We’d booked a holiday in Italy just a few weeks before Covid knocked the world for six in February 2020, finally making it this year after two flight cancellations gave us the jitters. Not being able to make up are minds which we preferred, we’d picked two hotels a short distance from each other – the first at Oggebbio on Lake Maggiore, the second by the tiny Lake Mergozzo.
We’d not planned much, if anything, for the holiday perhaps because we still hadn’t quite believed it would come off but I’d thought we might spend some of the lake part hiking which is what we did on the first day, walking from our Oggebbio base to the next commune and back, remarking on how much it reminded us of Madeira: palm trees, lush ferns and banana plants in gardens alongside camellias, lilac, wisteria, azaleas and roses. That Madeira comparison also works for the weather as we found the next day. It may be pouring in your neck of the woods but drive over a mountain pass and it’s a different season altogether.
Sadly, not a trick that worked the day we moved on to Casa della Capra in the pretty village of Mergozzo. Being greeted by Margot, the gorgeous, soppy Great Dane, went some way to make up for the weather. This hotel was very different from the more traditional Villa Magherita. We’d chosen it for the food which proved to be excellent but Margot would have swung it for me. Mergozzo’s main claim to fame seemed to be supplying a distinctive pink marble to the builders of Milan’s spectacular cathedral which we marvelled at later in the holiday.
Another rainy day saw us off to the International Museum of Ceramic Design just across Lake Maggiore at Leveno, once a ceramics manufacturing centre. It showcases the work of several important twentieth-century Italian ceramicists. The current exhibition featured Leonor Fini, a multi-talented South American/Italian surrealist painter, designer, illustrator and author. The exhibition included a few of her costumes; so stylish, not least two stunning hats. Sadly, we were the only people there during our two-hour visit.
We managed to fit in a couple of walks before heading to Milan, the highlights of which were wild narcissi in bloom and the neon green, bright-blue headed gecko that shot across our path far too quickly to photograph. It goes by the rather dull name European Green Lizard but if you click here you’ll see that it deserves something much more exotic than that.
And the books? I so wanted to enjoy Jonathan Coe’s Mr Wilder and Me which follows Calista from her first chance meeting with film director Billy Wilder to her interpreting stint with him on the set of Fedora but Coe lost me with an overlong passage written as a film script. Renée Rosen’s entertaining Park Avenue Summer made up for that a little. Told from the perspective of her secretary, it charts Helen Gurley-Brown’s transformation of Cosmopolitan from a staid women’s magazine into a much raunchier publication.