to Stresa.

We passed the gardens we'd just visited.
You can see the terracing in this shot.
And like that . . .
. . . it was gone.

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