The view from our hotel room in Stresa

The WXXI Travel Club landed in Milan Sunday morning, jazzed and tired after an overnight flight from New York.  A bus carried us through hills, vineyards, and quarries to the resort town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore, a few miles from the Swiss border.  Here was everything already loved and familiar; emerald woods, sapphire waters, hills, fragrant gardens.  I’ve heard the Finger Lakes compared to Italy, and now I see why. OK, the Alps are a wee bit more dramatic, but still, for me the feeling is not unlike meeting someone for the first time and sensing you’ve known him your whole life.


We strolled on the same promenade Romantic poets followed on The Grand Tour.  We gazed on the same snow-capped mountains Winston Churchill saw while honeymooning in Stresa.  Ernest Hemmingway recovered here from injuries he suffered during the First World War (he set A Farewell to Arms on Lake Maggiore), and we managed to find the Hemmingway Suite in the fancy Grand Hotel del Iles Borromees down the street.


Our own hotel is equally splendid, a Victorian-era tiered affair facing the lake. When some of the WXXI travelers threw open their hotel windows, pigeons flew in. I have no videos of the scoldings that ensured, but evidence suggests these birds understand English. There’s a grand piano in the lobby which, a hundred years ago, monster keyboardist and composer Ferruccio Busoni played and signed.  I love these connections to history! 


Yesterday a ferry carried some of us to a small island, Isola Bella, where, over centuries, a wealthy Italian family built a palace and formal gardens. We passed through dozens of richly-decorated rooms hung with paintings and 16th century Flemish tapestries. We studied the defiant unicorn on the Borromeo family crest and giggled at the family motto, “Humility.”  Really?  But after so much opulence, the object that transfixed me most was a small wooden boat from the Etruscan age, about 550 B.C., pulled out of a nearby bog and scrubbed for display by a 17th century Italian. I wonder if he marveled at this link to the past.