Lajatico and Lake Maggiore, Italy
Today is another public holiday in Switzerland (Assumption - thank you Catholics), so we decided to take off work yesterday and head to Italy for a long weekend. If you're counting, that's the 8th public holiday of the year so far.
We left Friday after work for the long (6.5 hour) drive down to Lajatico, which is just south of Lucca in the Tuscany region of Italy. Our good friend's godfather owns a villa there and they were kind enough to let us stay for two nights. It's no secret that we LOVE Italy and especially the Tuscany region. There's something magical about the rolling hills and miles of vineyards. This was our first time in Lajatico, a very small and charming village, whose claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the famous Italian singer Andrea Bocelli. In fact, he holds an outdoor concert there every summer and the entire town is decorated with a theme in his honor. This year's theme seemed to be "red chili pepper"; at night the whole town glowed red and oversized peppers (along with other works of art) decorated every building. The outdoor theater itself had a huge red pepper in the middle (I feel like the Red Hot Chili Peppers should also maximize on this theme and hold a concert there this year).
We enjoyed a lazy Saturday of exploring the town, drinking coffee, eating gelato and checking out the art exhibits. And since you can't go to Italy without tasting wine, that afternoon we visited a family friend's vineyard in the area - Podere Panta Rei. Thanks to this 5-month old developing baby in my uterus, I wasn't able to fully enjoy the wine, but it was still a great experience. I love small, family-run operations, where tastings are personal and held in the cellar amongst bottles of great wines. It is the complete opposite of the overly-commercial/touristy/expensive tastings in Napa Valley. We rocked up without an appointment and spent an hour with the wine maker, Alberto (who spoke excellent English), learning about the many varieties of wine he produces. And we left with 40 bottles in our trunk (significantly more than you're legally allowed to bring back into Switzerland, oops). I'm hoping Warren doesn't drink them all before December, when I can properly enjoy a glass or two.
Sunday it was back on the road to Lake Maggiore, where we planned to spend the next two days. Lake Maggiore is in Northern Italy (it actually crosses into Switzerland at the top) and along with Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Orta makes up the beautiful Italian lake district. We stayed in Cannero Riviera, which is one of the many picturesque towns directly on the lake. It was super cute, but way less touristy than some of the more popular towns (Connobio, Stresa, etc). I wish we could have stayed longer and I'm already planning on going back! Our hotel was Park Hotel Italia and it was perfect. Recently renovated, the rooms were modern and clean; there was a large pool with view of the lake and an amazing onsite restaurant/bar (we actually ended up eating dinner there both nights). We strolled along the lakeside promenade, which stretches the entire length of the town and offers fantastic views of the sparkling water, numerous boats and Alps in the distance.
On Monday we decided to visit the larger town of Stresa and also the Borromean islands. We could have (should have) taken the ferry that left directly from Cannero Riviera, but we decided to sleep in and were still eating breakfast (outside in the sun) when the boat was leaving. Instead we drove, which was a horrible decision, given the traffic. What should have been a 30-minute drive, was more than an hour and then made worse by driving in circles trying to find a parking place. Eventually we were successful and make our way through the village and onto a boat to the islands. The Borromean islands get their name from the wealthy and well-known Borromea family who still owns them today. In the interest of time, we decided to concentrate on Isola Bella, which houses a large 16th century palace and gardens. I highly recommend booking online in advance (we did this while on the island already and eating lunch), as it'll save you at least an hour's wait in the long queue to get in. The palace was pretty impressive, filled with a huge collection of period paintings, tapestries and furniture. It screams money and its extravagance is over the top, but amazing. And the views! I can only imagine living in such a beautiful home. The gardens were equally elaborate, with statues, fountains, hedge mazes and every type of tree and flower imaginable. You have to go there! I wish we had more time and could visit the other islands (Isola Madre and Isola Superiore), which also house impressive palaces and gardens.
Even though we ended up eating dinner both nights at our hotel, there were so many cute restaurants in Cannero Riviera. I'm not joking, I really do want to go back and think it would make a great regular holiday destination. It's also very family friendly with the pool and lake, and it's only 2.5 hours from Luzern. In some ways it reminded me of the lake resorts of Northern Wisconsin, where I spent my childhood summers - only less rustic and more glamorous. And it's in Italy, so the food is amazing!