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Monday, July 19, 2010

Tre Domande -- Three Questions With Guest Writer Tony



Tony wrote about Pella, the town on the other side of Lago d'Orta.
Tony has already written several wonderful posts on this blog, highlighting special little corners of this lake area. He seems to have a unique eye, seeing and capturing for us spots that we may have missed, opportunities to see things that we may have overlooked. Is it because Tony is an American who lives in on Lago Maggiore with his wife Sue only weeks out of each year that he appreciates the area in a different way? I asked Tony three questions. I think his responses will be of real interest to anyone who hopes and dreams of living here some day, and also to those who will only travel here; giving them helpful hints on how to search out these hidden gems of places. So let's get to know Tony a little better:

Tony wrote a review of the Trattoria San Salvatore.
You're an American who spends much time living in Lesa, a town just outside of Stresa on Lago Maggiore. Why Lesa, why Lago Maggiore, what brought you here?

When we first visited Italy in the mid-1990s, we stayed in Belgirate and then Arona because it was near Malpensa’s airport. We then planned a visit with another couple and Sue found and we rented a place in Lesa, a condominium in a converted paper factory with a terrace overlooking the lake and Angera Castle. We then made a number of visits to Italy and whenever we flew out of Malpensa, we would stay in Arona and visit Stresa because we knew we would enjoy the lake and could easily reach the airport and make our morning flights out with ease. And we met Rosaria at La Cambusa and made a friend.

In 2004 we decided to just look at properties for sale and we looked on Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore. By look, we saw Vendesi signs and looked at ads that we found and drove by some properties. In Stresa we stayed at Antico Palazzo with Natalie and Massimo Noga (they no longer operate what is now known as Villa Muggia in Stresa, a property formerly owned by the Siemens family). We drove up to the place in Lesa where we had stayed and saw a Vendesi sign there.

When we returned to the U.S., we e-mailed the man we had rented from in Lesa (a New Zealander who had moved to a villa in Perugia) and asked if he knew which condominium unit was for sale. He said he had no idea, but that none were more desirable than his, and he might be interested in selling. We asked the price and the price and annual expenses seemed reasonable, and we closed the deal a few months later with the assistance of a Notaio who in Italy does the property transfers . We were also fortunate to have the kind help of the seller. He helped us transfer the insurance, the electricity, the phone, the taxes, the gas etc. He also gave us a great piece of advice about furnishing the place. He suggested that we avoid the large stores and go to a small shop in Meina and get to know the owners who had originally furnished the place for him. We took his advice and now have friends for life!

Tony gave us a glimpse into the gardens of the Hotel Iles des Borromees.


You seem to have such a knack for discovering the lesser known hidden gems around here. How do you do this? What do you look for?
We look for anything of interest. As the internet has grown, so have the number of websites and picture sites that have information about places in Italy to visit. The "Pro Loco" websites are full of local events. We check the schedules of events in all the towns and we look at picture sites that allow us to find beautiful places and interesting events. Who knew, for example, that there is an asparagus festival in Massino Visconti in the Spring, and a strawberry festival early summer in Fosseno, a neighborhood of Nebbiuno, or a Sagre de Pesce in Solcio, the harbor community in Lesa?

This is all rather easy now. There is a website for the most beautiful restored properties, http://www.fondoambiente.it/en/, the Fondo per l’ Ambiente Italiano. There is a website for the small and beautiful towns. http://www.borghitalia.it. And those towns include Orta San Giulio, Macunaga and Vagogna. And there is a website that lists most of the restaurants in Italy. www.ilmangione.it. The nearby provinces also have useful websites. www.vareseturismo.it.


Overall, do you find this area a good place for ex-pats to settle in? How do you feel as an American here? What would you advise to our readers who dream of moving here one day?
The main concern for ex-pats to settle here is health care. The United States does not have reciprocal health care coverage with the EU. The man we bought our place from was from New Zealand and never became an Italian citizen, but since New Zealand is a Commonwealth country, he got full health care in Italy. As an Italian would receive in Great Britain. So for expensive medical care, a U.S. citizen on Medicare needs to head to Malpensa or have a good credit line on their credit card. Our British friends and Italian American friends with dual citizenship do not have this problem. Another drawback is that Americans cannot own cars in Italy, EU citizens can. Car rental expenses add up. And the Euro is another issue. When we compare the restaurant prices from the U.S. to Italy, only the wine is more reasonable. And we are talking good and regular restaurants, not expensive restaurants.

So it is a great place to spend time, but to “move to” would be a more serious decision.

As an American here, we are treated well by all, even though we do not speak Italian. The family that has the grocery in Meina knows us, the folks who run the wine bar there know us, and we are good friends with the Bollas of La Cambusa in Stresa. Their friendship and that of friends in Nebbiuno sustain us. They have lived the history of the lake. They have seen Partisans martyred by the Gestapho in town squares, whispering trains packed with victims on their way through Switzerland to the camps, Il Duce handing out fruit to children, and their Fathers enslaved to work in Germany. They have worked at all sorts of jobs to support their families and they know the history of these towns and the families, rich and poor of these towns.

So the lakes are beautiful, the entertainment and events on the lake are always surprising, and the people are friendly and sharing. Could not ask for more, other than a shorter commute from the USA.

Tony and Sue
Read Tony's posts:

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