Shearing’s ‘Best of the Italian Lakes’ in the rain – Part 1

Travel and Arrival In Stresa, Lake Maggiore
Swiss cafeExcuse me for being old fashioned, but isn't Italy supposed to be sunny?

The cafe owner looked forlornly at the rain sheeting down. “You're full,” I said pointing to the steaming crowd inside. “But 'ere,” he moaned gesturing to what in the storm might have been lakeside tables, “is where I make the money.”

It was a dreadful summer for the Italian business owners.

Shearing's "Best of the Italian Lakes" was a three resort, late August holiday over eleven nights on the lakes of Maggiore, Garda and Orta. There were to be stopovers on route. We knew the region well but had never been on a multi-centre coach tour before.

For such a long journey Grand Tourers are as good as you get with more seat room than is the norm. We were also provided with a free taxi service from home to a service station on the M1 where we met our feeder coach. At Stop 24,  just outside Dover, we met up with Tour Director, Rita, and driver, Daryl.

Stresa hotelWe arrived at our overnight stop-over at about 8.00 pm. The Novotel at Reims was sadly outside the main city in some kind of hotel theme park with every chain represented and nowhere to walk. The restaurant served tasty omelette at reasonable prices though  a small tumbler of local beer almost prepared me for the cost of tea and coffee at the Swiss Motorway services that were to come.

The bulk of  the next day was spent travelling. Swiss Services are swish but ultra expensive. Needs must though on a long journey and we always stretched our legs at all the stops, dodging the cars to reactivate the circulation! I enjoy coach tours. How times change. As a lad I couldn't sit still, now I can't get up. Ensconced in audio book (Sam Eastland) and music (don't ask) I relax, take in the scenery, hop out at the service stations and let the driver take the strain.

We arrived at the Hotel Speranza Au Lac in our first resort of Stresa by Lake Maggiore in driving rain in time to unpack and make the four steps across the alleyway to our sister hotel and dinner. Instantly we were in Italy, the waiters buzzing around us, other guests happy and our table company so good we made four friends for the duration of our holiday.

Isola BellaAfter eating, Jan and I walked our legs into something like normal condition after the rigours of coach travel. It was dry and warm. The British love the Italian Lakes. Stresa is a smart town, superbly situated by the lake with a backdrop of mountains. The hotel was central, allowing easy access to the bars and restaurants in the square. The resort attracts generally sophisticated holidaymakers, with a surprising lack of children. Town centre hotels can be a mixed blessing. This was all good. Even better if one's room affords a lake view.

The Speranza has a good position on the front of the lake. Our 5th floor corner room towered above the town with a Juliet balcony providing expansive views of the mountains.  We were at one with the swallows and the great tower of the church of St Ambrogio whose great bells were just marginally higher than our penthouse room, and within throwing distance. The sound reverberated around us, though thankfully not during the night. It was a lovely room in all respects, newly decorated and stylish in a traditional way. Stretching out of the second window we could see the lake and the tops of the umbrellas.

Isola BellaNote the reference to umbrellas. It rains in paradise. Warm rain but rain nonetheless.

We woke to an overcast day with a thin drizzle. It was to be a coach free day. We took to the boats. Isola Bella (beautiful island) lives up to the billing. It was our first included excursion, our group setting off from the hotel at ten, to walk all the way across the road to the waiting boat. We were the first party to tour the palace. Our guide was informative and very funny. "How was the toilet? she asked me as we waited for our party to assemble."Fragrant," I said. "Just cleaned," she replied. She took the men away separately to see a reclining nude at one stage.

Boat tourThe palace was, well, palatial. The various rooms on the lower floor were covered in shells set out in intricate patterns. They were constructed to enable the fabulously wealthy Borromeo family a cooler area in which to escape the heat. Our guide informed us it reduced temperatures by two or three degrees. Air conditioning is cheaper.

Set on terraces with showy plants and white peacocks, it was the gardens that were spectacular. Even in the light rain. Would that the rest of the party, many of whom had never been to Lake Maggiore previously, could have seen the views on a sunny day. 

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Shearings Coach Holidays (UK and Europe)

•  Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 2
•  Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 3
•  Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 4

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Ian Lumsden

Retired deputy headteacher & writer

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