My wife and I have spent the last 10 days driving around in Europe, so I thought I would blog about the fun we had and tell you all the things you really need to know if you ever find yourself in very specific places in Northern Italy, Switzerland and the tiniest southern tip of Austria.
Part II – Lake Maggiore
We arrived at our Lake Maggiore hotel at about 9:30pm, tired, aching, hot and bothered but importantly (and perhaps surprisingly) alive and in one piece. We’d seen the weather forecast predicting rain, and sure enough the skies were looking dark as we pulled in, and before long, the curtain of the night was rent in twain (I’m being dramatic here, but it was quite a dramatic thing) by the most beautiful and violent storm. The lightning streaked across the sky, making the entire lake look like that picture of Nikola Tesla sitting in his lab while electricity sparkles and crackles all around him.
We had dared to dream before we left that we might see a ‘real’ storm, and so we were delighted to actually get to do it, and pretty relieved that it had been charitable enough to wait until we arrived at the hotel before getting started. Very decent, that Italian weather.
The following morning (after about 4 hours’ sleep, due in no small part to being woken up by the lightning that lit the sky up every 30 seconds) we looked out on our view of the lake for the first time, and saw that it was good. And boy, was it good. The sun was shining ferociously, almost as if it had seen the efforts of the storm last night and was determined to outdo it, and the gardens of the hotel and lake stretched out before us. It was stunning.
Set back from the lakeside, the hotel provided us with two very comfortable sunbeds, drinks on tap and a refreshing pool, and we proceeded to avail ourselves of these things for the following three days. I am sure there are many wonderful things happening in Oggebbio but we didn’t see any of them, because of our determination to bask in the Italian sun. Actually, I’m convinced there is hardly anything happening there; it’s very picturesque and lovely but a bit on the sleepy side. Still, since we were there to sit still and slowly barbecue ourselves, that was hardly a problem. Of an evening, we rolled our Fiat 500 down the cliff-edge path to the main road (a nerve-wracking experience, though not as nerve-wracking as my constant stalling of the bloody thing on the way back up) and drove to either nearby Verbania or nearer-by Cannero Riviera. Verbania is the nearest small town to Oggebbio, and the ferry that crosses Maggiore arrives here regularly. Our first restaurant was situated right on the lakeside and while the service wasn’t exactly beautiful, the views and the food certainly were. Even more gorgeous though was the moment the bill arrived, and we realised we had just gone through two huge pizzas, half a bottle of wine and a couple of soft drinks for under €30. Even more fortunately, since our waiter had treated us as if we had kicked his childhood pet cat into the lake after stubbing a cigarette out on its paw, we didn’t feel that we needed to add a giant tip to the proceedings. We then made our way up to the local Carrefour to stock up on snacks, and look with interest at the gang of teenagers who had assembled outside the entrance looking generally bored and generally disengaged with life. It was somehow reassuring to see that even teenagers in the most amiable surroundings, with cheap pizza abounding, sunny days and beautiful stormy nights, teenagers still slouch and look gormless outside shops at night. Angst and world-weariness evidently transcend international boundaries. If you find yourself in Oggebbio though, I’d give Verbania a miss unless you want to buy Nutella (seriously, they’ve got tons of the stuff in that shop) and head North to Cannero Riviera, where we had a similar meal with similar views at a similarly agreeable price but still found it somehow more pleasant. The presence of a community at Cannero Riviera was first recorded around 985 AD, and some of the buildings that still stand there seem to date from that distant age. The ‘classic’ feel of the place is relaxing and charming all in one, and the breeze coming from the lake is refreshing. There is an endearing amount of bustle going on at the lakeside without it involving too many children screaming around and generally inviting violence upon themselves. The views are sumptuous, and I bought an almost obscenely big ice-cream for €3, so really there was nothing about which I could complain.
After three nights (with sadly no repeat of the storm, but happily plenty of sunshine during the days) we were thoroughly cooked through, relaxed and ready for a new country. So, we piled our things into our trusty Fiat (now named Mario in a ‘slightly racially insensitive but hopefully on the right side of the barrier because we love Mario Kart so much and we were in Italy so…you know’ move) and headed north to Switzerland. Little did I know, but I was about to fall in love.