Milan & the Lakes

Wed 23 Sep, 2009

The lake district in northern Italy is a magical place, one of my favorites on this planet. It is the combination of nature, people, culture and cuisine that makes it unique and unforgettable. In September 2009,  I had to attend a business meeting in Karlsruhe and a small – and insignificant – conference in Stresa, 90km north-west  of Milan, on the shores of Lago Maggiore. This was an excellent excuse for visiting the region. I called my friend Christian to check if he and his wife could join us in Milan for a city-break. They could. So, weekend n Milan, then Efie and I would go to Stresa for a three day tour of the lakes and then continue to Karlsruhe. It definitely looked like a plan.

The piazza del Duomo is a tourist trap, but nevertheless impressive and beautiful. Originally created in the 14th century, it developed along with the cathedral over the next six centuries. The Duomo’s construction started in 1386 and the last touches were put in 1965. It stands as the second largest church in Europe after only St Peter’s Vasilica in Vatican City.

Other than the cathedral, the most beautiful building is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (1865-1877), named after the first king of Italy. It is covered with a glass and iron roof and was built as a shopping arcade for 19th century Milan. It still functions as a mall and houses some of the most luxurious brand boutiques. In fact, it is the reason why galleria was introduced as a word to describe shopping malls. Behind the galleria is La Scala, the iconic theater than inaugurated on 3 August 1778 with Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta. Opera buffs should go to a pilgrimage to the scene that hosted some of the finest plays and operatic singers in opera history. Be ware that the season starts on December 7 and all performances must by midnight. Five hundred meters further west is via Monte Napoleone, the luxury shopping street of Milan that can pose a serious threat to your credit card limit.

Stresa is a charming lake town, well past its prime that used to host the jet set of the Grand Tour era. In September, there is an end-of-season melancholy and few visitors in town or the tiny Borromean Islands: Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori Isola dei Pescatori. On our second night we decided to have dinner on Isola dei Pescatori, the only island that is inhabited all year round. There were only four other visitors that night, which made the experience truly intimate. One of the most romantic places on earth. I promised Efie to return here in twenty years for another candle light dinner.

For two days, we drove around the three lakes Laggo Maggiore, Lago di Como and Lago di Lugano and visited some picture perfect villages with stunning views and beautiful villas. Places like Tremezzo, Laglio – that George Clooney made famous – Cannobio or Menaggio offer an atmosphere of affluence, a Summertime and the living is easy kind of feeling. Whether this feel good experience is just what the doctor prescribed or an opportunity to reflect on first-third world inequality is entirely up to the visitor. I went with option A and saved option B for later. Driving around the lakes was unforgettable. It helped that the food was great, the weather ideal and the girl was beautiful. I gave myself a promise to come back, after all I promised Efie to come back in twenty years for a dinner, but i really hope that weI will find the opportunity to visit again sooner.

We crossed the Italian-Swiss border near Cannobio, drove through Ticino and the 17km long Gotthard road tunnel, Lucern and Basel where we crossed the German border. After that, we followed the autobahn until we reached Karlsruhe, seven hours after we left Cannobio. Karlsruhe was pleasant, small and dead in the evening. I had work to do and kept busy through out the next day with in a business meeting, so Efie saw a lot more than I did. she says it is a nice town, but frankly I do not feel that I missed much.