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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mottarone In Autumn

The first snow of the year… Well, not in Stresa, but up at the top of Mottarone Mountain, 1491 meters (4920 feet) above Stresa, there has been snow in the past days. Not enough to block the roads either, but just enough to change the view from one of a dry, brown, autumn landscape into an early winter one, with a glowing, brilliant white surface. Choose a clear autumn day, and take a trip up the mountain for a temporary taste of winter and a breathtaking view of northern Italy.


There are two ways to reach the summit from Stresa. It’s an easy enough, 30-minute drive up a private, 9 kilometer (5½ mile) winding road. Follow the signs and the switchbacks until you reach the park at the top. The alternative is to take the funivia, the cableway from the Lido in Stresa, the same location as the Carciano boat station and L’Idrovolante Ristorante and Bar. The 18-minute ride gives the opportunity to relax and watch the view change as you rise higher and higher above the lake.

If going up in the autumn bring your warm scarf, and your gloves, and an extra layer to wear. Once up at the top you’ll need them. When the wind is strong, it will be quite frigid, but this has advantages as well. With wind the skies can be crystal clear, and when the skies are clear it is possible to have a 360° view of seven surrounding lakes and the Swiss Alps to the north. Monterosa, which is the highest peak in Switzerland, can be seen to the northwest, and if you are really lucky, you may be able to see the golden statue of the Virgin Mary, on top of the Duomo, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) away, in Milan.

After some minutes outside in the mountaintop air you’ll need to warm up. Luckily, there are several restaurants at the summit that serve typical mountain foods and warm drinks. I like Casa della Neve, House of the Snow. And there’s no better way to ward off a chill there than with a glass of fil-de-fir, the classic regional drink. First produced at a small distillery on Monterosa, the drink is served warm in a small glass, like the type you may use for orange juice. The drink looks a bit as if you melted down an orange creamsicle into a glass and then heated it. It’s difficult to explain; better if I use the description written about it when it won the “Spirits of the Year’ gold medal award in 2001: 

“Vibrant, creamy orange. Nutmeg, orange peel, and farmer's cream nose. Very viscous on the attack with subtle orange blossom and lush brown spice notes. Displays a very pure and distinctive eggnog-like character with an angular grappa-like undertone. Serving hot brings out attractive egg white elements and better integrates the flavors with the thick texture. Unique and utterly captivating.” 

I completely agree! So, wrap your cold hands around your glass of fil-de-fer, head over to the fireplace, and relax on the couches for a while. You’ll be almost on the border of Italy and Switzerland, somewhere between autumn and winter, but on top of it all.


Mottarone has its charms in all four seasons, winter, spring, summer, and fall. For cableway prices and schedules, and more information, visit the website: www.stresa-mottarone.it/home_eng



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