Monday, 22 June 2015

The Italian Lakes; Lake Maggiore and Lake Como | TRAVEL ADVENTURES


The sunny days are finally emerging and I’m ready for summer and all that comes with it. Every time I hear or see a plane overhead, I automatically begin dreaming of being taken away somewhere toasty where I can indulge in some ‘me’ time and switch off. Luckily I didn’t have to dream much longer as I was being whisked away to the stunning Italian Lakes on a Thomson Lakes and Mountains trip at the start of June.

 
Living in the Mighty Midlands finding airlines that fly out from either East Midlands or Birmingham can be tricky.  You often find you have to venture south or more awkwardly clock up changes in between airports. Luckily for me Thomson Lakes andMountains work with FlyBe and Easyjet, so I could get a flight from Birmingham International Airport with it only taking an 1 hour 45 minutes airtime to Milan airport.
I’ve always said I need to explore Europe more, initially due to the historical aspect of the cluster of countries but also to personally check them off on my places to see list. In all honesty I’d heard of the Italian Lakes but in a travel blogging sin... I didn’t know much detail other than it being stunning and home to a George Clooney's holiday pad, Anakin Skywalkers wedding and parts of a James Bond film. All of which should of immediately made me take more interest but alas I hadn’t until now.  


Day 1
After what seemed a very long day from kicking things off leaving the Midlands at 3.30am, (and part of the M1 spontaneously being closed) I checked my bag in with FlyBe and headed to my flight. The journey was comfortable but to be honest I spent the majority of time snoozing on and off! On arrival it was a painless bagging collection then a greeting by one of the Thomson Lakes and Mountains team at the airport. I was soon escorted with a party of fellow travellers to my first stop hotel, the Regina Palace in Lake Maggoire,
Stresa



Even though it was the morning the heat of the sun was beaming through the coach window and the more I saw the more I couldn’t wait to get there and start exploring. I did immediately notice two things on the coach, there were no children and even though I’m the grand old age of 30, I was by far the youngest there.  Perhaps this is why my Mum has spent hours green with envy when I told her I was going? This was a child free zone and the target market appeared to be around the 50+ mark. Would I like it here? Is this just for older people? Will I get bored? 


I checked in to the Regina Palace hotel to be astounded by how grand it all was! The d├ęcor was dramatic, elaborate and oozed a luxurious ambiance throughout. The chandelier in the reception area was large and glamorous twinkling in the sun, this was a hotel that had welcomed a variety of guests including Royal family members and I could see why. The hotels interior had held onto it’s heritage by keeping as many artifacts as possible, some areas looked dated but it somehow worked because it was in keeping of its time. 

Check in was after 2pm so I swiftly downed luggage and escaped across the road to the lakeside (the hotels view was divine), for a much needed Italian coffee and to catch up on the latest news from the worldwide web. Automatically took my monthly fashion mag, sat in the sunshine and absorbed how magnificent it all was… and only a short journey away from the UK.
After what felt like hours people watching, lake viewing and coffee drinking I made my way to check in to my room. I was blessed with a little balcony with two chairs which overlooked Lake Maggoire. It was honestly breath taking! I then decided to be typically British and went to the pool to soak up the sun and read some more. This hotel had everything and on my way to the outdoor pool I spotted a very grand ballroom with tables set out for what looked like a wedding. What a venue! What a location! Perfect for such an occasion... I felt suddenly envious that I hadn’t chosen to come abroad for my wedding.
Washed and ready for dinner I was dining at a hotel down the road called the Grand Hotel along the same stretch of road. The food was classic hotel buffet for starter and dessert with mains being ordered from a set menu. My stomach wasn’t quite prepared for a 4 course feast but I most certainly enjoyed the Italian wines.
Day 2
Even though there was workout facilities onsite, including an indoor pool (in case a morning swim was too chilly) I decided to embrace the glorious morning. I opened my balcony doors wide and practised yoga in front of the sun and bright blue lakes. A nice energy flow for the body before a day filled with site seeing on the Borromean Islands: Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori and Isola Bella.  Breakfast at the hotel was pleasant especially with the outdoor dining area and fresh Italian coffees and pastries. I closed my eyes with all the beautiful aromas of food and the sunshine heating my skin,  it was going to be warm so made sure I was caked in suncream before setting off.

I was off on my first adventure to the Borromean Islands to see the stunning gardens followed by a seafood lunch on Isola Pescatori (Fisherman's Island). I know the sunshine makes everything look, feel and seem better but if it was raining right at this moment it would still remain beautiful. My tour guide was a local resident and fluent English speaker, Luca. He took me on a guided tour of each of these islands, exploring and detailing everything along the way.




We wandered the gardens with the vibrant florals, dramatic statues, free roaming peacocks, and designs that could make even the most enthusiastic gardener envious. I do love gardening and gaining inspiration from creative outdoor spaces but these were in a league of their own. 

We took a well needed pit stop on the Fisherman’s Islands for a seafood lunch. Even though the various restaurants serve fish from the lake, not of all of it is exclusively from these lakes, I however managed to try some that actually did and it was delicious. I’m not an overly enthusiastic seafood eater, but I’m a firm believer you should try things... and I did. I was mighty proud of myself for doing so!


I ventured back to the hotel to wash up and head to dinner again at the Grand Hotel.  A new menu was provided and a new wine selection. Afterwards I went to the Skybar (hint is in the title) which was above the hotel. This was gorgeous as the comfortable seating looked over the lake but the mood lighting and music set the scene to a whole new level. I just had to have a cocktail as I sat and relaxed amongst fellow visitors. There were even large beds to lie on as you indulged at the bar, I knew if I did that I wouldn’t want to get back up, either that or I would of nodded off.
I strolled back to the hotel ready to pack for Lake Como the next day, after a day of beautiful gardens, good food and lots of walking I slept very happy that evening. 
 Day 3
After a very swift breakfast I caught a taxi to take me to Lake Como, where I had yet another day of sightseeing including a private boat trip.  
On arrival to the Grand Hotel Cadenabbia, Tremezzo, I felt an immediate difference in location. How you may be asking? Well Lake Maggoire felt more socially inviting due to the wider roads that had shops/cafes on the lake front, whereas Lake Como the road going through was narrow with no pier to the lake.  It somehow felt exclusive and less interactive which of course has its plus points. The hotel for me wasn’t a patch on my previous in Lake Maggoire but pleasant all the same, they both offered a very different vibe. For example the outdoor pool was nuzzled in amongst greenery giving it that exclusive feel I mentioned, it felt less exposed and more of a hideaway.

Set back from the lake were the vast gardens of Villa Carlotta with it's famous Villa built 1690-1743 by Clerici. I took a walk around discovering a number of unusual plants scattered about the place. It was steeper in places so gave my legs a good workout, creating justification to indulge in a tasty lunch at the Hotel Britannia Excelsior on the lake front. 

After exploring yet more breathtaking gardens I headed to lunch. Greeted by hotel owner Ross, I was spoilt rotten at lunch time trying a variety of seafood and some of the most delicious white wine I’d ever had the pleasure to sample. This hotel was set on the other side of the road but they had decking built on the lake front with a floating pool for all guests. It was out of this world… including the food! The family run hotel clearly knew how to treat their guests! 

Gaining what can only be described as a food coma(!) I was over the moon to be going on my boat trip around the lake. I was excited to see all the nooks and crannies of this exclusive lake and the individual properties scattered around. The sun was out and hearing the boat cruise across the water made me realise I could really enjoy a holiday like this for longer. 

I headed back to my hotel for a swim, to get packed and ready for dinner. I was going to be eating on site, but to be honest the idea of food wasn’t on the top of my agenda because of having such a large lunch! Regardless I went to have a small nibble in the restaurant, it provided scenic views of the lake which set the scene for myself and fellow holidaymakers. Diners all kept gazing across at what surrounded them and I can’t blame them because somehow this view was mesmerising. 

Back to the hotel for a short sleep before I headed home. The transfer time to Milan airport was around 45 minutes from Lake Como and an easy transaction from the Thomson reps. I got on my flight feeling rather shattered both physically and mentally, even though I felt relaxed I wished I’d had more time in Lake Como to tell you more about it. Whether it’s because I stayed in Lake Maggoire a day more or not, I felt that I preferred this resort more than Lake Como.  

Verdict
If you were to come the Italian Lakes you will need to go on excursions as that is essentially what it’s all about. I believe even though it’s nice to do nothing, one day or more of that and you’ll get itchy feet but luckily you have numerous activity options.  Is it just for the over 50's? I guess that age range tend to appreciate things more such as views and are more likely to afford to go there, but having said that I was really surprised how much I personally liked this.  

To me the Italian Lakes is the perfect balance of sunshine, blue waters, Italian cuisine and dramatic cliffs and mountains. Would we get itchy feet after a week here? I'm not sure... I'll have to return and let you know! So in conclusion what I saw and experienced I loved. I want to go back again but would like to explore and do a bit more in order to really sink my teeth into this Italian beauty! Overall It most certainly gets a big thumbs up from me.

Ciao!
  
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