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To Lugano and Orta

October 6, 2022

Bright and early on Wednesday we mounted our small bus for the drive to Lake Lugano, and a step into Switzerland. After crossing the border at the small town of Gandria, we walked along the lakeshore to the cosmopolitan city of Lugano. The scenic walk was mostly flat — a real treat after the hilly cobbled streets and paths in Bellagio — and hugged the rocky cliffside that dropped precipitously to the waters below. Alessandro pointed out the evidence of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates that have heaved up over centuries, leaving a unique striated pattern.

Olive trees clung tenaciously to the steep cliff, and prickly pear cacti grew in abundance. Some hardy flowers were still blooming, though the foliage was beginning to show fall color.

As we entered the city, it was clear that this was no sleepy lakefront town, but a bustling shopping mecca showcasing all the top Italian brands, even in the old section of the city. The image at left below is of chestnuts in the market; I had never seen them in their pre-roasted state before.

Switzerland is a Protestant country, but there is a notable Catholic church, Santa Maria degli Angioli, built in 1599-1600, that features a fresco attributed to the Italian painter Bernardino Luini, a student of Leonardo da Vinci. The remarkable depiction of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ features over 150 identifiable figures. You can see other partial frescoes on the cloister walls.

Leaving Lugano behind, we returned to Italy and the town of Stresa, on Lake Maggiore. The stubborn haze that settled in yesterday continues to mute the vistas, which is very disappointing, as there are several islands offshore from our hotel that are shrouded in mist. Our home for the next three nights is the ornate Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees. Ornate is actually an understatement, as every surface seems to be dripping with frescoes, gold and stone relief sculptures, Renaissance-style paintings and heavy draperies, all lit by Murano chandeliers.

Thursday’s destination was Lake Orta, the smallest of the major lakes in the district. We began the day with a visit to a dairy farm, saying buongiorno to the feeding cows and getting a lesson in cheesemaking from the farmer. We capped off the visit with a generous plate of various cheeses and bread, including the soft fresh cheese he had made before our eyes.

In the town of Orta we met our guide Caussette, an art historian who led us up the Sacro Monte (translated as sacred hill), a UNESCO world heritage site comprised of over twenty chapels built starting in 1583 as a pilgrimage site honoring the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Construction ended in 1788. Once again we were amazed to see well-preserved and -restored frescoes, along with three-dimensional sculpted scenes from the life of the saint.

Orta — officially Orta San Giulio — is a quiet medieval village on the lakeside, with winding cobbled streets and interesting architecture. A five-minute boat ride takes you to Isola San Giulio, with its basilica dating from the 4th century; most of the interior, however, variously dates from the 12th to the 17th century. There is a silver crypt down below containing the bones of the saint.

So ends another eventful day with my nine fellow travelers. I’m hoping for a bright day tomorrow, as it’s our last in the Lakes Region and I’d like to capture better images.

From → Italy, Uncategorized

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