Firstly, a shoutout to Giampiero Faga, Francesco Artese and the amazing Classic Journeys Tour Group for providing one of the most exhilarating, impressive, dazzling, awe-inspiring, demanding but fun-filled adventures in the incredibly beautiful Northern Lake Region of Italy. This trip was the perfect amalgam of: a small group of genial fellow travelers willing and able to forge through physically challenging but rewarding treks, a little known area of Italy (as well as a quick peek of Switzerland too) that continually astounded all the senses and two stalwart aforementioned guides whose knowledge and personal winsomeness made our daily excursions nonpareil.
This trip was so full of unending stunning vistas, both natural and man-made (a recurring theme my readers will recognize) that I am going to apportion a number of themed posts to give you the best insider’s view. Today I would like to provide a little background on the area to help you visualize the terrain.
THE NORTHERN LAKES OF ITALY
Giampiero is a lover of maps and provided quite a few along the way – so let’s start with a few so you can get the lay of the land and perhaps a little sympathy for our leg muscles that were put to the test traversing this wonderful area, for almost all our mileage was covered by foot (the Fitbits almost had a meltdown):
The lakes of Northern Italy – Como, Bellagio, Orta, Maggiore, Lugano and Garda, covering the regions of Lombard, Piedmont, Trentino and Veneto, nestled beneath the southern foothills of the Alps near the border of Switzerland were formed by slow-moving glaciers during the last Ice Age (the Pleistocene Epoch which began about 1.8 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago). The lakes are ribbon-like in shape due to the combination of hard and soft bedrock. The resistant rock eroded more slowly and eventually became outcrops known as rock bars, which acted as dams. After the retreat of the glaciers the basins created by the erosion of the softer rock filled up, creating ribbon lakes. So much water filled the basin of Lake Como that, at over 1,300 feet deep, it is the deepest lakes in Europe, and the bottom of the lake is more than 660 ft below sea-level.
The lakes’ incredible beauty has captured many a heart – Julius Caesar founded the city of Como (as Novum Comum) in 59 B.C., and in the first century, Pliny the Younger built two villas in Bellagio, (more on Pliny the Younger and Elder in a later post) and famous poets and writers such as Dylan Thomas, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry James and William Wordsworth waxed poetic about the lake region. Henry James explored and wrote about this area for decades, beginning in 1869 when he crossed the frontier from Switzerland into the Lake Como region. Fun trivia fact: Henery James was an inveterate walker – partly due to his love of the virtues of exercise but also most importantly due to the fact that it helped his chronic constipation. In 1909, he put his Italian travel narratives into a book, Italian Hours. In this tome he describes his love of the Northern Lakes. William Wordsworth was also similarly captivated:
“One can’t describe the beauty of the Italian lakes, nor would one try if one could”
On, on into Italy we went, a rapturous progress through a wild luxuriance of
corn and olives and figs and mulberries and chestnuts and frescoed villages and
clamorous beggars and all the good old Italianisms of tradition.”
– Henry James, in The Italian Hours, 1909
“And Como! thou, a treasure whom the earth
Keeps to herself, confined as in a depth
Of Abyssinian privacy, I spake
Of thee, thy chestnut woods, and garden plots
Of Indian corn tended by dark-eyed maids…”
–William Wordsworth, in The Prelude, 1790
But even these illustrious writers could not totally capture the breathtaking natural beauty of the deep blue crystal clear waters and mountainous peaks, not to mention the incredibly delicious locally grown cuisine. In addition, though man-made, the churches, citadels, town walls and watchtowers, villas, palazzos, frescoes, statues, paintings, too numerous to mention – provide the area with a richness seldom seen.
Hopefully through the use of the many photographs taken while there I will be able to impart a small slice of what this area offers. In future posts, I will talk about: landscapes, waterscapes, moutainscapes, flora and fauna, art and architecture, food and wine, adventures and “when things don’t go as planned,” (as you know one of my fave running themes in my blog) lots of laughs and innumerable steps and more steps. Let me leave you today with a few landscape/mountainscape/waterscape teasers:
Speaking of George Clooney- it was reported today that he will be getting married tomorrow in Venice. We did pass by his Lake Como villa and according to Giampiero, the white speedboat in the front was indication that he was home.
We decided not to visit as we had such a busy schedule but here is a picture of his humble abode:
Next week, Part Two: Che cosa è “CIAMONIELLO?”