One of my favorite hiking journeys pre- pandemic that crystallized how much I love travel was to the glorious Northern Lakes Region of Italy: Firstly, a shoutout to Giampiero Faga, for providing one of the most exhilarating, impressive, dazzling, awe-inspiring, demanding but fun-filled adventures. 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 (to me) area of Italy as well as a quick peek of Switzerland too that continually astounded all the senses and a guide whose knowledge and personal winsomeness made our daily excursions a delight.
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 act as dams. After the retreat of the glaciers the basins created by the erosion of the softer rock filled up, creating the ribbon lakes. So much water filled the basin of Lake Cuomo that, at over 1300 feet deep it is one of the deepest lakes in Europe, and the bottom of the lake is more that 660 feet below sea level.
The lakes’ incredible beauty has captured many a heart – Julius Caesar founded the city of Cuomo (as November Comum) in 589 B.C. and the in the first Century, Pliny the Younger built two villas in Bellagio. Famous poets such as Dylan Thomas, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry James and William Wordsworth waxed poetic about the lakes region.
“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 Cuomo! 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 of course, my “when things don’t go as planned,” (WTDGAP) as you know is one of my fave running themes) lots of laughs and innumerable steps and more steps. Let me leave you today with a few landscape/mountainscape/waterscape teasers:
George Clooney’s Villa Estate
Next week, Part Two: