Magnificent Lake Maggiore and Monte Morissolino

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Thursday 3 July 2014

Magnificent Lake Maggiore and Monte Morissolino

We woke up in Brig on Wednesday morning confused about where to head to next. After our epic walk at the Aletsch Glacier the previous day we knew we were ready to move on, but our original plan of heading into the mountains around Saas Fee was looking doubtful due to a very wet weather forecast in the area for the days ahead. Also, with high season upon us the number of campings where we could use our ACSI card to get a discounted rate was dwindling fast. We checked out of camping Geschina and sat 20m down the road beneath cloudy skies, staring at our maps and guide books trying to decide where to go.

One of the more exciting options was to leave Switzerland and head to Italy. Thanks to a chance encounter with a British family touring in their caravan we had discovered that we could put the motorhome on the train from Brig to Tresquera just over the border in Italy, saving a lengthy drive up and over the mountains (the high point of the Simplion Pass is over 2000m!). Also, checking out the camping situation we found 2 places still offering ACSI discount for a few more days close to Lake Maggiore, about 40 minutes drive from Tresquera. It was looking good. The only downside was we had no idea how much it cost to put a motorhome on a train. Probably very expensive we thought, but we took a short drive to the station just to check anyway. It was only 22 CHF, about £15 including the 2 of us in the motorhome! What a bargain, and much cheaper than the fuel would have cost. We checked in straight away.

It was surprisingly easy to board the train which had open top carriages covered by a high metal shield and since most of the journey was in a tunnel we didn't see much. However, I did have to spend about half of the 25 minute journey holding onto one of roof hatches to stop the wind blowing it off. Turns out our motorhome wasn't designed to go as fast as the train could!

Arriving intact, we made the short drive to Lake Maggiore. Passing through Verbania on our way to Camping La Sierra near to Ghiffa, and we got our first glimpse of the azure waters of the lake reflecting the bright sunshine. Concerns over how we were going to top the Aletsch Glacier for scenery immediately dissolved as the gentle, calm atmosphere of the lake flooded the motorhome and us. Stretching ahead and behind us as far as we could see, Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy at over 50km long and on average 2-3km wide (more than 10km at the widest point). It is actually longer than Lake Garda but has slightly less surface area, hence the title of second largest, with its northernmost shoreline in Switzerland at Locarno.

Winding our way along the narrow coastal road, slightly concerned by some of the erratic driving of the surrounding Italian cars, we soon arrived at camping La Sierra, a terraced site separated from the lake only by the road. Pitching up on the second highest level our view stretched out across the water to the forested hills on the far bank with countless villages adding and Mediterranean feel in the afternoon sun. At just 12 Euros per night until Sunday we soon decided to stay a while so after a peaceful afternoon doze we took a cycle trip back down the harardous road (anything goes for an Italian overtaking) to Verbania to get groceries for the next few days.  It was exciting just how much cheaper the food was compared to in Switzerland the previous day.

As luck would have it, a massive network of hiking trails crisscrossed the hills behind the site and the helpful campsite manager, Fabio, provided us with an overview map of the area. With the sun shining brightly again on our second day we set our sights on the summit of  Monte Morissolino at 1405m, some 1200m above our motorhome. Setting off early to avoid some of the heat we made our way up through Novaglio and Manegra on a combination of road and forest trails until around 3 hours later we reached the summit. Sweating heavily in the midday heat we took some time to take in the incredible panorama laid out before us.

Looking south we could see to the end of Lake Maggiore stretching into the flatter landscape of northern Italy, to the north and west the rest of the Lake stretching into Switzerland the where the distant Alps stood topped by clouds and to the east across the lake the faint outline of more mountains. We just sat taking it in.

Eventually moving on to start our descent, we discovered in the hills a network of first world war defences. Built by the Italians against the threat of an Austro-German invasion through Switerland, tunnels and gun placements half covered by grass jutted out of the hillside. The soldiers that would have been stationed here certainly had a fine view. Descending through the ruins and down the hillside with the Lake in sight the whole way was  magical and as we finally reached the shore we felt very lucky to have chosen this spot.

Sadly the rain set in on our second full day (Friday), but with tired legs we enjoyed the opportunity to relax and catch up on our reading looking out on the water. With the change in weather a completely different mood had descended on the Lake, still peaceful but looking larger and more powerful than the tranquil sunny lake of yesterday.

Happily the sun returned on Saturday and we put our hiking boots back on. This time we headed back towards Verbania and descended into nearby Ghiffa where we whiled away some time by the waters edge enjoying the postcard scenery which put us in a real holiday mood. It was actually quite hard to tear ourselves away and climb back up the hill with sleepy legs.

Our first destination was SS Trinita Sacro Monte, a collection of chapels overlooking the lake each depicting different biblical scenes in statues and paintings. From here we passed into the nature reserve above Ghiffa and made our way around the fringe of the reserve through the sweet smelling forests before heading back to the camping for dinner. Although a far less dramatic walk than our trek to Morellissimo, the quiet paths in the forest kept us cooler from the baking sun and still gave amazing viewpoints over Lake Maggiore.

On our final evening at La Sierra we were very fortunate to get chatting with our neighbours Paul and Elaine who were motorhome touring with their two dogs, Bombo and Sammy and their two very elderly cats, following 2.5 years living on a narrowboat, before heading back to Australia where they had lived for 30 odd years.

 Having already made it through France to the Algarve and back up, we shared stories of different places, lifestyles and means of transport. Paul and Elaine are lovely and have been blogging and posting up their photos for 3 years since moving onto their narrowboat, making Sammy and Bombo stars of the towpaths!

As Sunday dawned and we prepared and packed the van for the road, saying our goodbyes to Paul and Elaine, we felt contented with our excellent stay at Lake Maggiore and excited to explore the smaller Lake d'Orta nearby, our next destination.

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