07 January 2011

Lesa-Lake Maggiore, between the highest peaks of Europe and the most glittering Italian metropolitan areas

LESA - Lake Maggiore - Italy
Perfect touristic village for geographical and cultural centrality, and for leasure

“TACCUINI” have far-back been wanted to dedicate an article to Lesa - Lake Maggiore (Novara), lake locality where its offices are, together with “creative tourism laboratory” created and sponsorized by them, called "Casabella", like the name of the most important International architecture magazine of the world, of which in here we keep an over 50-years-old collection, which underlines our interest for architecture in particular.

Lesa’s gulf, the small harbor, the new lakeside, the Parrocchiale Church (picture taken by Enrico Mercatali)

"TACCUINI" wanted to dedicate this writing to Lesa because we believe that this small locality, on the western banks of low Verbano, has particular qualities that other towns or villages in the same geographic area don’t have; they are pretty rare considered in their whole, and we can affirm that they deserve to be promoted to the ones who are looking for a place where they can have a break and get a short holiday, in range of our territory.

Lesa: view of the new North lakeside, next to the building which hosts sport and social activities (ex “Labour Society”), where you can rent canoes and powerboats. On the background, the village center (picture by Enrico Mercatali)

A perfect vacation, in Lesa, for the places you can see around, could last three or four days, or even a week, you want to to reach also other places. Three days can be enough to get an idea of the surroundings and see a little bit of them. Four ore more days will let you have a more exhaustive sight of the main localities and attractions offered by the area. A longer stay is ideal for specialists, specific lovers of the area and of its main components, or the ones who look for a particular contact in Ossola mountains’ wilderness or its numerous and ancient valleys.

Lesa: near the harbor for private boats and fishing activities, Villa Stampa,
Alessandro Manzoni’s summer residence (picture taken by Enrico Mercatali)

It is necessary that we also explain why we see Lesa as a barycentre. This is in relation to the distance that separates the western bank of low Lake Maggiore from the places of origin of its visitors, and to the reasons that make Lesa the motive of their choice. So let’s start by saying that who comes from far away (looking at experiences that TACCUINI has already made), which means from extra continental Countries (America, Africa, Australia, Asia), with the purpose of visiting Italy starting from the North (maybe to move then towards the Centre South), lands in Malpensa. And what’s a more tempting place next to Malpensa, for a stay of few days, than Lake Maggiore? At this point you only have to find the quietest, greenest, less crowded, most centered place between the sites promoted by all the world guides : it’s Lesa, obviously, where people come also because you can find desirable welcoming places, without “coming down” to the hotel temples of Stresa and Baveno, completed with prohibitive tariffs.

Lesa: The new Nort lakeside, in the direction of Belgirate (picture taken by Enrico Mercatali)

What we’ve just said is always valid, both if the guest decides to see or even catch a glimpse of the big cities (Milan, Turin, Genoa etc.) and if he wants to focus on the “local products” (Borromee Islands, Villa Taranto’s Gardens, Orta San Giulio and its Lake, Mottarone, Ossola Valleys, etc.), or if he wants to move towards news, or more specifical aspects (Sacred Mounts, wine tours in Novara hills and Gattinara, until Langhe – wine Museum), or Winderness Paths (Centovalli and Vigezzo, with the “Vigezzina”, Grande Valley, Rosa Mount, Toce Falls, etc.).

Lesa: the start of the “Queen Street”, walkway that links Lesa to Belgirate, where they say Alessandro Manzoni used to walk, here in Lesa’s hystorical centre, next to the homonymous Museum, which collects the relics belonged to him and found in Villa Stampa
(pictures taken by Enrico Mercatali)

The locality of Lesa is always a valid base for each one of these destinations; actually, we could say the most vaild one. Yes, because every other neighbouring place could have some counter-indication that you must consider, while many people do this hardly ever when they make a choice. For example who chooses to stay in Orta will be too far away from Varese’s Lakes (Campo dei Fiori, Sacer Mount in Varese, Villa Panza of Biumo etc.), as well as who stays in Verbania will be near Lake Maggiore, but far from low Novara’s destinations (Novara hills, Ghemme and Gattinara, Antonelli tours, Milan, Turin).

Lesa: one of the “Wrinkles” perpendicular to the bank, inside the ancient part of the centre, which connect
Sempione Highway to the top of the built-up area (pictures taken by Enrico Mercatali)

This was the first example. But it is true also for the ones who come from European Countries, by car, toh ave a vacation in Italy 15 or 20 days long, generally in Veneto,Tuscany or Rome and stops for some days in Lombardy and Piedmont Lakes. The itineraries are usually of two kinds: some people go see the other Northern Lakes (Iseo and Garda), and their visit ends in Venice and the neighbouring beaches; some others decide to see Tuscany and Umbria. A few keep moving until Rome, as well as a few swerve to Liguria. Only a few go to the South, if they come from Northern Europe (France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, etc.).

Lesa: two images of Sporting Club, a sport centre built in the 50’s with remarkable sense of contest and width, with equipment for summer bathing (olympic swimming pool with a 5-metres high diving board), a swimming pool for kids, tennis fields, changing rooms, a small spa with turkish bath and snack-bar. The centre is located in Erno peninsula, close to B&B Casabella, near the locality of Villa Lesa
(picture taken by Enrico Mercatali)

The third group is constituted by italian tourism. It’s a pretty adrift tourism, if we can use this expression, without any chance to be classified in specific schemes or possible case records. Few rules, a lot of individuality, a few days before coming back home, and so never-far destinations, unless they’re part of package tours which include flight and hotel.

During the time, and in this past years in particular, TACCUINI has started some activities which have brought us to a greater contact with the public (italian but most of all foreigner); this, together with “Lesa-Project”, through which we have supplanted the metropolis and elected Lesa the perfect place of residence, we have understood that it can really be an ideal site for a vacation, the “lake vacation” that is becoming today, after so much time of indifference and refusal, one of the most required and appreciated ones.

Bellinzona: the central court of Castelgrande, splendid manor house from the XII Century, wonderfully restored, site of an Art Museum.

We suggest that you visit it together with the locality of North-West Verbano, or the Tour of Lake Maggiore Express (Locarno, Centovalli, Vigezzo, Domodossola).
Of course, to completely understand this choice (staying in Lesa for three, four or more days) and provide incentives to it, you need to get the point of view not of the metropolitan individual, who just wants to have a relaxing weekend, but of the ones who come from Europe and from all over the World, who want to see Italy and are looking for an halfway stop in respect to the main destination, which could be Venice, Rome or Florence; or maybe they want a tour focused on the landscape alpine areas of the North West, between Switzerland and Italy, with sporadic visits to Milan and Turin (just to get to see “The last Supper” or walk into the “Lingotto”).

Stresa: "Bella" Island. “The most beautiful Island of the World”, belonging to the borromeo archipelago, together with Madre and Pescatori islands; all of them are beautiful in their peculiar characteristics, and you can’t miss their visit if you decide to see their zone.

These lake destinations have now become trendy, especially for the ones who come from foreign countries, also because of the low prices offered by our Country, connecting the idea of vacation to the one of “health and taste” or “relax and environment”, and also considering the presence of important cultural destinations, such as famous monuments or illustrious art works. In fact, they are still an element of great call, but they are not an exclusive factor anymore, especially during the “high” season, since they have become destinations full of possible stress and effort because of the overcrowding.

Novara: bird’s-eye view of Novara’s old town. The very beautiful and original Antonelli’s cupola stands out; together with the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, it is an example of rare beauty of Piedmont neoclassical architecture of the XIX Century. Since Alessandro Antonelli’s work is almost entirely concentrated in this area, it is advisable, for the passionates, to experience the entire Antonelli tour (possible by appointment), which will take place between Novara, the main localities of Novara hills and Turin.

Almost everyone of us is by now looking for a group of factors focused on slow contents, on quieter horizons, to “enjoy” and maybe to get a chance to “dream”.
These are the main reasons why The Great Italian Lakes (the Swiss ones keep being less desirable for the climate) have come back in fashion, since the great times of the XVII and XVIII Century; they have become the pin of an idea of healthy tourism made out of kept promises, and not only a destinations for elderly couple, but rather for young people, couple or families who look for cultural destinations, with famous sites and beautiful museums, but they also want to enjoy freah air in the uncontaminated green of parks and natural reserves, and see castles and wines, with all the pleasures by them offered, in the most different ways and with the most various targets, from town festivals to the highest gourmet levels.

Already an israelitic temple, the Mole Antonelliana, in Turin, is today –after important repairs- site of the new beautiful Cinema Museum, realized by the swiss architect Francois Confino, which documents in particular Turin in the first years of the XX century, as the most important european site of cinema, at the age of mute, where movies now become part of the History of the Cinema have been produced

In all of this, Piedmont is “full speed ahead”, and already starts excelling, because it is better than Tuscany or South Italy (the latter has its own problems which determine an impassable limit). But in Piedmont and in its Lakes, you can find a 360 degree offer, which has no equals, maybe even in France. In this wide and attracting context (it is seen so by Canada, Israel, California and Finland, Australia and England), the context of which Lesa is the center, Lesa appears the way it actually is, a small lake village with its extended town territory, full of hamlets which are many other small villages, and create a sort of landscape frame on a hill position, complementary to the lake. Its geographic position, in the wide territory that is today an international and intercontinental destination, constituted by Piedmont and Lombardy lakes and the close italian side of the Alps, is in a central point. It is central because it is a barycentre for back and forth movements, but also in psychological terms, because you can plan many different days, and find a comfortable stay for long periods of time. As an article appeared on the insert “ITALIA PIU’” of the Sole 24 Ore (june 2010) said, Lesa “is in the middle of one of the richest and most influential european areas, both economically and culturally: the Alps, the lakes and the big urban areas of Milan and Turin are only one hour away from there. The hospitality offered is demanded in every corner of the world, also because of thecentral position in one of the most sought areas of beauty and quietness existing: the Borromeo Gulf and its islands, Orta lake and San Giulio Island, the “Sacred Mounts” and the artistic works between XVI and XVIII Century, the Mottarone mount and Ossola Valleys, with their walser traditions and their thermal baths, the wilderness of Grande Valley, between the most exclusive ones in Europe, breathtaking golf courses, fine wines, botanical gardens between the most beautiful ones in the world and cultural events of international call”.

A glimpse of Lake Maggiore Express, the small train that goes through Centovalli and Vigezzo Valley, between Locarno and Domodossola, oassing through extremely high points, many galleries and wonderful hollows. We suggest the complete tour, which leaves from Stresa and comes back to stresa (with hydrofoil, small train and train of State Railway that stops in Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the most suggestive cultural walser centers crossed by Vigezzina).

All of this is what Lesa clearly represents, if we think that we’re not only at the centre of this attractive painting, and obviously a lot more than what these lines can say, but also if we think that we feel in such a comfortable and appropriate way, immersed in the green of Erno river’s peninsula, near Castellaccio (ancient hill fort from the XVII Century used for the payment of commercial tributes), or in the green of the surrounding hills. In a few minutes the tourist can reach the small harbor by foot, where he can find many good restaurants, go to the free beaches of the lakeside, or try the best relax in the sport center with swimming pool and tennis fields, turkish bath and cafeteria. In a few minutes by car he can also reach Arona or Stresa.

Milano: the entrance Tower to Sforza’s Castle in Milan, called “of Filarete” (from the name of the architect who projected it in 1400), which emerges from behind the gushes of the fountain in front of it, built during the Fascist period, looking like a giant “wedding cake”
(picture taken by Enrico Mercatali)

In the fisrt one you can find a great night life and visit San Carlo Colossus (unfinished part of a sacred mount dedicated to it), in the second one you can have access to Borromeo Islands, and, through a cableway, reach Mottarone mountain. In both of the towns you’ll find dozens of restaurants, pizzerias and bars for any taste and availability. With an equal distance of time, in half an hour from Lesa the tourist can reach all the surrounding lakes, such as Varese and Orta lakes, and see Orta village on the banks of the latter (with San Giulio Island and its Sacer Mount), romantic destination rich in cultural events and artistic and natural beauties.

Milano, interior of Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, the such-called “Salon of Milan”, which links Duomo Square with Scala Square, really loved by the people leaving here who identify themselves with it

Moving from Lesa to the North, or to the South, in 30-50 minutes the tourist will be able to visit the towns of Intra and Pallanza, with the beautiful Villa Taranto Gardens, or the small towns of Ghiffa, Cannero and Cannobio, Novara Hills, with the famous wineries, or artistic and commercial centers such as Novara and Vercelli. One hour away, almost at the same distance, the cities of Milan and Turin, which we won’t describe here in their details, since one hundred pages wouldn’t be enough for all the monuments, museums, centers of interest and big institutions of international and intercontinental call.
Lesa, September 22th 2010
Enrico Mercatali
(translation from italian by Penelope Mirotti)

Milano: the main facade of the Dome, recently cleaned, shows the beauty of Candoglia’s pink marble, of wich it is made out: the marble, lightly veined with grey, comes from Candoglia’s quarries, near Toce river’s outlet, in Ossola valley. Starting from Renaissance period, this material has been carried, without any interruption, from the quarries to the “Laghetto” (today Laghetto Street), behind the Dome construction site, through Toce river, Lake Maggiore, Ticino river and the Great Canal, which led to the whole system of canals in Milan. The facade was realized in the 19th Century in Gothic style, while the original part realized in the 14th Century is the apse, with three big windows, the biggest ones realized in that period in the whole Europe.

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