Lifestyle Travel Snow, Ice and Blue Sky
Snow, Ice and Blue Sky
Written by Mr Peter McClelland
Friday, 30 May 2014

 

 

The town of Maccagno is in the province of Varese and sits on the shores of Lake Maggiore. It isn’t likely to happen, but if you do get tired of looking across the glacial blue waters you only need to look up and gaze at the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps.

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Flying into Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy’s second largest city and the capital of the Lombardy region, in the middle of a northern European winter you’d expect to see plenty of cloud, rain and drifting snow. And we did, it was early December after all. Milan was pretty bleak but that was the last of clouds for a fortnight.

Hordes of German and Russian tourists descend on Maccagno in summer, so there’s no need to tell them just how nice it is in early winter.

And it was bliss! Two weeks of blue sky, icy mornings and snow on the mountains. The only reminders of a frenetic world were the vapour trails of jets criss-crossing the sky high above the Alps.

On the one-hour drive from Milan to Maccagno the weather and the view got better and better. The town sits between the lake and mountains and the scenery is absolutely stunning. It’s quite close to the Swiss border and is steeped in history, from the Sanctuary of Madonna della Punta to ancient villas and arcades stretching back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

And soaking up all that history can generate quite an appetite. If you feel like sampling some superb home-made Sicilian cannoli you can’t go past Cafe Cherinotti in Maccagno’s main street. It’s just around the cornerfrom yet another beautiful old church whose bells clang out the time every half-an-hour.

 Things to Do
If you’re partial to pulling on the walking boots and putting your best foot forward you’ll love this part of Italy.

We were staying in an old villa high above the lake in what’s called Maccagno Superiore.

Maccagno-train-station210There’s a distinction between the two sections of the town – Superiore and Inferiore – divided by the crystal clear waters of the Giona River. But don’t be put off by the names. One area isn’t any better than the other, the former is higher up the mountain and most villas in town have a clear view of both the water and the snow-capped Alps.

Make sure you take appropriate shoes and moderately well-toned calf muscles if, as we did, you choose to stay in a villa perched above the lake. There’s no real need to hire a car because the train service is so easy to use and nearby towns such as Luino are within spectacular walking distance.

If you decide to get behind the wheel, the roads are excellent albeit with some sharp hairpin bends. We spotted a number of professional cyclists, minus the peloton, training on steep climbs and hair-raising descents.

Indeed, our only Tour de France winner Cadel Evans lives just over the border in Switzerland.

Getting Around
It’s a short, 10-minute train ride into Switzerland and a little over half-an-hour into the city of Bellinzona. (There’s no suspense-filled border crossing but it’s wise to take your passport.We made a number of trips to the land of cow-bells and chocolate and were only asked for our papers once – and that was by the Swiss Police on the train journey.)

Here three fortified medieval castles overlook look the quaint town.

In Locarno, a bustling affluent Swiss city full of boats, expensive cars and chocolate shops, features the stunning 1987 Church of Madonna del Sasso situated high above the town with views of the city, lake and mountains.

If you feel like heading into Milan, and there are plenty of good reasons to do just that, the train journey takes around one and a half hours. It costs €6 and the view is spectacular.

Shopping in Milan is equally impressive with high-end shoes, clothes and jewellery competing with seemingly identical cheap knock-offs on the market stalls. And Milan’s gelato would have to be among the best in Italy.Cannobio-church.200

There’s a local ferry service with wonderful old wooden boats plying the waters of Lake Maggiore from Sesto Calende in the south to Locarno in the north. Maccagno is just beyond the half-way point on the eastern side and you’ll see plenty of sailing boats and windsurfers, even in winter. Actually, the water isn’t all that cold and you can swim if you’re feeling brave!

A trip across the lake to Cannobio is well worthwhile, if only for the great seafood restaurants in a town that began life as a fishing village. One of them, with the rather prosaic name of Café Rogi, is particularly good. High above the town is the majestic Church of Santa Anna built on top of a 25m deep rocky gorge, complete with waterfalls and a river below.

We shared the spectacular scenery with intrepid scuba-divers emerging from the icy waters in very thick wetsuits.

Remaining on the same side, a visit to the stunning small town of Cannero Riviera is a must. A stroll along the cobblestones will take you to some of the best restaurants in the Piedmont region. There’s nothing better than sitting by the lake with a glass of wine and eating homemade pasta with a sauce made from local produce.

The majority of the lakeside homes are 600 years-old and date back to smuggling days. They’ve been beautifully restored and a number are the summer residences of Italian and Swiss surgeons. There’s bound to be a GP or two as well!
 
Finally, you can’t stay at Maccagno without taking an easy stroll into Luino. It takes about an hour and runs along the eastern shores of the lake. It would have to be one of the most beautiful walks in Europe. Luino has a big market every Wednesday and if you’re into Italian leather there are some real bargains.

A cold beer and a pizza at Sibilla’s in the heart of town will fortify you for the walk back to Maccagno. But don’t forget, you still have to climb the hill to your villa so don’t be embarrassed by hopping on the train for the return journey. We did!

Worth knowing:
•    All major airlines ex-Perth fly into Milan (via KL, Singapore and Dubai)
•    Villa Accommodation: 1Br/1Bth $95/night – 2 Br/2 Bth $160/night
•    July/Aug 26C-14C Mar/April 15C-4C

 

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