When a storm passes through, as only the most cynical liars and cheap guide books would attempt to deny they do, it is quite spectacular, and little wonder that artists from Byron and Stendhal to D.H. Lawrence and Henry James have been beguiled. In just a couple of hours a storm will pass through, and with it the lake changes colour as dramatically as the sky.
As someone who can wolf down huge buckets of almost any pistachio ice cream, it is reassuring that one can discern the really best product. Eschew, if you can, the vibrantly green concoction full of colouring, in favour of the most delicate pale beige with only the merest hint of green.
Fior di Gelato in Verbania produces such a delicacy, as well as the usual array of other flavours, such as here with apricot.
Thankfully there is a limit to the size of container one can buy.
To misquote John Le Carré’s anti-hero Bill Hayden in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, “I believe that archives are the only true expression of a nation’s character”. Having spent many years in archives where, to be frank, one often has the impression that some archivists hate nothing more than people wanting to consult documents or show not a flicker of interest in the most fascinating aspects of their collections, this doesn’t reflect well on their nationality.
However, the archivist whom I recently consulted at the Archivio di Stato di Verbania, Debora, was the most knowledgeable, helpful, simpatica, custodian of official records that one could hope to meet.
Though we have yet to strike the gold which we are searching for – the original design for the gardens at Villa La Scagliola, and the identity of the actual designer – we unearthed a number of leads and facts about the house’s history which were hitherto unknown.
For instance, although the land was bought in 1880 by Catherine Forbes Ashburner, the house wasn’t completed until 1884, meaning that, sadly, she was only able to enjoy it for six years before her death in 1890. It was resold in 1899 by her family to the German Hermann Friedrich Messtorff for 100,000 Lire.
We are blessed to be within a short amble up the lake from one of the best restaurants on the Lake at Pallanza.
Ristorante Milano is intimate, the service warm and impeccable, and the food is a perfectly juded array of local fish, meat, game and vegetables.
After an umami-rich amuse-guele of home made salami with deep-fried courgette flower, the antipasti offer a wonderful choice of sea and lake food. Coregone is a local lake fish which has a firm, meaty texture and tangy flavour. Here marinated in balsamic vinegar in a plate of antipasto with tartare of trout and curried salmon.
The secondi include local beef, and even snails, though this evening we chose pigeon in marsala, cod and, below, grilled bass:
For the second time recently the Zabaglione alla Marsala jumped out from the desert menu. However, this evening it was done with Moscato instead, which gave it a light, more floral perfume than Marsala. But still very heveanly.
The setting is romantic or merely picturesque depending on your company, looking out over the tiny harbour of Pallanza, past the Borromeo Islands to the relatively glitzy lights of Stresa with the sun setting behind the mountains.
People seem to divide naturally into those who prefer swimming in the sea – the buoyancy, the salt spray, the power of the surf – and find lake swimming slightly sinister – dark, deep and heavier – and people who conversely favour lakes for the lack of tides and current, and their very stillness.
Lake Maggiore is certainly deep, apparently 370m at its maximum, but the first swim of the summer today would certainly have reconciled any sea-swimmer to the attractions of the lake. Fresh but not even chilly, beautifully clear water, no boats or people, and the most enchanting views of the villa and gardens.
The Magnolia Grandiflora is pretty much the official tree of Lake Maggiore. Beautifully manicured rows line the foreshore in Pallanza, helping give the town its elegant, but unpretentious air. They are now in full flower.
Our specimens are over 100 years old. Impressively beautiful but rather less than elegant.
The only problem with the Grandiflora is that when it reaches a mature stage it’s quite difficult to get close enough to the flowers to get more than a general ambient wafting of their gorgeous scent.
However, this morning I managed to get my nose in a low hanging one – an intense candied lemon.
As if buffala mozzarella weren’t luscious and creamy enough, somehow it was topped when the Burrata was invented. It’s sort of the epicurean version of a Glaswegian deep-fried Mars Bar – solid mozzarella on the outside, a mixture of mozzarella and cream on the inside. Unctuous, baveuse as the French say about the inside of a soufflé or an Omlette. What’s particularly indulgent is that it must be eaten fresh. Ours apparently arrived from Southern Italy this morning and should be gone by tomorrow.
As a particularly cultured German friend, who is quite hard to impress, exclaimed, “it’s sex in bocca!”.
Tomorrow is the last day of a unique exhibition at Forli in central Italy of the work of Italian Symbolist scuptor Adolfo Wildt who was responsible for the amazing sculptures we have in the gardens at Villa La Scagliola.
Two of them, his copies of the Venus de Milo, and The Dying Gaul (Il Galata Morente) are in the exhibition.
So at the least end of the exhibition means we can look forward to their return in a few weeks, beautifully restored and cleaned.
The next pictures of them will look very different!