When I was growing up in Australia, I was impressed whenever someone said they were “going overseas”. Indeed, the only way to leave the country is to fly over seas (and usually oceans too). Other countries are a long way away.
Years after moving to France, it’s still a novelty to me to be able to switch countries without getting on a plane. And I’m not the only one. When family visited from Australia last month, they were keen to visit Lake Como in Italy. We left the morning after they finished a quick European cruise. One of them remarked how in 24 hours, they had been in the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and now Italy. Four countries in such a short time, and three of them by car! We were all impressed.
Despite bordering France, Italy retains its own strong identity, and we embraced the plentiful food, the friendly hospitality and the laid-back lifestyle. Before reaching Lake Como, we stayed around Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano. I found myself comparing them to Lake Annecy, where people were already swimming and enjoying a variety of sports on the water. Yet on these three lakes, there were nothing but boats. Maybe the Italians like to wait for the water to warm up, or perhaps I now take Lake Annecy for granted.
Of the three lakes, Lake Maggiore won my heart. We did the touristy thing of visiting the islands on the lake. Arriving four hours after leaving France, we ate lunch before buying our tickets and discovered we’d run out of time to visit all three islands. No problem – the two we visited were small and near each other, giving us a relaxing afternoon of eating gelati, meandering around the shops and enjoying the views from garden benches.
In the evening, we were lucky enough to reserve a table at the Risorante Grotto Sant Anna, right behind the old church and bridge. Intimate, relaxed, delicious, picturesque and welcoming, this restaurant was the perfect place to spend a warm Italian night, dining al fresco. The church in front of the restaurant overlooks a pretty watering spot where a mountain river expands and slows down on its way to Lake Maggiore, and this is a perfect place for a pre- or post-meal walk.
Moving on to the next two lakes was enjoyable, but Como lacked the natural beauty that we found around Lake Maggiore, like the rock formations under the Ponte dei Salti in Verzasca (at the Swiss end of the lake). Again, we were tourists, detouring past George Clooney’s place (sparking a round of “Is that it?” “Maybe it’s this one.” “Oh, I reckon it’s there with the security cameras.”), then opting to use the ferries to get to the main tourist villages and enjoying lunch with the sounds of the water lapping just a few metres from our table. It wasn’t a bad experience. It just wasn’t Lake Maggiore.
After a quick stop in Milan on our final day, we were home in time for dinner. Lake Annecy still tops all three lakes in my proud residential opinion, but being able to drive between countries is still the best of all.