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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Two days of Lake Maggiore & Switzerland

Friday 14th September.
Blue skies and cooler mid 20’s temperature.

Despite all our mad sight seeing we have still both managed to read two+ books and I have had time to load, edit photos and keep up with the blog and facebook each night. We have had television almost at every stop but haven’t watched any. We found it “unusual” to see Midsummer Murders in Italian.
The bed looked very hard but we both slept well. This was the only accommodation where breakfast wasn’t included so again we were grateful to have our kettle and cups for coffee in the morning along with the one remaining nectarine.We packed the car again and set off back down the winding narrow streets praying that there would be no cars coming around the next corner. As we had only a short journey of about 120 kms, we stopped for coffee about half way. More diesel then on our way. We arrived at Varese around midday and the challenge again to find our accommodation which was about 4kms out of the main town. There is nothing in the guide books about this place but we chose it because of its location to the Lakes area and relative closeness to Malpensa airport (Milan) We eventually found Relais Cá Dei Santi and were able to book in early around midday.

Once settled into our room, we were told that the Lindt Chocolate factory was 50 metres up the road. Well the plant was but the shop was a bit further on but the walk was welcome and we did buy a small taste of chocolate. 

We decided that we would set off to drive around Lake Maggiore and our first stop was Luino where we had lunch by the lake. We then continued around the lake, crossing the Swiss border at the northern end of Lake Maggiore. We stopped at a Brissago in Switzerland, bought a bottle of water and were surprised to find them still using Swiss Francs, however they did the conversion to euros for us.

This was not our best day and I think the stress of the driving and getting lost & difficulty finding the accommodation had taken its toll. However we pressed on! We have shared the driving pretty much 50-50. There has been a lot of “back seat” driving from the passenger seat and at times much criticism of driving tactics and interpretation of which way to go according to the GPS instructions. The very windy, narrow hilly roads at times have been quite scary. The local drivers speed around corners, some of the streets and lane ways although two way traffic, there is only room for 1 ½ cars. You pray that there won't be a car coming in the opposite direction on a bend. Many areas have one way streets or new roundabouts which the GPS doesn’t know about so that is another thing that has been difficult at times. The biggest problem though is cars just stopping in front of you, drivers double parking -getting out to go into the shop, cutting in front of you with no warning, tooting the horn if they think you are too slow or careful. Some just pull off the road to park the car – no problem if everyone is parked parallel to the curb, if there is a slight space drive in to park and leave the back half of the car sticking out onto the road. There are so many cars on the roads and quite clearly not enough roads for the volume of traffic. We have been in a lot of “non tourist” areas so it’s not just the increased traffic from visitors however on the tourist route, the trip home from Stresa, Lake Maggiore of 54 kms took over 2 hours. Needless to say we were very pleased to be home safe. Had dinner at the restaurant at the hotel and headed off to bed.

The biggest problem we’ve had finding our accommodation has been the poor signage. Some places have had no signs at all and some of the street numbers are not on the fence/building. Some could not be found by the GPS. By and large the GPS has been great, but there is a disclaimer when you press ‘start navigation’ saying that the driver needs to use discretion. We have found it sending us very narrow lane ways as a detour when that was completely unnecessary and many times we’ve over ridden the instructions but occasionally we’ve been caught out. 

Yes, really snow en route to Varese

Lake Maggiore at Luina

Lake Maggiore at Brissago - Switzerland

Saturday 15th September
Blue skies and anticipated top temperature of around 25

We had a wonderful night’s sleep and woke later than usual and headed down to breakfast after 9.30am. Anne Marie, the owner was on duty for breakfast this morning. Graham was desperate to have a couple of shirts ironed to last the next 3 days. ‘No problem – bring them down and I’ll get the maid to iron them for you!’ Feeling a bit embarrassed but none the less, the shirts were really scrunched up after their last wash, we handed them over, no idea what the cost will be!! When we arrived home the shirts were ironed and hanging in the wardrobe.

Anne Marie suggested that today we drive to Levano, get the car ferry across to Verbania, then drive on to Stresa and set off for Gignese, then up to Motterone  (Mountain)for a spectacular view over all the lakes. We were then to go over the mountain which is 1495 metres above sea level and drive home through Orta.
We arrived in Verbania on the ferry after only about 15-20 minutes transit and miraculously found a car park and then headed off to check this place out. We found a huge market with fruit & veggies, Salami, cheeses as well as clothing, leather bags, belts and wallets and much more. We bought salami & bread for lunch and a couple of peaches as well. All washed down with another bottle of water – Frizzante (with gas) This was enjoyed lakeside!

After a couple of hours we continued on our way and reached Stresa and followed the signs to Gignese. This meant a fairly steep climb and very narrow winding roads. The fuel gauge was reducing it seemed with every corner. We saw a fuel station just before Gignese but didn’t realize that it was a prepaid self service, so continued up the hill for another couple of kilometers. We were both concerned about the minimal fuel and no idea how far to the next opportunity to fill up with diesel. By this stage we were probably 10 ms from the top of the mountain and about 770 metres up. There was a toll to pay as the road belongs to some Prince and I was able to ask the guys there about the destination length and availability of fuel. They suggested going back to Gignese for the “automatic” (prepaid self serve station). Graham was driving and quite stressed by the ordeal so we decided to abandon the rest of the ascent as we knew we would have enough fuel to get back to Stesa. 

We parked in Stresa (Stressa as Graham called it!) and walked along the lakeside enjoying the view and de stressing! We decided to stay a bit longer, have an early dinner and drive home. Cheap eats tonight - we shared a pizza and a litre bottle of water. I drove home and to our surprise, the 54 kms took almost as long as the previous night and we arrived home around 8.30pm. We didn't have the added side trip to narrow streets tonight but very slow traffic for no apparent reason, hardly got into 3rd gear for many kilometers at a time. Home safe & sound, coffee, catch up & bed. There is a wedding at the venue tonight and we’d parked out on the street and I suppose at some stage the noise will stop. Anne Marie has had a wedding booked every weekend since May and now has no further forward bookings which she is both surprised and concerned about! Evidently other places are in the same situation too.

Levano - where we caught the ferry to Verbania

Verbania taken from the ferry

View of Lake Maggiore from the Stesa - Gignese Road

Foreshore Stresa

Rows of these Hotels along the main drag in Stresa - quite an unbelievable sight

Anne Marie, owns the complex and her husband is the chef. She was born in France and her husband is from Orta. There are quite a few “French” touches here but we were quite surprised to see the “maids” in uniform – black ¾ length dresses with white aprons. The apartment is quite spacious and split level  - upstairs for sleeping. There is tea/coffee making facilities with cups and electric jug as well as a small fridge. The first we’ve had all around Italy except for the self catering places. It is very comfortable and this is our last bed!

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