xmlns:fb='http://ogp.me/ns/fb#' Karen Wagner garden & design: June 2013

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Italian Lakes........Lake Como

Aahhhh....the famous lake como.....long winding lake, soaring cliffs & snow capped Swiss peaks, scattered lakeside terracotta roof villages and of course history, gardens, art, architecture, & all thing Italains.

Visiting the elaborate villas & gardens around the lake makes me feel slightly like I am on 'the grand tour' that every well brought up lady in the 19th century with means would be subjected to. You can vividly imagine the elegant era of bygone wealth & splendour.

Lake como is rather full of tourists, but the gardens and palaces are of an era well forgotten where art, money & self improvement as well as displays of all three where essential.

While there are plenty of gardens & villas to see, one to mention as outstanding is villa carlotta which we visited today.....

The garden that is seen today is mainly the work of one owner who seriously improved and expanded the grounds with his botanical collections. There were of course others who laid the foundations & made their own improvements. I was disappointed to find that the main collections consist in the majority of rhododendrons and camellias, but they are now enormous mounds of green. A little past their flowering for the year, but impressive for their size & diversity just the same.

The front and older sections of the garden are a delight for their true Italianate structure and sense of symmetry and proportion. Also for the citrus allee, the impressive terraced staircase with ornate balestrades, the pond parterre, grottos at each level (complete with a collection of live turtles!) & the pebble mosaic paths. Of course the plantings are everything you would expect....olives, roses with beautiful scent climbing the wells, boxes hedges, unusual ligustrum buxifolia topiary, lavender cut hard to mini hedges, citrus and great hedges of privet, laurel & osmanthus. Oh and the wonderfully scented pillars of Chinese star jasmine that waft at you as you climb the staircase.

I think I now really understand what an italian garden is.

There are also a few follies ( of course) which are delightful and we wondered how they cut and maintain them where they were. The outdoor terraces of main rooms are the other delight that struck me. Fully functional spaces of perfect proportioned that are designed for living and flowing from majestic rooms and balconies.

Of course the view is astounding out over the lake and the weather showed us its best after a few days of rain, so we could appreciate the view fully. Sections of the older garden have been designed to be viewed from special rooms and windows to great effect also.

One cannot visit villa carlotta and not mention the art, decortion and sheer beauty of the villa itself. It's a magical work of art. Marble statues & artworks, Marbled effect walls, decorated ceilings and plaster decoration that are jaw dropping. But at the same time they are obviously done to be lived in and enjoyed. They give a sophisticated grandeur that one can truly imagine a family enjoying & hosting grand soirée for well to do visitors.

Lake Como is full of gardens and villas and wonderful towns dotted on the shore of the lake. The fun is in the ferry rides to another town for lunch and climbing the verdant green slopes to view the lake and mountains. It's beautiful and enjoyable and a must to finish ones Italian education....!








Monday, 3 June 2013

The Italian lakes.......lake maggiore


Everyone always says the italian lakes are beautiful, but you don't really understand that they are really beautiful until you see them. We were lucky to visit Lake Maggiore first...slightly less well visited than Lake Como and a bit less touristy, but it's where the famous Isola Bella palace & garden is, and that was basically top of my list for gardens to see. And believe me it doesn't disappoint.

I'm delightfully surprised to find Lago Maggiore not overly crowded for this time of year....yes there are tourists everywhere - German, American, English and a spattering of other languages drifting about with a few Italians thrown in. The locals, being barely at the start of their mad tourist season are helpful, smiling, and lovely to deal with.

We are staying at Stresa and as it turns out its a great choice.

The scale of the lake and surrounding mountains is simply amazing and there is a dumping of slightly unseasonal snow on the top not too distant peaks going into Switzerland but otherwise It's all so green and lush - the rainfall here must be quite high as the growth is vigorous & of course being spring early summer everything is lime bright green with flushes of new growth and flowers.

Isola bella is an island just off the lake shores as is the other well known island, Isola Madre. All are owned by the Borromeo family, an ancient & wealthy Italian family and have been for centuries. The palaces on each island are still used for vacations even though they are open to thenpublic. Apparently, if I heard correctly, the family still come for a summer stay. Which made us smile, as they really are opulent palaces and almost museum like. Isola Bella palace is on a immensley grand and almost lavish style - both baroque and neo classical with some eccentric personal grotto decorating thrown in. The garden matches this and It is of course large, grand & opulent in its own right.

It seems to have gone together over generations and has a bit of everything. The grand, grotesque, the amusing, sweeping allees, vista, views & groves. It has a grand folly with its enormous ship poop deck rising out of the main vista in stone and pebble inlay There are marble statues, italiate balustrades & the compulsory white peacocks.

The scale of the garden, staircases walkways & terraces is wonderful. There are towering green hedges, botanical plant collections, formal parterre, rows & rows of citrus in pots. It's awesome (in the true sense of the word), slightly kitch, a little over the top & definitely indulgent, but its absolutely lovely. It's peaceful & pleasant & beautiful. I nearly said astoundingly beautiful then but I would have sounded too much like montyndon.

The garden is formal essentially and has been cleverly sectioned into 'rooms' between terraces and around corners, up & down grand staircases and along green vistas. It's Italian to the core, but the final wonder is the view over the lake out to places, people boats & beauty. And as we stood on the final terrace, the bells of the churches in all the surrounding villages rang similtaneously.......an quintessentially European delight.

I must make a quick mention of the hotel.....La Fontana, for those that want some travel tips.....slightly faulty towers but in an amusing and pleasant way( if that is possible). It's slightly faded, in a reasonably good spot just past the main 'drag' of grand hotels from bygone era, but the welcome from Senore Guiseppe is lovely & we are well looked after. The view over the lake and out to Isola Bella from our window is amazing and makes up for the small room. Of course what you would expect in europe! I am not going to complain about the beds or the bathroom...it all comes with the territory of adventure and travel and reasonably priced hotels. But the breakfast is fabulous and worth the stay in itself, as is the charm & warmth of s. guiseppe!

And of course it must be said, I am still yet to have a bad meal in Italy for all the times I have been here! Even an easy meal of pizza is fabulous and is way up there on the high delicious scale.

We dined well at a small restaurant in Stresa last night called rosa del vente. A simple, tasty, fresh meal.....Great mozzarella, tomato & basil salad, delicious pasta with grilled vegetables, grilled focaccia & new season olive oil & a shared quick tiramisu to finish that makes me realise I really am in Italy! Molto bene!!