Shearing’s ‘Best of the Italian Lakes’ in the rain – Part 4

Milan, Lake Orta and Home
Our hotelA final evening in Riva, a truly lovely town. The Italians love their evening strolls, dressed up in their finery, whole families happy together in their gentle exercise. A great hotel too, right in the heart of the action. Our room had been superb and who could forget the remarkable dining room and four free evening concerts.

Time for our final lake in the great tour of the great lakes. Our trip to our final destination,Lake Orta, was via Milan, the outskirts of which confirmed my long held belief that paint aerosols be restricted to the over-nineties. The city centre was notable for city workers in smart black suits and Arab families laden with designer bags. My wife was tempted by a pair of shoes in the Prada shop but I pointed out that the window display showed only one colour so that temptation was thwarted.

The vast Duomo, the fourth largest cathedral in the world, festooned in spikes and towers in pristine condition their restoration being almost complete. The light stone towers and statues are as expertly carved as the finest ivory. By contrast, inside there a dark, sombre atmosphere – the preserved bodies of past priests, to my mind anyway, dampening the spirits. The vivid stained glass windows were, however, consummate works.

Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano)Shearing's itinerary is a varied one. Stresa was a sophisticated, adult location. Riva a family resort, bursting with life. Lake Orta offered something different with a quiet, scenic hotel setting at lake level.  Our room overlooked the lake. Perfect! Frankly, we could have cut down on the time in Milan and got to the hotel two hours earlier. My first act was to swim in the truly huge, rectangular pool that could have housed Olympic athletes. I was on my own, strangely enough, but I washed the cobwebs of coach travel well away.

Dining at lakeside was a pleasure in a hotel perfectly reflecting its prime location. Wine and coffee was on the house.

Our final day on the lake was again overcast and with light rain. We took the included ferry to the tiny Isola di San Giulio. It has its own closed community of nuns in the houses that rise with the  church. In our available hour we took the fifteen minutes walk of silence that embraces the circumference of the island. A series of spiritual statements are posted along the route. Take the reverse direction and different statements are offered.

The church has frescoes that adorn walls and ceilings. In the crypt is the preserved body of the founder of the church, St Giulio from 600 AD. 

Lake OrtaLake Orta competed well with its more illustrious rivals. We found it lovely. The town of Orta itself, across the lake from our hotel, was unspoilt and comparatively quiet. The sun came out a moment as we ate our lunch at the Picolo bar with a full on view of Isola di San Giulio, looking for all the world like an artist's creation of what an Italian island should look like. Do take a walk up to the church and before you go in, look down the street. Quintessential Italy.

Pettenasco is a sleepy village easily overlooked were it not for its position by our hotel. A short walk follows the lake shore until one sees the tall church tower. Most Italian churches are beautiful and this is no exception. I was however most taken by the nearby war memorial depicting a family grieving by a grave of their son, husband and father.

Hotel L'Approdo was my favourite of our three excellent hotels. Everything was immaculate and our balcony overlooked the stunning lake. Our evening meal had complementary wine and coffee in the attractive lakeside restaurant. Only omelette for my wife's two vegetarian meals marred her dining experience somewhat however.

We made very good friends with Robert and Josie, and Nigel and Julie. Robert's hairy hand story made me spill my wine, I laughed so much. We will hopefully meet them again on another tour.

Isola San GiulioThe “Best of the Italian Lakes” tour was not yet over. We set off along Lake Maggiore on our way home. Wouldn't you just believe that the lake looked absolutely majestic in glorious sunshine as we commenced the return leg along its shores. Sunshine had been a fickle friend on this holiday. This was the Italian Lakes we knew and loved and we were on our way home!

It was a full day's travel, only enlivened by the sight of dozens of storks on all the lampposts near Strasbourg as they grouped for their migration to Africa. Given the grim weather that followed us I could see the attraction – of  Africa not the sitting on lampposts!

Due to the hotels at Rheims being full our itinerary was to stay at Liege. Five countries later we arrived exhausted and had to eat a late dinner before we had time to stagger to our room. If I were Shearings I would do something about that journey!

That said, a lot is crammed into a Shearing's break. The packing for the changes of hotel proved easy enough, the most difficult aspect being to select what to take in the first place. There are few opportunities for boredom when in resort or on excursions: even the extensive travel has its compensations. The company put together a varied itinerary and know their jobs. Three excellent hotels, the best of the Italian Lakes – it does what it says in the brochure. Rita had gushed enthusiasm and was always at hand to help.

Daryl's driving was beyond praise. They say the best football referee is one who is not seen; Daryl was smooth driving personified. He must have used his brakes but we were never aware of them.

As for the weather, I saved a fortune on sunscreen and my shorts went back into the wardrobe at home in immaculate condition.

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

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Ian Lumsden

Retired deputy headteacher & writer

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