When Queen Victoria travelled to The Italian Lakes in 1879 it took four four days to reach Lake Maggiore, where she stayed at the magnificent Villa Clara. I visited the Lakes a few weeks ago and it took me just three hours from London to my hotel in the same town of Stresa, on Lake Maggiore.
The Queen had to journey from London to Portsmouth, then cross to Cherbourg by boat where she boarded the 9-carriage Royal train which was waiting for her, on to Paris for an overnight at the British Embassy before travelling to Stresa by yet another train. I flew from Heathrow, a two-hour trip over the Italian Alps, snow glinting in the early morning light, de-planed in Milan and then a quick one-hour run through to Stresa.
Once again, I think how lucky I am to live in this century.
The Italian Lakes didn’t become part of the Grand Tour until the 19th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, this traditional trip to Europe was mainly a search for the roots of Western civilization through the Greeks and Romans, and served as a rite of passage for the British nobility and landed gentry, artists or the literati who could find a sponsor, and a few women – usually widows of sufficient means
The New York Times in 2008 described the Grand Tour as something that could last from several months to several years.
The Queen couldn’t spare such a long time and I couldn’t afford it.
In my eight days, however, I did manage to cover a lot of ground, taking in the area of Lake Maggiore and the town of Stresa, enjoying meals along the lakefront, taking the cable-car to the peak of nearby Monte Mottorone – a natural balcony offering magnificent views over the Alps and lakes – walking the trails and delighting in the views from the 1,492 metres high plateau; taking a boat to the stunning Isola Bella (I won’t translate as it is much too prosaic) and wandering through the gardens of the 17th century Borromeo Palace; a day spent at Lake Como where I rode the Funicular Railway to Brunate, enjoying stunning views and an incredible panorama over Como which lay 500 metres below, and the surrounding larch covered hillsides; a day spent in Medieval San Giulio on Lake Orta where I visited another small island where The Silent Walk around a Convent allowed time to appreciate the beauty of the place: a day at Locarno, a Swiss town on the Italian/Swiss border; and a day in Zermatt where the highlight of my visit was the trip on the funicular to the top of the Rothorn from where I had a spectacular view of the Matterhorn, sadly not covered in snow, but there were plenty of snow-covered mountains around me.
If I add my Italian Lakes experiences to my travels around Italy I guess I can say I’ve completed my own Grand Tour which has included plenty of Roman and Greek remains from Rome to Ragusa.
I’m still in that post-holiday mood that makes me just want to look at my photographs and read the many guidebooks I bought, but I’ll get around to posting about the individual lakes soon. With any luck I should manage to link on to this post today.