A Sailors Solace in Northern Italy
By: Marissa Neely
Lake Como is an upscale resort area in Northern Italy that is well known for its dramatic fjord-like scenery set against the foothills of the Alps. It’s no surprise that this lake attracts roughly 1,300,000 visitors per year and famous actors such as George Clooney, Sylvester Stallone, and Leonardo DiCaprio own homes in the picturesque lake community. However, just west of the famous lake lies another that is less traveled and retains an elegant “fine del secolo” (end of century) atmosphere, noted as one of the most spectacular places in the world for sailing.
Although many are attracted to Lake Como’s glamor, Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy, is often considered to be the most peaceful of the country’s lakes and offers solace in the basin of the Ticino glacier. Its northern part is located in Switzerland, and the southern part (about 80%) in Italy. Lake Maggiore is emphasized by the stylish villas scattered along its banks as well as the star attractions, the Borromean Islands, which offer tourists plenty of boutiques, food, and unbeatable views. The Tramontana winds blow across the lake’s surface in the early hours of the morning from the mountains towards the plain while the Inverna winds show up in the afternoons, blowing in the opposite direction. These winds are as reliable as Swiss clockwork, allowing sailors to fill their sails throughout the day.
In late April, my husband Chris and I arrived in Lago Maggiore after 24 hours of traveling from California, USA, where we left behind our boat, Avocet, so we could embark on an international family holiday. Our villa, Casali della Cistera, was a peaceful lakeside retreat that served as the homes to the gardeners and sailors working for the Dal Pozzo marquises in the nineteenth century. After a night of much needed sleep, we awoke Sunday morning to the sun rising over the 41-mile long lake casting a glistening reflection back at us as the morning wind danced through the trees. We sipped our espresso from our room’s terrace carefully watching a regatta unfold in front of us. boats of various sizes but all under 36 feet fought for the best position at the starting line when all of a sudden they tacked and charged up the lake to their first mark. As avid sailors and racers ourselves, it seemed serendipitous that our first destination in Italy was a town that had such a strong affinity for the sport.
Every year, the shores of Lake Maggiore attracts many sailors to it’s historic waters; events like the Verbania Vela Festival with its regattas, concerts and food and wine events being of the most notable calls to visitation. Aside from main events the lake is home to five sailing associations that span out along the lake. If you are touring the area and looking to get on the water,, there are 19 places along the lake where you can rent boats for relatively fair prices (ranging from 20 euro/hour to 100 euro/hour).
The lake offers opportunities for the unseasoned sailor as well, with organizations such as Centro Vela sailing school, located in the small village of Cerro di Laveno, on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore. Since 1997, well over 6000 adults and children have learned to sail through the school, which is fully recognised as part of the Italian Sailing Federation (F.I.V.), further fostering and inspiring passion for the sport.
Just as we finished our second cups of espresso, the sailors were making their way towards their downwind mark, bright spinnakers painting the lush landscape with pops of color. All of a sudden, the solid 10 knots of wind had reduced to less than a breath, causing the sailors to dowse their spinnakers. To my surprise, none of them were in a rush to retreat to where they came. Instead, they sat idle, waiting. Despite being equipped with small outboards and other auxiliary means, the sailors embraced their becalmed state and opened wine, shared (what I assume were) baguettes and chatted aboard. Through our binoculars lent by the hotel I witnessed nearly every vessel participate in the same the actions. Laughter echoed up the shoreside as sails flogged trying to capture whatever puff Poseidon cared to put in them; church bells rang in the distance but the sailors remained unbothered. This was community. This was Lake Maggiore. Peaceful, quaint, textbook sailing camaraderie.
During our stay in the Lake District, we did visit Lake Como for a day, but by comparison we much prefer the simplicity and atmosphere of Lake Maggiore which definitely holds its own against its more famous counterpart. It was a true gem with its unmolested landscapes and sailing culture laced within the lifestyle. Our departure from our lakeside villa was bittersweet as we were onto our next exciting adventure, but a piece of our hearts were left behind on the shore of Lake Maggiore – adding our brief stay to their 200+ year old history.
If you are a sailor looking to visit the Northern Italian Lake District, we cannot recommend Lake Maggiore enough! To learn more about the rich history and details of Lake Maggiore and her surrounding sisters, visit www.illagomaggiore.com