Saturday, 22 October 2011

Belles abroad: Ladies let loose in Italy

Imagine spending a long weekend in a house with four women you've never met before. The stuff of dreams or nightmares? When I signed up for the Travel Belles first trip to a townhouse in an Italian village, I was crossing my fingers for the former. Established by Margo in early 2010, the Travel Belles has a personal touch that many websites lack, manifested in the fact that its founder wanted to meet her contributors in person. This was no faceless networking event aiming to ascertain what we could all get out of each other in the way of blogger back-scratching, it was a trip designed for a group of women to get to know each other offline, brought together by a shared appreciation of travel (and food).

Our home for the weekend was a tastefully restored townhouse in the piemontese village of Vogogna, nestling in the Italian Alps. Arriving at 8pm on the Milan to Geneva train, I was already suitably excited by my first glimpse of Lake Maggiore at sunset. Fortunately my housemates for the weekend were no less disappointing: Margo, Katy of Starry-Eyed Travels, Krista of Rambling Tart and Kathy of Food Lover's Odyssey all greeted me warmly and plied me with risotto and wine. Just the kind of welcome I like. As we chatted late into the night, any lingering fears I may have had about holidaying with complete strangers were banished.

I could get used to waking up to that view

Awaking to the complete peace of a Saturday morning in Vogogna, I took a moment to admire the view before scrambling for the shower and piling into the hire car to head for the nearby town of Domodossola. From here, we caught the Lago Maggiore Express through the mountains to Locarno in Switzerland. For once, the idea of a touristy train trip didn't appall me: not when there was scenery like this. The splendour of the Alps might be mere backdrop to seasoned skiiers, but to somebody who ought to stay away from all winter sports for health and safety reasons, the journey into the mountains was a foray into unchartered territory. The scenery as we clanked up impressive gradients, passing through pine forests and clusters of flower-bedecked houses, had almost nothing in common with the sides of Italy I've experienced: the verdant slopes under early autumn skies had far more in common with parts of Austria or France than the gritty, glamorous whirl of Milan, the decadence of Venice and the ancient sprawl of Rome.

Katy and Krista capture Santa Maria Maggiore

Breaking our journey at the town of Santa Maria Maggiore, I noted that we were definitely still in Italy: the fashions in evidence at the town's boutiques were more cosy than chic, but I was reassured to observe that sunglasses were still very much de rigeur. A town whose good looks even Tyra Banks would be loathe to criticize, Santa Maria Maggiore was a photographers' dream: and oh, the Belles are snap-happy. As my companions wandered through the cobbled lanes clicking away at Alpine dwellings, the town church and a variety of street scenes, even I felt the urge to up my game and put my camera to good use.

Even the coffee's pretty in Santa Maria Maggiore

After a mid-morning coffee (another key fixture of Italian life thankfully upheld in the Alps), we re-boarded the train and continued across the Swiss border to Locarno. The change in scenery as we passed from one country to another was imperceptible; the only differences when we alighted were the multilingual signs and the currency (oh, and the more understated sunnies worn by the locals). A short wander around the lakeside town revealed little apart from its waterside setting to interest us on this sunny afternoon: well, that and food. After an hour spent lunching, I can confirm two things: both the gelato and the pizza are just as good on the Swiss side of the border.

More than adequately refuelled, we boarded our next mode of transport for the return journey: a ferry which would take us from Locarno to Stresa. Relaxing on the top deck, we chugged past sailboats and called at waterside towns, admiring their architecture and taking in the mountain views as the sun set on an eventful day. As Henry James surmised, 'One can't describe the beauty of the Italian lakes, nor would one try if one could'. On Mr James's advice, all I will tell you is that Lake Maggiore puts Windermere to shame.

You can read about part 2 of the Belles Trip next week.


  1. Oh I love it!! :-) Great photos, Kate, and such good memories. :-) I'm so glad we made your vacation with strangers a good one instead of a nightmare. :-)

  2. Kate,this is gorgeous! Both your words and photos take me right back. And just like I knew would, I feel as if I dreamed this whole amazing time we were able to share a few weeks ago. It was amazing and so great getting to know you!!

  3. like the word "amazing" much? *slaps self on forehead*

  4. Thanks for your comments ladies! Lovely getting to know you too, hope it's the first Belles Trip of many. Margo, it was indeed amazing ;-) Can't wait for next time!

  5. Kate, I love your photos and your description of your time meeting up with the Belles. I love the Travel Belle website! I also like your Girl Eats Oxford - I can totally identify with you. I would much rather eat out somewhere than cook at home. Necessity dictates that I must, most nights!

  6. Kate, I love this! It captures our trip wonderfully and I can't help smiling at the memory of it :-) Great photos! Can't wait for the next Belles trip!

  7. Cathy - thanks! I'm glad you liked it, and my Girl Eats Oxford blog. I know what you mean - I suppose if we did it every day it wouldn't be as special though.
    Katy - thank you! I enjoyed writing it and reminiscing. We need to get planning a Spain trip!

  8. Found this through your Girl Eats Oxford blog, and I have to say that I really enjoy reading your tales, and I love your writing style. Looking forward to reading more, and possibly taking some of your suggestions/recommendations for places to see!

  9. Thanks for your lovely comment! Really glad you enjoyed it & hope you continue to find my blogs interesting (and hopefully useful too!).

  10. The photos are awesome, really! That pizza looks so tempting, I bet it tastes absolutely delicious!

  11. Really stunning photos! Italy and the taste and smell of cappuccino, pizza, the romance spirit. They are all incomparable indeed!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...