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On Lake Maggiore

October 8, 2022

Our water taxi delivered us this morning to Isola Bella, which is dominated by the Baroque Palazzo Borromeo. Construction was initiated in 1632 (though work continued for 400 years with a hiatus during the plague) by Count Carlo Borromeo, head of a wealthy banking family. Our animated and knowledgeable guide, Frederica, led us through the sumptuously decorated rooms, pointing out candidly that the galleries on the piano nobile contained paintings of no particular artistic value, but rather were intended to impress by their sheer numbers.

The descendants of the original Count still live here, but open their home to visitors during all but the winter months, when the palazzo is closed — because there is no central heating!

The red-draped bedroom above is Napoleon’s room, where he spent but a single night. In the entryway are coats of arms from the Borromeo family, the Medici, the Barbarini and others who were frequent guests.

The stunning circular table above is crafted from micro mosaics, incredibly tiny square tiles. I took a master five years to make it. Frederica said most people overlook it as they pass through the hallway.

A special room with a richly decorated arched ceiling houses six magnificent tapestries dating from 1561 — older than the palazzo!

Down a cantilevered granite circular staircase are the grottoes, designed as cool spaces to escape the summer heat and constructed from pebbles, tufa rock, stucco and marble. Lake breezes waft through, and the stone construction adds to the cooling effect.

The grottoes lead to the stunning gardens, still blooming on this early October day thanks to the Mediterranean-like microclimate created by the lake. At the pointed end of the island a pyramidal terraced structure features a unicorn at the high center and various statues of gods and goddesses presiding over lush bushes, vines and flower beds. Photos don’t do justice to the scale of the place.

White peacocks have apparently been living in the gardens for generations.

A walkway lined with red begonias and the last of the dark yellow irises leads to a small greenhouse.

Palazzo Borromeo was an exceptional site to visit. Another short boat ride took us to Isola di Pescatore for lunch in one of the seafood eateries and a short walk around the town.

Returning to Stresa, four of us went on a walk with Alessandro, which started with a drive to the top of the town and a nearly two-hour downhill tromp through the tiny hamlets of Levo, Campino and Someraro. Some stretches were fairly challenging for this old girl, as the trail was steep and rocky. Totally worth it, however.

Tonight we had our final dinner, everyone agreeing that we couldn’t have asked for better group of fellow travelers. We’re all headed to different destinations: two home to Texas, two to Rome and Florence, two to Istanbul for a cruise, three to Venice and yours truly to Milano for a couple of days. A great trip organized by Classic Journeys.

From → Italy, Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. What a final day! I could not help thinking of the artists who created the beautiful tapestries all those centuries ago. Wouldn’t they be astonished (and thrilled) that their creations have been treasured through time. Of course, the same goes for the builders of the palazzo and the designers of the gardens as well as the meany hearts and hands that have preserved them through the generations.

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