Lake Maggiore, the Borromean Islands, Lake Lugano and Lake Como
We continued our island hopping and it was a very short hop indeed before we stepped off the boat at Isola Pescatori (Fisherman's Isle) our luncheon destination. It is a tiny Island full of restaurants and tourist shops. An hour including lunch is sufficient to take in the sights. All the party seemed to gravitate to the same restaurant by the lake shore where we watched the boats come and go whilst eating pizza. The toilets were clean and suited fishermen. Walk for two minutes to the other side of the island where it is much less crowded and there is a nicer cafe with spectacular views at a lower cost. Seats in the toilets too.
A feature of the visit was our discovery of the distinctive Italian sparrow, a hybrid of the Spanish sparrow and the common house sparrow. It was brown and ate my pizza. For some reason my wife was fascinated by the thieving urchins.
Late afternoon saw us take advantage of our room with a view and we read books and watched the world go by. Or umbrellas.
By evening the weather was set fair again and we visited the best hotel in Stresa, the famous Grand Hotel. The special exhibition set up to show its 150 years of history includes the many film and movie stars who have stayed there. We sat in the lounge with a glass of wine and dreamed. Behind the hotel is a classy fountain and at 9.00 pm each night music and lights make for a memorable spectacle.
The Swiss city of Lugano and its Lake of the same name is essentially the same as the other Italian lakes at twice the price. The cone shaped mountains are covered in greenery, shrouded in clouds for our visit. A two hour, rather drab motorway journey allowed us one and a half hours' time in the city. Time to take a mortgage out to purchase a sandwich. We had intended missing this included excursion as we are very familiar with the city but poor weather on departure changed our minds. We should have stuck to our guns given the ratio of coach to destination time. Top tip for Lugano: use the toilets at the lake front McDonald's and enjoy a coffee with a view.
Lugano is a place for the rich and Shearing holiday-makers felt at home. A sophisticated city but the lovely gardens on Isola Madre would have been a much better choice and only a short ferry journey away.
The optional afternoon excursion to the gardens of Villa Taranto was a delight. Somewhat amazingly the sun came out. Founded by, as his name suggests, the Scottish Captain Neil McEacharn in 1931, the ultra cool water gardens had lilies to swoon over and trees and shrubs all carefully labelled to remind us of what we can't grow at home. That elusive beast, the sun, came out for the first hour or so. But …
Rain stopped play sadly and we had to wait under cover for the coach to arrive.
Our last evening in Stresa was intended for an evening cruise of the lake and we wandered out in the gloom to board our tiny boat tossed on a stormy lake. “It's OK! OK!” beamed our captain. It certainly is not, breathed just about everyone else. The majority vote held and Rita, balanced precariously on the prow, called the whole thing off. The boat pitched its way back into a thunderstorm, the lonely capitano at the helm in the rapidly diminishing light.
We had recourse to the sunscreen for our four hour stay in Como, on our third full day in Italy and our third lake. Ah, that satisfying feeling of wrinkles scrunching in the sun. Seated by the funicular watching the world go by I marvelled at how my minuscule macchiato could cost more than my wife's giant latte.
We walked along the promenade away from the crowds, hot, happy and increasingly hungry. We ate in the square by the Basilica. Cosmo has a busy front by the lake, all traffic noise and day trippers – perish the thought. I guess our four hours there was about right allowing time for food, admiring the splendour of the basilica with its ornate dome and walking the same lake as Richard Branson and George Clooney. Neither resident was present. Nor did I spot Madonna.
The old city had smart, chic shops and imposing buildings. All is relaxed and cultured. This whole area of northern Italy is a kilometre or three from the haphazard joys further south where beauty and squalor can go hand in hand.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Shearings Coach Holidays (UK and Europe)
• Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 1
• 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