June 20, 2009

Lake Maggiore, lake Orta and the Langhe region

A drive through the Langhe region of Piedmont, tasting wine and food along the way, and enjoying the beautiful shores of the lake Como, Maggiore and Orta.

One-week road trip in June 2009.  Starting and ending at Malpensa (Milan) airport.

We started by driving on the western shore of lake Como, then driving, through Switzerland, to the shores of lake Maggiore. The landscape is beautiful. The lakes are surrounded by steep mountains. The view from the sea, and the view from the mountains are both amazing.

 Lake Como

At the north-western shore of Lake Maggiore we stayed one night near Cannobio, at Hotel Del Lago. The hotel is right by the lake. At night a storm hit, with massive thunder and lightning, and it felt like the whole lake was going to overflow our hotel room, which was on the ground floor. The hotel is nice, it's not too expensive, and has a nice garden by the lake. It has Michelin guide restaurant, but still we were not that happy about the restaurant, it was too posh and very expensive. For other restaurants you had to drive.
This is where we initially wanted to stay, but it was fully booked long time ahead: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g664168-d262530-Reviews-Hotel_Pironi-Cannobio_Lake_Maggiore_Piedmont.html

Next time I would rather stay in Cannobio. This is a charming town with a very nice piazza/harbour.

 Cannobio is a really charming lake side town, at the Northern shore of lake Maggiore, with a nice harbour/piazza

 The streets of Cannobio

Getting his boat ready for a fishing trip on Lago Maggiore

Isola Bella and Mottarone mountain
We drove on to Stresa. This is a nice town but it is extremely touristy, probably because it has easy access to the island Isola Bella.

We took the cable car up to mount Mottarone with breathtaking views of lake Maggiore.

Mattarone - with great views of the surrounding mountains and lake Maggiore

From Stresa we also took a ferry to visit the island Isola Bella. This is one of the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore. The island consists of a palazzo which they started to build in 1632 for Carlo III of the influential House of Borromeo, and which was dedicated to his wife, Isabella D'Adda, from whom the island takes its name. There is a baroque garden - unlike anything I have ever seen. There are also streets, a few shops and restaurants. You can also visit the other islands but we only visited this one.

Isola Bella, lake Maggiore, and the amazing baroque garden
Orta San Giulio
We drove on to lake Orta and the town of Orta San Giulio. Lake Orta is one of the smallest and least-known of northern Italy's sub-Alpine lakes.
Here, we had booked a hotel in the center, but I had booked it for the wrong date, and the place was fully booked, but luckily the owners also ran another hotel a little bit further from the center, but still in walking distance, and they offered us a room there.

And this is the hotel we ended up staying at. It was frienly, simple and inexpensive, but I would rather stay at the one in the center next time: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187854-d262209-Reviews-Santa_Caterina-Orta_San_Giulio_Piedmont.html

Orta San Giulio is beautiful!

We drove south to the wine country of Piedmont. Here, we stayed for three nights at La Villa, a beautiful place in the countryside between  and north of Alba and Acqui Terme http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g1057042-d556879-Reviews-La_Villa_Hotel-Mombaruzzo_Piedmont.html
Although this was a very relaxing place with a nice pool, we regretted not staying in the center of a town, close to some good restaurants. From the hotel we had to drive everywhere, which can be a bit tiring.

 Breakfast at La Villa in Piedmont
The pool at La Villa

Enjoying the local wine and food festival 
We had one amazing experience on our first night in the wine country. Our hotel was close to Mombaruzzo, a small, typical Piedmont town with narrow streets and a few church towers. We drove by it on our way to the hotel, and although it was extremely quiet there were signs of an annual food and wine festival taking place that same night. The hotel staff recommended we check it out, and luckily we did.

Entering the town, it had changed character completely. There were tables in the middle of the streets, people everywhere, and the different wine producers had sat up there stands and offered their wine to taste, along with the local food producers offering home made meals. When entering you simply bought a wine glass in a little bag to hang around you neck. Then you could taste any wine you desired. For the food, you purchased coupons. I think we were the only foreigners there.
At the food festival

Itinerario Enogastronomico - lungo le vie del centro storico: degustazioni vini dei produttori locali, grappe e piatti tipici http://www.comune.mombaruzzo.at.it/
Touring Piedmont
We drove all over the place in the Langhe region and visited places like Alba, Asti, La Morra, Barolo, Barbaresco.... Hills with wines everywhere, tiny hilltop villages with their church spires, great wine and food at every corner.

Terje and I both enjoy drinking good wine but we don't have an extensive interest in wine, and therefore we did not visit any vinyards. To us, driving around the wine country got a bit monotonous after a coupple of days (sorry..).
Thus, our last day we drove to the coast of Liguria. Driving through the mountains separating Piedmont and Liguria was a great experience. The highway is built right through the mountains.

Ligurian coast