What do princes, pirates, drenching rain and pitch darkness have in common? It was the worst kind of evening for a boat trip. To an island. At night. Rain had started drizzling that afternoon and was pouring as we departed the sanctuary of our hotel. We were all chatty, albeit a little dubious, as we gathered, clad in rain coats or armed with umbrellas. We peered out into the rain as afternoon faded into the approaching night. The shape of the mist-shrouded island was visible in the distance. Is that where we were going? What kind of a night was this to be heading out on the water?
Baveno, Lake Maggiore
So far on this ‘Best of Italy’ Trafalgar tour we had not been disappointed. We were expected for dinner on Isola Madre, described in the itinerary by…” take a private boat to an island on Lake Maggiore for a special Be My Guest dinner experience”.
Our hotel was in Baveno, a pretty little town on the west shore of Lago Maggiore. We’d travelled North to Lake Como that day, well-known for some famous residents but alas, there was no George Clooney sighting that day. These two spunky fellas were a great substitute for George…
Sightseeing Lake Como – photo by Esther Colavecchio
Maggiore literally means the ‘greatest’ or ‘superior’ and is Italy’s second largest lake. Lake Garda is the largest and Lake Como is third largest. Lake Maggiore has an area of 82 square miles and forms part of the boundary between the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. The international border between Italy and Switzerland also crosses the water and the Northern end of the lake is in the Swiss canton (or State) of Ticino. As you walk around Lake Maggiore, it is mesmerising to see how close the Alps are and is one reason why the vista at Baveno is simply stunning.
Baveno – photo by Esther Colavecchio
Isola Madre (or ‘Mother’ island) is the largest of the three Lago Maggiore islands and boasts eight hectares of botanical gardens. The island was once a medieval defence. Sources say that during the ninth century, the island had a church and cemetery, whose ghostly presence is still being felt in the current gardens with the so-called ‘Scala de morti’ or ‘Staircase of the Dead’.
We were saved from this spooky sight. It was almost dark and teeming with rain by the time we arrived on the island. A warm welcome awaited us as we stepped ashore, by cheeky La Piratera chef, Michele Leonardi. He recounted the history of the island and gave us a run-down of what we could look forward to on the menu. La Piratera overlooks the lake in the ancient structure of a 13th century lighthouse. During the 16th century it was converted into a mill to water the garden, including the citrus and olive trees that flourished there. One of the stories told was about the princes who used to play on the island and pretend they were pirates. Hence the name of the restaurant, ‘La Piratera’ which means ‘the pirate’.
Isola Madre – photos by Esther Colavecchio
What a charming, romantic and dramatic dinner destination. Whispering bamboo and the gentle lapping of the lake were enchanting ingredients which were matched by the unforgettable flavours of dishes cooked with passion. The authentically Italian meal began with a traditional Anti Pasto offering of salami, prosciutto, bread and cheese. The home-made chestnut gnocchi were a creamy and delectable delight. The roast potatoes that accompanied the meat course were, as I documented in my travel diary, magnificent. Tiramisu finished off a wonderful meal that was teamed with fabulous wine.
All too soon, it was time to bid a fond farewell to our pirate friends and head back to our hotel. The return boat trip capped off a night to remember. The rain persisted and the windows of the boat were foggy and misty as we danced. We sang. We finished off a fabulous night in spectacular style. The dance party continued back on ‘dry’ land when we kept going well into the night on the dance floor at our hotel. Oh and in case you were wondering, the kids had a ball too, as always and enjoyed their own unsupervised shenanigans that kept on until well into the night. That is, as they say, another story…!
Next stop – Pisa 😊
Written by Esther Colavecchio