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July 18, 2008 Friday
Stresa – Orta San Giulio

After breakfast at La Fontana in Stresa, we left most of our luggage in the hotel and drove through Stresa up the face of its sheltering mountain. We could have taken the smooth semicircle along the coast to Orta San Giulio and avoided the 4,263 foot high Mottarone but we wanted to see the forest and the views back down over Lake Maggiore. So we climbed, following the signs to Mottarone and stopping for photos of the lake from ever higher points. When we passed the top it was all downhill the rest of the way. The road to Orta San Giulio was not as well marked as the road to Mottarone so we had to stop and ask for directions from a sorella (sister) and a couple of other hearty mountain walkers; and I think we may have driven through one mountain village’s pedestrian zone. On the way down to Orta we saw lots of older people walking for exercise. It appears people make their living in Milan, then retire up in these hill towns, joining the older generation that has lived up here their whole lives. We also crossed several torrents, on the east side of Mottarone speeding down the mountain into Lake Maggiore or on the west side into Lake Orta. These pure mountain torrents make the two lakes among the cleanest in Europe.
We reached the shoreline of Lake Orta then proceeded farther west on the little peninsula shared by the town of Orta San Giulio and a Franciscan monastery called Sacro Monte di Orto. We got to pass all the tourist parking lots because our destination, Hotel San Rocco, provides parking in the historic center. This is the town Anne and I have chosen to mark our 35th anniversary that was one month and two days ago (we were busy on June 16th flying home – separately – from Croatia so agreed to find someplace beautiful we’d never been to celebrate our anniversary.) So after we checked into our 3rd floor room overlooking the pool by the lake in the former monastery, we went in search of the perfect place for our anniversary dinner, eyes popping at the loveliness of this tiny gem of a town.

We settled on the Antico Agnello and asked to reserve the only outdoor table on a tiny balcony overlooking the main walking street through town.
It was already reserved but since we told the head waiter it was our 35th anniversary celebration, he reserved for us the table beside the door going out to the balcony.

Continuing to stroll, we peek down lake side stone ramps, curious as to what new views will delight us.
For lunch we disregarded the authenticity of the food and went for the upscale restaurant (Leon d’Oro) built out over the lake so we could watch the small ferries going back and forth to the nearby Isola San Giulio and speeding across the lake to the town of Pella.

Under their shady grape arbor, seated right on the water, we had terrific breads, a huge drum of superb tuna carpaccio with orange cream sauce, and a plate of prosciutto and melon.

The island, Isola San Giulio, about 200 meters from shore has an almost irresistible draw. It’s so close and even from our lunch table’s vantage point we can see its buildings and lanes just must be explored. The view from here is dreamily peaceful and unbelievably beautiful; we were torn between sitting here all
afternoon in bliss and going out to experience the town on foot. The waiters decided for us, so we went strolling alongside our new favorite of the Italian lakes. Though no movie star has a palazzo on this lake; and though there are no grand hotels lining its shores, and though we’d only barely heard of it before we went searching for a place we’d never been, we’re smitten with this town and its little lake.

In a village full of beautifully restored buildings, we notice a tumble-down ruin ripe for restoration – any one in the market??

A bit of rain drove us under the piazza’s center- piece, a frescoed loggia built in the
mid 1500’s.

There’s a display under the arches highlighting the massive modern sculpture of Arnaldo Pomodoro, pointing out the several places in town where his work is on display.
We learned that he and his more famous brother (whose work is displayed in our Washington DC Hirschorn Sculptu
re Garden) produce similar works.

When it cleared up we walked some more, past more postcard- worthy frescoed and slate-roofed lovelies, then went back to the room at the Hotel San Rocco and enjoyed the view of the lake from there.

At the Antico Agnello it’s time for the big celebration to begin!

With a big smile, the head waiter takes us all the way out to the table for two on the balcony. Someone must have cancelled so he put us at the table we’d requested earlier. With the mostly quiet main pedestrian street below and thick wisteria overhead, we were glad we waited for just the right time and place for our anniversary dinner. Anne had a rabbit pate and penne with rosemary, garlic, tomato and pancetta and I had rare thin sliced duck breast on a bed of lettuce with chives, tagliatelli with duck ragu, and a whole perch from the lake with butter and crispy sage leaves.
We topped off the meal with panna cotta – similar to flan but richer – with plenty of dark caramelized sugar sauce. We’re really glad that after 35 years, we’re still able to spend extended 24-hour days together and love every minute. Thank God for giving Anne the grace to live with me!