Copyright © Louise Bostock 2007-2013. Please give credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Carmine Superiore & Lago Maggiore: a brief & very personal guide

Carmine Superiore is a tiny village perched on an outcrop of rock overlooking Italy's stunning Lago Maggiore. It was founded towards the end of the 10th century AD as a fortified place to which people from the surrounding area could go in times of trouble. Having said that, the bare rock outside my front door is engraved with what the experts believe to be Neolithic carvings, so the immediate area seems to have been a place of habitation, or at least ritual, for at least two thousand years before that. (You'll find a potted history of the village here.)

Most visitors come up here in search of the Chiesa di San Gottardo, Carmine's beautiful little Romanesque church. Built in the 14th century, the church is covered inside and out with some truly beautiful Lombardy-School frescoes, painted in the 15th century. The frescoes were recently restored under the direction of the Comune di Cannobio and are a wonderful sight. Some details are featured in the slideshow in the sidebar.



Interior, Chiesa di San Gottardo.
Copyright © dalbuio, reproduced by kind permission.

Part of what makes Carmine Superiore so special is the fact that there are no cars here. Why? For the simple reason that there is no road. Whoever comes up here walks (and its a rise of about 100m vertical). And whatever they bring with them normally comes up on their back. For what this means in real life, see here. The hill is a constant in our lives. Almost everything we do is informed or necessitated by the hill. It is one of our biggest bugbears. But it is also one of Carmine's greatest attractions. One tour leader this summer put it in a nutshell. He said that for his visitors it was not so much reaching the destination that mattered, but it was "the spirit of the walk" that gives them so much satisfaction. I guess you value something just that little bit more if you have to work for it.

The personal bit
When I first came to live here, Carmine was mostly deserted, at least, there was no-one living here all year round. The centre of a thriving agricultural settlement before the start of the 20th century, the village had gradually emptied out (for the reasons, see here), and the last full-time resident had moved down the hill in the early 1990s. Many of the houses, though, had been bought as holiday homes and renovated in the 1970s, but some buildings still stood empty. After an association with the village that went back more than 30 years, my husband and I were offered the chance to buy two interlinked houses in 2001. In a fit of passion for the place, we rearranged our lives so that we could live here all year round, and in 2004, at the ripe old age of 40, I gave birth to our son, AJ. He was the first child to be born resident here for more than 60 years.

I now have two children who love to scream around the cobbled car-free alleyways, playing in the mud, kicking up a fuss and doing their best to disturb Carmine's ages-old serenity. But I still love those rare sparkling winter days, wrapped up in a warm sweater, drinking a mug of strong, sweet tea by the church, with a view over the lake, knowing that I am truly alone with the world spread out below me.

This post talks a bit more about life up here for a mother in the 21st century.

So what's to see and do hereabouts?

A very personal visitor's guide
Carmine is part of the comune of Cannobio, a small town just along the lake to the north. It's situated on the mouth of the Cannobina River, and was originally a Celtic settlement way back when. Cannobio is a gem. Its people are friendly, and its old town - with parts dating back to the Middle Ages - is charming. In the summer, the place is heaving with visitors, mostly German or Dutch. Cannobio's lungolago, the lakeside walk, is a great place to stroll and eat supper in the evenings, and water sports at the beach keep visitors of all ages happy. All year round the lungolago is the scene of an enormous Sunday morning street market, which is visited by tens of thousands each year, and the summer finds it a venue for musical entertainments, festivals and other events.

Cannobio's old harbour.
Copyright © tschutsch, reproduced by kind permission.

Moving further north along the winding lake road, you hit the border with the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino (passports at the ready), which is perhaps best-known for its association with writer Hermann Hesse, who lived in the area from 1919 to 1931. Ascona is the Swiss town that lies at the northernmost end of Lago Maggiore, a more expensive and rather more sedate counterpart to Italy's Cannobio. Ascona's summer highlight is the Ascona Jazz Festival, ten days of jazz in venues around the town, not least along the lungolago with the lake as a stunning backdrop. We also enjoy Ascona's February Carnevale celebrations. In winter, the lungolago is busy with ladies in fur coats, dripping with jewels and walking their poodles. You know the kind of thing.

Moving further north on the road towards the mountain passes of San Bernardino and San Gottardo, there is the city of Bellinzona, capital of the canton of Ticino. Bellinzona boasts not one, but three castles, which together form a
UNESCO world heritage site. Dating back almost 2,000 years, the castles are said to be the finest example of medieval fortifications in the whole of Switzerland.

If, instead of heading north along the lake road from Carmine, you head in a southerly direction, the first town you come across is Cannero Riviera.


Cannero Riviera.
Copyright © ladigue_99, reproduced by kind permission.


The beach here is tucked away in a sheltered south-facing bay, and so while Cannobio is great for windsurfers and all sorts of water sports, Cannero is better for the less strenuous sports of sunbathing, paddling and people-watching. Cannero is famous at Christmas time for its nativity scenes. They seem to be on every corner and in every garden as you stroll around the town, which is beautifully decorated for Christmas. Some include not only the Christ child in the stable, but also entire landscapes peopled with figures carrying out agricultural and everyday tasks, rivers with real water that really flow, angels that fly through the air. Enchanting!

If you don't want to take your car along the lake road, it is possible to walk from Cannero to Carmine, and then along to Cannobio, along the ancient footpath, known as the Via delle Genti, which pre-dates the lakeside route. In fact, what's said to be part of the Roman road still exists in the midst of the woodlands. This is a lovely walk. It takes some time, and is 'moderate' in difficulty. Sensible shoes and perhaps a walking stick are recommended. Here you'll see the remains of the former settlements : broken walls, crumbling houses and stables, gardens for so long made to thrive and for so long now deserted.


If you're planning the walk and want to see inside the church when you get here, drop me an email or knock on my door, and if I'm around I'll try to arrange something for you. If I'm not, speak to the immensely helpful people at the tourist information office in Via Giovanola, Cannobio, near the church.

If you don't want to drive and you don't want to walk, the third possibility is to take a boat, and if you do this, between Carmine and Cannero you will run into the imposing Castelli di Cannero, the ruins of two medieval castles set on islands in the middle of the lake. The castles have a long and pretty swashbuckling history, full of ruthless pirates, noble Milanese dukes and downtrodden serfs. For the full story, see here.



Castelli di Cannero.
Copyright © Anton Engelsman, reproduced by kind permission.

Beyond Cannero, heading south along the west side of the lake, you come to Verbania, the provincial capital. Verbania is made up of three separate towns - Pallanza, Intra and Suna. The towns were gathered together into one entity under the Mussolini regime, and, consistent with Mussolini's ideology of reviving Italy's great Classical identity, the Roman name for the lake (Verbano) was used.

Verbania Pallanza
Copyright © gneopompeo, reproduced by kind permission.


As you would expect from a capital, Verbania has lots to offer. The old town is crammed with good shopping, and the lakeside area in particular is a good place to be if you're feeling peckish. Year round, there is a full diary of concerts, film, theatre and dance, plus activities for children and local festivals. Carnevale is particularly colourful. One of the most famous of Verbania's sights is Villa Taranto with its beautiful botanical gardens. A visit to the Museo del Paesaggio, Verbania's museum of archaeology, painting and sculpture, is also well worthwhile.



Villa Taranto.
Copyright © corto.maltese
, reproduced by kind permission.


Of course, the big presence in the region is Lago Maggiore. How could I forget! Fifty-four kilometres long, the lake is the second largest of Italy's northern lakes after Lake Garda. The lake has a number of islands large enough for settlements. In the Swiss sector are the Brissago Islands, the largest of which has a beautiful botanical garden (take a boat from Porto Ronco). Further south lie the Borromeo Islands - Isola Madre (18th-century botanical gardens and the 16th-century Palazzo Borromeo), Isola Bella (a second Palazzo Borromeo, and home to the annual Stresa Music Festival, with connections to Italy's favourite condutor, Arturo Toscanini) and Isola dei Pescatori (ancient narrow streets, great fish restaurants, as the name suggests). For the Borromeo Islands, take a boat from Intra, Pallanza, Stresa or Baveno.

And as if the lake isn't enough, there are also the mountains all around. The Val Grande National Park is Italy's largest wilderness area, offering miles and miles of marked trails. A few miles into Switzerland and you're in the beautiful Val Verzasca, and can also reach Valle Maggia and the Centovalli.

Centovalli baita.
Copyright © soulsister, reproduced by kind permission.

Nearby mountain peaks include Monte Carza (1100m), Monte Zeda (2157m), Monte Mottarone (1491m, accessible by cable car) and Cannobio's own Monte Giove (1298m).

I'm of course just skimming the surface of the many things to see and do in the area. I could be waxing lyrical about so many places to see: Orta San Giulio with its car-free old-town, so picturesque that brides fight to be married and photographed here; the stern Rocca d'Angera castle; the 35-m-high statue of San Carlo Borromeo in Arona; the Santa Caterina monastery with its beautiful frescoes, clinging to the side of the cliff and accessible by boat or on foot; and the Sacro Monte at Ghiffa (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). But I know you're already pricing tickets to Milan Linate or Malpensa and looking at the kids' holiday schedules for next year. So I'll return to base for just a couple more paragraphs.



Rocca d'Angera fortress.
Copyright © gneopompeo, reproduced by kind permission.

The changing seasons
One of the greatest gifts Carmine Superiore has given to me, is the opportunity to see and celebrate the changing seasons each year, a virtual impossibility if you live and work on London's South Bank, my former home.


Spring brings the camellias for which Lago Maggiore is justly famous, and planting time in the garden. It brings Carnevale and, later, Easter, with the real-life chicks we time to hatch on Easter Day for the delight of all the children.

Summer brings the pipistrelli back to Carmine's nighttime skies and wakes the scrabbling dormice in the attics. There are busy days in the garden and lazy days on the beach. Carmine fills up with summer visitors, and the lake is a-flutter with colourful sails.



Week after week, the various towns round about find an excuse for fireworks and celebrations, and we in Carmine are in the evenings to be found on the church 'piazza', glass in hand, for a perfect view. When kindergarten closes for the year at the end of June, our routine changes, to include a daily dip from Carmine's very own pebble beach at the foot of the hill. July is the hottest month, with August and September gradually cooling until, some time in October we get the first rains (that'd be about now).

Autumn brings castagne and funghi, and what seems like the entire population is to be found in the woods in search of sweet chestnuts and the much-prized porcini mushrooms. Most towns and villages (even my son's kindergarten) put on a castagnata, with huge pans of chestnuts roasting over open fires. Autumn also brings wild boar to root around in any garden with an open gate, causing havoc among the spring bulbs.

The All Saints holiday signals the start of winter for many people, as they bring candles and flowers to the graves of their loved-ones and attend mass in memory of those who have left us (this year, too many). Winter is most often a season of dry, sunny days with clear brilliant blue skies and a glassy lake, but sometimes we have some snow. After All Saints, everyone seems to want to hibernate, but before anyone can get too snuggled in, the Christmas lights are up and the nativity scenes are being dusted off. Christmas is celebrated with pannetone and mulled wine, and on Epiphany, La Befana, an ugly old witch, brings gifts to all the children. In Cannobio, the Christmas holiday is extended by two days for the annual celebration of the town's patronal festival, during which the entire old town is lit by thousands and thousands of candles, and the SS Pieta' is brought in procession from one church to another.


Cannobio's candlelight patronal festival.
Copyright © ladigue_99, reproduced by kind permission.


At the end of January, Cannobio's townspeople take part in a night-time lantern-light walk through the woodlands, a pilgrimage to mark mid-winter that has its roots in the time of the Romans and perhaps even earlier.


When I first came to live in Italy, a colleague in Milan told me she disliked Lago Maggiore in the winter. She thought of the lake at this time of year as being 'abandoned', 'triste' and 'unloved'. But today, as I look out of my kitchen window and see the first sprinkling of snow on the distant Alps and the lake lying below me, steely and calm, I know that my love for this place, with its age-old memories and its big-hearted people, can only grow with the years. While I'm still here, the lake, and above all Carmine, will never be unloved.

Have a good day - and to all you Americans reading, please, please elect the right guy!

Come back to Sasso Carmine soon!




Unless indicated otherwise, all text and pictures copyright © Louise Bostock 2007, 2008. All rights reserved. My grateful thanks go to all the Flickr members who so kindly gave me permission to use their beautiful images - thank-you for your collaboration at such short notice.

67 comments:

Braja said...

Beautiful Louise, just beautiful...I couldn't help feeling like an intruder even reading this piece, what to speak of visiting: what a truly charmed and beautiful corner of the world...
Have a wonderful day...

Debbie said...

WOW! That was fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing your little slice of heaven with us. It seems so romantic and so far away from the life I lead here in the US...big box stores, traffic, noise etc. It just sounds heavenly! Thanks so much for giving us this tour. I really appreciate it!

Gombojav Tribe said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Thank you for the tour!!!

Jori-O said...

What a beautifully thorough tour! It's hard to believe people live in such places....I thought they only existed in books and fairy tales. Thank you so much for sharing!

Julie said...

wow that sounds amazing... it reminds me of when we were driving through Austria in the mountains and the lakes were crystal blue and the villages just so beautiful... I could not believe people actually LIVE there... wow. I need to come visit!!! Thanks for the tour

Darcy @ LWM3B said...

Buon giorno d'Iowa!

Thanks for the tour! I miss Italy a ton. It was nice to see it again, if only glimpses through the photos.

Lady Dorothy said...

What an amazing place to live! Thank you for introducing us to your home.

Greetings from California! And I will do my best to elect the right guy!

JourneytoFamily said...

What an amazing place to live and raise a family. My favorite was the Medieval castle in the middle of the lake with the piratey history. Thanks for the awesome tour! (visiting from Los Angeles, CA)

traveler one said...

What an awesome post! I'm overwhelmed by the effort that you've put into introducing us to your piece of Italian heaven! WOW! I'll bookmark your blog for future visits.

Cairo Typ0 said...

Congrats on your BAtW day!!!

It's now official: i'm moving in with you! What a beautiful, romantic place to live. *sigh*

Thank you the wonderful tour!! :)

Sarah said...

Wow! Awesome post and what a tour! I felt like I was almost there - at least in my dreams. Thanks for sharing your beautiful world and putting in all the time to write so beautifully about it (though I'm guessing it's not hard to write about somewhere with so much magic that holds a strong place in your heart!).

Best wishes to you and your family.

Sarah
(New Zealand)

Nifty Adventures into Denmark said...

Wow!!! What an amazing tour! I am very jealous of where you are living.

chrysalis said...

Great blog!!!! You should have been a travel writer!! :o))

Betty said...

What a beautiful and interesting place to live! You are truly blessed!
Happy BATW day!

LadyFi said...

Thanks for the lovely tour - and what beautiful photos you were allowed to use!

I really enjoyed visiting this part of the world.

Tutti bene!

Patti said...

What a beautiful tour!! I enjoyed reading and seeing the pictures. What a beautiful country you live in!! Im here from BATW and Texas!!

Brenda Jean said...

I really am speechless. I'm leaving your blog post up for my husband and teen son to see. Wow. I would so love to visit you in person, not just virtually!

Thank you SOOOO much!

Keeper of the Skies Wife said...

That was amazing!! Thank you for the beautiful in depth tour!

Becky Welch said...

OOOH! I want to come and visit so bad!! Thanks for the amazing tour! Enjoy your BATW day!

Teaching Diligently said...

Beautiful . . . what a way to start my day.

Thank you for a wonderful tour.

Stacey said...

What a beautiful place you are blessed to live!!! I enjoyed that so much; thank you so much for taking the time to introduce us to your gorgeous corner of the world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Louise,
This episode of your blog is amongst your very best. Absolutely stunning, congratulations, a really superb piece of descriptive English. You really know your stuff. Write that book !

Melissa B. said...

What a beautiful, expressive, heart-felt tour! I LOVE Italy...when visiting, I've always felt as if I were just plopped down in a beautiful Master's Painting. I'm so happy that I was able to visit again today...thanks so much inviting BATW to your country, and wish us luck on our own Election Day today!

Ronnica said...

How cool! Having to take everything up the hill would certainly lend itself to a simple lifestyle.

Joy in the Burbs... said...

Your writing is beautiful and your home is beautiful. I've been visiting your site for a few days now so I was so excited to see you were the feature blogger today. Keep writing for us and post pictures for us. Places like this only exist in most of our dreams, I hope to visit one day and see these lovely parts of the world. I'll knock on your door if I do :)
Love from Texas,
Joy

Denyse said...

How amazing! Thanks for the close-up and very personal tour! Beautiful.

Bug said...

Wow...Beautiful! Thank you for taking us on this wonderful tour of your area! I hope to see that part of the world sometime in my lifetime!

Visiting you from Illinois from BATW.

Man and Kat said...

Visiting from BATW!! Thanks for the tour. You are so lucky to live in a place so beautiful and with so much history!

Oh2122 said...

Oh, my. It's lovely!

I haven't been anywhere in Europe in almost 6 years. I think Italy may be next!

We forget how young America really is...

Happy BATW day!

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

I'm so glad I clicked over from BATW.
Your post was so informative. And beautiful!

Thank you for sharing!

Elena said...

Wow! It is almost unfathomable to hear of such a place. Sounds absolutely gorgeous and I love that your children were born there. Amazing! Thank you for sharing.

Amanda said...

What a gorgeous looking place to live! After a day in one of the world's biggest (and I suspect smelliest) cities, it's lovely to see such a beautiful, relaxed place.

"The Queen in Residence" said...

What a truly enchanting place to live. Places with so much history are almost alive with it....
Thanks for the visit. I want to visit Italy even more now!

SKELLER said...

What a perfectly fascinating and magical life you lead!! Of course, after your stories re: the joys and difficulties of THE HILL, I'm dying to see a picture (perhaps it's somewhere on your site, but I couldn't find it).
Thanks for taking us all on such a lovely tour.
Visiting from BATW, Susan

Breanne said...

Wow - what a tour. SO beautiful. Thanks.

Amy said...

Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. It was beautiful.

Ashley said...

Wow! You have really found a gem! Congrats on your BATW feature!

Mamasphere said...

Such an incredibly lovely post. My heart is in Italy ever since I studied art there (Firenze). I would love to go back, possibly even live there, but my future holds a move to Brasil instead (my husband is Brasilian). I LOVED reading about the rock you call home. What a fascinating history you are now a part of.

Jen said...

how beautiful! thank you so much for the lovely tour.

Shell said...

Happy BATW day. A lovely and fascinating post. Thank you for sharing

The Hultman's said...

What an amazingly beautiful tour. I feel like I stepped outside of my life and entered into a anceint, romantic story. And I am not normally that sappy! Wonderful!

Ruthanne said...

Oh my! That was truly wonderful. What an experience your children have - growing up surrounded by such history! Thanks so much for all the work you put into the tour.

Lynnette Kraft said...

Thank you for the tour of your lovely Italy - sounds (and looks) wonderful!

How fun to meet people from all over the world...I sit in a little place called Sedgwick, Kansas. There are only about 1200 of us over here. It's quaint and sweet and I love it, but it's quite different than where you live. :)We can all appreciate where God has each of us, huh?

It was nice visiting!
Lynnette

Sharon (sk) said...

WOW! Just... WOW!

How blessed you are! Your children are getting to grow up with such a rich experience as their childhood. It sounds so wonderful. :)

Oh yeah... Hi there from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi USA and BATW!

Tracy P. said...

Absolutely stunning! I want to come right now. Really. My nephew will be in Italy (Florence) in the spring, and I am so envious.

So, could you tell me who the right guy is, so I can vote for him? I'm not so sure, myself. ;-) (Oh wait, I already voted. We'll see!!)

psychoknitter said...

Wow, what a beautiful locale!!! How do you find local people accept you as an "outsider"?

I think I need to go to Italy for my next holiday now!

Elizabeth said...

I can tell you really love your adopted hoome. It sounds like a beautiful place to raise a family.

Desi said...

So gorgeous! How wonderful to live in a place with so much charm and tradition. So much culture! I'm jealous!!!!

Aubrey said...

Could it be any more gorgeous there?! Amazing.

Visiting from BATW! Thanks for the tour.

CaraBee said...

What an amazing area! Those photos are absolutely stunning. I keep telling my husband that we need to visit Italy. I'll have to forward this post to him for inspiration!

Deb Burton said...

How are you going to handle all the new tourists to Carmine Superiore after giving such a fabulous tour (I'll be the first to sign up)? I've always wanted to see Italy. Thanks so much for fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Michelle said...

Oh that's beautiful. What a unique (coming from an American)life you live there. It sounds so peaceful and lovely. And I keep thinking about getting children to and from school like that.... :) Wow!

lynn said...

Happy BATW day! Visiting from Wisconsin. What an absolutely wonderful country. Thanks for sharing it with us.

LaDonna said...

Thanks for the wonderful tour! What a gorgeous place to live.

Susie said...

Greetings from Wisconsin in the States:-) Congratulation on your BATW feature. I hope you enjoyed your day in the sun. What a wonderful tour of Italy! Thanks for sharing that:-)

Mrs de Miranda said...

SO SO SO GORGEOUS! It is just breath taking from pictures to words, everything! It is definetly on my list to visit!

greedygrace said...

This is gorgeous! I want to live here! Great tour!

Rebecca said...

Thank you for the wonderful tour! So beautiful!

Gina said...

Absolutely beautiful. I envy you for your beautiful solitude.

Rachel Ann said...

WOW! I wanted to visit before, but now I really want to visit...I need a vacation!

Have a great day!

BPOTW said...

I absolutely love this tour. It's got to be my favorite so far. I read it yesterday, when you were featured, but I was on my phone and couldn't see the pictures. So, now I've seen the pictures and I'm in love. We visited Cinque Terre one time when we lived in Germany. The cities built right on the cliffs at the water's edge is amazing...and the buildings are so colorful.

I'm also trying to remember if it was Lake Garda or Lake Como that we visited. It was all so beautiful.

Once again, thanks so much for the tour!!

Cee said...

Can't wait to get there (or near there!)
Gorgeous post, magical writing.
c

Domestic Executive said...

That's it - decided. When I go back to Europe next year we must get time in Italy. Having moved to New Zealand from the UK I miss Europe and I miss my trips to Italy more.

Thanks for this awesome tour. We stayed in Lago Maggiore for a couple of nights and it was wonderful. You are so very lucky.

CC said...

Thank you so much for sharing the lovely place you call home. It was fascinating reading and I really enjoyed my visit here..(I am from Texas via BATW)..Come visit..:)

MelADramatic Mommy said...

My husband lived in Italy briefly in the Navy and it's on my top 10 list of places to see. The photos are amazing and beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us!

Betsy (zen-mama.com) said...

I love to travel. Thanks for the arm chair tour! Your photos are amazing. I esp. like the one of Verbania Pallanza.

Christopher Shevlin said...

Wow. I'm reading this in Hackney, London, and am feeling very jealous. The photos and descriptions are beautiful, and I'm very taken with the idea of the hill, which makes everything much more difficult and much easier.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Carmine Superiore & Lago Maggiore: a brief & very personal guide

Carmine Superiore is a tiny village perched on an outcrop of rock overlooking Italy's stunning Lago Maggiore. It was founded towards the end of the 10th century AD as a fortified place to which people from the surrounding area could go in times of trouble. Having said that, the bare rock outside my front door is engraved with what the experts believe to be Neolithic carvings, so the immediate area seems to have been a place of habitation, or at least ritual, for at least two thousand years before that. (You'll find a potted history of the village here.)

Most visitors come up here in search of the Chiesa di San Gottardo, Carmine's beautiful little Romanesque church. Built in the 14th century, the church is covered inside and out with some truly beautiful Lombardy-School frescoes, painted in the 15th century. The frescoes were recently restored under the direction of the Comune di Cannobio and are a wonderful sight. Some details are featured in the slideshow in the sidebar.



Interior, Chiesa di San Gottardo.
Copyright © dalbuio, reproduced by kind permission.

Part of what makes Carmine Superiore so special is the fact that there are no cars here. Why? For the simple reason that there is no road. Whoever comes up here walks (and its a rise of about 100m vertical). And whatever they bring with them normally comes up on their back. For what this means in real life, see here. The hill is a constant in our lives. Almost everything we do is informed or necessitated by the hill. It is one of our biggest bugbears. But it is also one of Carmine's greatest attractions. One tour leader this summer put it in a nutshell. He said that for his visitors it was not so much reaching the destination that mattered, but it was "the spirit of the walk" that gives them so much satisfaction. I guess you value something just that little bit more if you have to work for it.

The personal bit
When I first came to live here, Carmine was mostly deserted, at least, there was no-one living here all year round. The centre of a thriving agricultural settlement before the start of the 20th century, the village had gradually emptied out (for the reasons, see here), and the last full-time resident had moved down the hill in the early 1990s. Many of the houses, though, had been bought as holiday homes and renovated in the 1970s, but some buildings still stood empty. After an association with the village that went back more than 30 years, my husband and I were offered the chance to buy two interlinked houses in 2001. In a fit of passion for the place, we rearranged our lives so that we could live here all year round, and in 2004, at the ripe old age of 40, I gave birth to our son, AJ. He was the first child to be born resident here for more than 60 years.

I now have two children who love to scream around the cobbled car-free alleyways, playing in the mud, kicking up a fuss and doing their best to disturb Carmine's ages-old serenity. But I still love those rare sparkling winter days, wrapped up in a warm sweater, drinking a mug of strong, sweet tea by the church, with a view over the lake, knowing that I am truly alone with the world spread out below me.

This post talks a bit more about life up here for a mother in the 21st century.

So what's to see and do hereabouts?

A very personal visitor's guide
Carmine is part of the comune of Cannobio, a small town just along the lake to the north. It's situated on the mouth of the Cannobina River, and was originally a Celtic settlement way back when. Cannobio is a gem. Its people are friendly, and its old town - with parts dating back to the Middle Ages - is charming. In the summer, the place is heaving with visitors, mostly German or Dutch. Cannobio's lungolago, the lakeside walk, is a great place to stroll and eat supper in the evenings, and water sports at the beach keep visitors of all ages happy. All year round the lungolago is the scene of an enormous Sunday morning street market, which is visited by tens of thousands each year, and the summer finds it a venue for musical entertainments, festivals and other events.

Cannobio's old harbour.
Copyright © tschutsch, reproduced by kind permission.

Moving further north along the winding lake road, you hit the border with the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino (passports at the ready), which is perhaps best-known for its association with writer Hermann Hesse, who lived in the area from 1919 to 1931. Ascona is the Swiss town that lies at the northernmost end of Lago Maggiore, a more expensive and rather more sedate counterpart to Italy's Cannobio. Ascona's summer highlight is the Ascona Jazz Festival, ten days of jazz in venues around the town, not least along the lungolago with the lake as a stunning backdrop. We also enjoy Ascona's February Carnevale celebrations. In winter, the lungolago is busy with ladies in fur coats, dripping with jewels and walking their poodles. You know the kind of thing.

Moving further north on the road towards the mountain passes of San Bernardino and San Gottardo, there is the city of Bellinzona, capital of the canton of Ticino. Bellinzona boasts not one, but three castles, which together form a
UNESCO world heritage site. Dating back almost 2,000 years, the castles are said to be the finest example of medieval fortifications in the whole of Switzerland.

If, instead of heading north along the lake road from Carmine, you head in a southerly direction, the first town you come across is Cannero Riviera.


Cannero Riviera.
Copyright © ladigue_99, reproduced by kind permission.


The beach here is tucked away in a sheltered south-facing bay, and so while Cannobio is great for windsurfers and all sorts of water sports, Cannero is better for the less strenuous sports of sunbathing, paddling and people-watching. Cannero is famous at Christmas time for its nativity scenes. They seem to be on every corner and in every garden as you stroll around the town, which is beautifully decorated for Christmas. Some include not only the Christ child in the stable, but also entire landscapes peopled with figures carrying out agricultural and everyday tasks, rivers with real water that really flow, angels that fly through the air. Enchanting!

If you don't want to take your car along the lake road, it is possible to walk from Cannero to Carmine, and then along to Cannobio, along the ancient footpath, known as the Via delle Genti, which pre-dates the lakeside route. In fact, what's said to be part of the Roman road still exists in the midst of the woodlands. This is a lovely walk. It takes some time, and is 'moderate' in difficulty. Sensible shoes and perhaps a walking stick are recommended. Here you'll see the remains of the former settlements : broken walls, crumbling houses and stables, gardens for so long made to thrive and for so long now deserted.


If you're planning the walk and want to see inside the church when you get here, drop me an email or knock on my door, and if I'm around I'll try to arrange something for you. If I'm not, speak to the immensely helpful people at the tourist information office in Via Giovanola, Cannobio, near the church.

If you don't want to drive and you don't want to walk, the third possibility is to take a boat, and if you do this, between Carmine and Cannero you will run into the imposing Castelli di Cannero, the ruins of two medieval castles set on islands in the middle of the lake. The castles have a long and pretty swashbuckling history, full of ruthless pirates, noble Milanese dukes and downtrodden serfs. For the full story, see here.



Castelli di Cannero.
Copyright © Anton Engelsman, reproduced by kind permission.

Beyond Cannero, heading south along the west side of the lake, you come to Verbania, the provincial capital. Verbania is made up of three separate towns - Pallanza, Intra and Suna. The towns were gathered together into one entity under the Mussolini regime, and, consistent with Mussolini's ideology of reviving Italy's great Classical identity, the Roman name for the lake (Verbano) was used.

Verbania Pallanza
Copyright © gneopompeo, reproduced by kind permission.


As you would expect from a capital, Verbania has lots to offer. The old town is crammed with good shopping, and the lakeside area in particular is a good place to be if you're feeling peckish. Year round, there is a full diary of concerts, film, theatre and dance, plus activities for children and local festivals. Carnevale is particularly colourful. One of the most famous of Verbania's sights is Villa Taranto with its beautiful botanical gardens. A visit to the Museo del Paesaggio, Verbania's museum of archaeology, painting and sculpture, is also well worthwhile.



Villa Taranto.
Copyright © corto.maltese
, reproduced by kind permission.


Of course, the big presence in the region is Lago Maggiore. How could I forget! Fifty-four kilometres long, the lake is the second largest of Italy's northern lakes after Lake Garda. The lake has a number of islands large enough for settlements. In the Swiss sector are the Brissago Islands, the largest of which has a beautiful botanical garden (take a boat from Porto Ronco). Further south lie the Borromeo Islands - Isola Madre (18th-century botanical gardens and the 16th-century Palazzo Borromeo), Isola Bella (a second Palazzo Borromeo, and home to the annual Stresa Music Festival, with connections to Italy's favourite condutor, Arturo Toscanini) and Isola dei Pescatori (ancient narrow streets, great fish restaurants, as the name suggests). For the Borromeo Islands, take a boat from Intra, Pallanza, Stresa or Baveno.

And as if the lake isn't enough, there are also the mountains all around. The Val Grande National Park is Italy's largest wilderness area, offering miles and miles of marked trails. A few miles into Switzerland and you're in the beautiful Val Verzasca, and can also reach Valle Maggia and the Centovalli.

Centovalli baita.
Copyright © soulsister, reproduced by kind permission.

Nearby mountain peaks include Monte Carza (1100m), Monte Zeda (2157m), Monte Mottarone (1491m, accessible by cable car) and Cannobio's own Monte Giove (1298m).

I'm of course just skimming the surface of the many things to see and do in the area. I could be waxing lyrical about so many places to see: Orta San Giulio with its car-free old-town, so picturesque that brides fight to be married and photographed here; the stern Rocca d'Angera castle; the 35-m-high statue of San Carlo Borromeo in Arona; the Santa Caterina monastery with its beautiful frescoes, clinging to the side of the cliff and accessible by boat or on foot; and the Sacro Monte at Ghiffa (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). But I know you're already pricing tickets to Milan Linate or Malpensa and looking at the kids' holiday schedules for next year. So I'll return to base for just a couple more paragraphs.



Rocca d'Angera fortress.
Copyright © gneopompeo, reproduced by kind permission.

The changing seasons
One of the greatest gifts Carmine Superiore has given to me, is the opportunity to see and celebrate the changing seasons each year, a virtual impossibility if you live and work on London's South Bank, my former home.


Spring brings the camellias for which Lago Maggiore is justly famous, and planting time in the garden. It brings Carnevale and, later, Easter, with the real-life chicks we time to hatch on Easter Day for the delight of all the children.

Summer brings the pipistrelli back to Carmine's nighttime skies and wakes the scrabbling dormice in the attics. There are busy days in the garden and lazy days on the beach. Carmine fills up with summer visitors, and the lake is a-flutter with colourful sails.



Week after week, the various towns round about find an excuse for fireworks and celebrations, and we in Carmine are in the evenings to be found on the church 'piazza', glass in hand, for a perfect view. When kindergarten closes for the year at the end of June, our routine changes, to include a daily dip from Carmine's very own pebble beach at the foot of the hill. July is the hottest month, with August and September gradually cooling until, some time in October we get the first rains (that'd be about now).

Autumn brings castagne and funghi, and what seems like the entire population is to be found in the woods in search of sweet chestnuts and the much-prized porcini mushrooms. Most towns and villages (even my son's kindergarten) put on a castagnata, with huge pans of chestnuts roasting over open fires. Autumn also brings wild boar to root around in any garden with an open gate, causing havoc among the spring bulbs.

The All Saints holiday signals the start of winter for many people, as they bring candles and flowers to the graves of their loved-ones and attend mass in memory of those who have left us (this year, too many). Winter is most often a season of dry, sunny days with clear brilliant blue skies and a glassy lake, but sometimes we have some snow. After All Saints, everyone seems to want to hibernate, but before anyone can get too snuggled in, the Christmas lights are up and the nativity scenes are being dusted off. Christmas is celebrated with pannetone and mulled wine, and on Epiphany, La Befana, an ugly old witch, brings gifts to all the children. In Cannobio, the Christmas holiday is extended by two days for the annual celebration of the town's patronal festival, during which the entire old town is lit by thousands and thousands of candles, and the SS Pieta' is brought in procession from one church to another.


Cannobio's candlelight patronal festival.
Copyright © ladigue_99, reproduced by kind permission.


At the end of January, Cannobio's townspeople take part in a night-time lantern-light walk through the woodlands, a pilgrimage to mark mid-winter that has its roots in the time of the Romans and perhaps even earlier.


When I first came to live in Italy, a colleague in Milan told me she disliked Lago Maggiore in the winter. She thought of the lake at this time of year as being 'abandoned', 'triste' and 'unloved'. But today, as I look out of my kitchen window and see the first sprinkling of snow on the distant Alps and the lake lying below me, steely and calm, I know that my love for this place, with its age-old memories and its big-hearted people, can only grow with the years. While I'm still here, the lake, and above all Carmine, will never be unloved.

Have a good day - and to all you Americans reading, please, please elect the right guy!

Come back to Sasso Carmine soon!




Unless indicated otherwise, all text and pictures copyright © Louise Bostock 2007, 2008. All rights reserved. My grateful thanks go to all the Flickr members who so kindly gave me permission to use their beautiful images - thank-you for your collaboration at such short notice.

67 comments:

Braja said...

Beautiful Louise, just beautiful...I couldn't help feeling like an intruder even reading this piece, what to speak of visiting: what a truly charmed and beautiful corner of the world...
Have a wonderful day...

Debbie said...

WOW! That was fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing your little slice of heaven with us. It seems so romantic and so far away from the life I lead here in the US...big box stores, traffic, noise etc. It just sounds heavenly! Thanks so much for giving us this tour. I really appreciate it!

Gombojav Tribe said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Thank you for the tour!!!

Jori-O said...

What a beautifully thorough tour! It's hard to believe people live in such places....I thought they only existed in books and fairy tales. Thank you so much for sharing!

Julie said...

wow that sounds amazing... it reminds me of when we were driving through Austria in the mountains and the lakes were crystal blue and the villages just so beautiful... I could not believe people actually LIVE there... wow. I need to come visit!!! Thanks for the tour

Darcy @ LWM3B said...

Buon giorno d'Iowa!

Thanks for the tour! I miss Italy a ton. It was nice to see it again, if only glimpses through the photos.

Lady Dorothy said...

What an amazing place to live! Thank you for introducing us to your home.

Greetings from California! And I will do my best to elect the right guy!

JourneytoFamily said...

What an amazing place to live and raise a family. My favorite was the Medieval castle in the middle of the lake with the piratey history. Thanks for the awesome tour! (visiting from Los Angeles, CA)

traveler one said...

What an awesome post! I'm overwhelmed by the effort that you've put into introducing us to your piece of Italian heaven! WOW! I'll bookmark your blog for future visits.

Cairo Typ0 said...

Congrats on your BAtW day!!!

It's now official: i'm moving in with you! What a beautiful, romantic place to live. *sigh*

Thank you the wonderful tour!! :)

Sarah said...

Wow! Awesome post and what a tour! I felt like I was almost there - at least in my dreams. Thanks for sharing your beautiful world and putting in all the time to write so beautifully about it (though I'm guessing it's not hard to write about somewhere with so much magic that holds a strong place in your heart!).

Best wishes to you and your family.

Sarah
(New Zealand)

Nifty Adventures into Denmark said...

Wow!!! What an amazing tour! I am very jealous of where you are living.

chrysalis said...

Great blog!!!! You should have been a travel writer!! :o))

Betty said...

What a beautiful and interesting place to live! You are truly blessed!
Happy BATW day!

LadyFi said...

Thanks for the lovely tour - and what beautiful photos you were allowed to use!

I really enjoyed visiting this part of the world.

Tutti bene!

Patti said...

What a beautiful tour!! I enjoyed reading and seeing the pictures. What a beautiful country you live in!! Im here from BATW and Texas!!

Brenda Jean said...

I really am speechless. I'm leaving your blog post up for my husband and teen son to see. Wow. I would so love to visit you in person, not just virtually!

Thank you SOOOO much!

Keeper of the Skies Wife said...

That was amazing!! Thank you for the beautiful in depth tour!

Becky Welch said...

OOOH! I want to come and visit so bad!! Thanks for the amazing tour! Enjoy your BATW day!

Teaching Diligently said...

Beautiful . . . what a way to start my day.

Thank you for a wonderful tour.

Stacey said...

What a beautiful place you are blessed to live!!! I enjoyed that so much; thank you so much for taking the time to introduce us to your gorgeous corner of the world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Louise,
This episode of your blog is amongst your very best. Absolutely stunning, congratulations, a really superb piece of descriptive English. You really know your stuff. Write that book !

Melissa B. said...

What a beautiful, expressive, heart-felt tour! I LOVE Italy...when visiting, I've always felt as if I were just plopped down in a beautiful Master's Painting. I'm so happy that I was able to visit again today...thanks so much inviting BATW to your country, and wish us luck on our own Election Day today!

Ronnica said...

How cool! Having to take everything up the hill would certainly lend itself to a simple lifestyle.

Joy in the Burbs... said...

Your writing is beautiful and your home is beautiful. I've been visiting your site for a few days now so I was so excited to see you were the feature blogger today. Keep writing for us and post pictures for us. Places like this only exist in most of our dreams, I hope to visit one day and see these lovely parts of the world. I'll knock on your door if I do :)
Love from Texas,
Joy

Denyse said...

How amazing! Thanks for the close-up and very personal tour! Beautiful.

Bug said...

Wow...Beautiful! Thank you for taking us on this wonderful tour of your area! I hope to see that part of the world sometime in my lifetime!

Visiting you from Illinois from BATW.

Man and Kat said...

Visiting from BATW!! Thanks for the tour. You are so lucky to live in a place so beautiful and with so much history!

Oh2122 said...

Oh, my. It's lovely!

I haven't been anywhere in Europe in almost 6 years. I think Italy may be next!

We forget how young America really is...

Happy BATW day!

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

I'm so glad I clicked over from BATW.
Your post was so informative. And beautiful!

Thank you for sharing!

Elena said...

Wow! It is almost unfathomable to hear of such a place. Sounds absolutely gorgeous and I love that your children were born there. Amazing! Thank you for sharing.

Amanda said...

What a gorgeous looking place to live! After a day in one of the world's biggest (and I suspect smelliest) cities, it's lovely to see such a beautiful, relaxed place.

"The Queen in Residence" said...

What a truly enchanting place to live. Places with so much history are almost alive with it....
Thanks for the visit. I want to visit Italy even more now!

SKELLER said...

What a perfectly fascinating and magical life you lead!! Of course, after your stories re: the joys and difficulties of THE HILL, I'm dying to see a picture (perhaps it's somewhere on your site, but I couldn't find it).
Thanks for taking us all on such a lovely tour.
Visiting from BATW, Susan

Breanne said...

Wow - what a tour. SO beautiful. Thanks.

Amy said...

Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. It was beautiful.

Ashley said...

Wow! You have really found a gem! Congrats on your BATW feature!

Mamasphere said...

Such an incredibly lovely post. My heart is in Italy ever since I studied art there (Firenze). I would love to go back, possibly even live there, but my future holds a move to Brasil instead (my husband is Brasilian). I LOVED reading about the rock you call home. What a fascinating history you are now a part of.

Jen said...

how beautiful! thank you so much for the lovely tour.

Shell said...

Happy BATW day. A lovely and fascinating post. Thank you for sharing

The Hultman's said...

What an amazingly beautiful tour. I feel like I stepped outside of my life and entered into a anceint, romantic story. And I am not normally that sappy! Wonderful!

Ruthanne said...

Oh my! That was truly wonderful. What an experience your children have - growing up surrounded by such history! Thanks so much for all the work you put into the tour.

Lynnette Kraft said...

Thank you for the tour of your lovely Italy - sounds (and looks) wonderful!

How fun to meet people from all over the world...I sit in a little place called Sedgwick, Kansas. There are only about 1200 of us over here. It's quaint and sweet and I love it, but it's quite different than where you live. :)We can all appreciate where God has each of us, huh?

It was nice visiting!
Lynnette

Sharon (sk) said...

WOW! Just... WOW!

How blessed you are! Your children are getting to grow up with such a rich experience as their childhood. It sounds so wonderful. :)

Oh yeah... Hi there from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi USA and BATW!

Tracy P. said...

Absolutely stunning! I want to come right now. Really. My nephew will be in Italy (Florence) in the spring, and I am so envious.

So, could you tell me who the right guy is, so I can vote for him? I'm not so sure, myself. ;-) (Oh wait, I already voted. We'll see!!)

psychoknitter said...

Wow, what a beautiful locale!!! How do you find local people accept you as an "outsider"?

I think I need to go to Italy for my next holiday now!

Elizabeth said...

I can tell you really love your adopted hoome. It sounds like a beautiful place to raise a family.

Desi said...

So gorgeous! How wonderful to live in a place with so much charm and tradition. So much culture! I'm jealous!!!!

Aubrey said...

Could it be any more gorgeous there?! Amazing.

Visiting from BATW! Thanks for the tour.

CaraBee said...

What an amazing area! Those photos are absolutely stunning. I keep telling my husband that we need to visit Italy. I'll have to forward this post to him for inspiration!

Deb Burton said...

How are you going to handle all the new tourists to Carmine Superiore after giving such a fabulous tour (I'll be the first to sign up)? I've always wanted to see Italy. Thanks so much for fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Michelle said...

Oh that's beautiful. What a unique (coming from an American)life you live there. It sounds so peaceful and lovely. And I keep thinking about getting children to and from school like that.... :) Wow!

lynn said...

Happy BATW day! Visiting from Wisconsin. What an absolutely wonderful country. Thanks for sharing it with us.

LaDonna said...

Thanks for the wonderful tour! What a gorgeous place to live.

Susie said...

Greetings from Wisconsin in the States:-) Congratulation on your BATW feature. I hope you enjoyed your day in the sun. What a wonderful tour of Italy! Thanks for sharing that:-)

Mrs de Miranda said...

SO SO SO GORGEOUS! It is just breath taking from pictures to words, everything! It is definetly on my list to visit!

greedygrace said...

This is gorgeous! I want to live here! Great tour!

Rebecca said...

Thank you for the wonderful tour! So beautiful!

Gina said...

Absolutely beautiful. I envy you for your beautiful solitude.

Rachel Ann said...

WOW! I wanted to visit before, but now I really want to visit...I need a vacation!

Have a great day!

BPOTW said...

I absolutely love this tour. It's got to be my favorite so far. I read it yesterday, when you were featured, but I was on my phone and couldn't see the pictures. So, now I've seen the pictures and I'm in love. We visited Cinque Terre one time when we lived in Germany. The cities built right on the cliffs at the water's edge is amazing...and the buildings are so colorful.

I'm also trying to remember if it was Lake Garda or Lake Como that we visited. It was all so beautiful.

Once again, thanks so much for the tour!!

Cee said...

Can't wait to get there (or near there!)
Gorgeous post, magical writing.
c

Domestic Executive said...

That's it - decided. When I go back to Europe next year we must get time in Italy. Having moved to New Zealand from the UK I miss Europe and I miss my trips to Italy more.

Thanks for this awesome tour. We stayed in Lago Maggiore for a couple of nights and it was wonderful. You are so very lucky.

CC said...

Thank you so much for sharing the lovely place you call home. It was fascinating reading and I really enjoyed my visit here..(I am from Texas via BATW)..Come visit..:)

MelADramatic Mommy said...

My husband lived in Italy briefly in the Navy and it's on my top 10 list of places to see. The photos are amazing and beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us!

Betsy (zen-mama.com) said...

I love to travel. Thanks for the arm chair tour! Your photos are amazing. I esp. like the one of Verbania Pallanza.

Christopher Shevlin said...

Wow. I'm reading this in Hackney, London, and am feeling very jealous. The photos and descriptions are beautiful, and I'm very taken with the idea of the hill, which makes everything much more difficult and much easier.