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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Almost-Lago-Maggiore-Express Loop



click on map to enlarge it

This drive I call, because clearly I enjoy naming my car trips, "The Almost Lago Maggiore Express Loop." Loosely following the path of the Express ship and trains, we saw many of the same sights, with a few others thrown in just for us. So I'll tell you about the trip. But, I don't necessarily suggest that you do what we did. Because we did the trip, at least the first half of it, without aid of map, GPS system, phone apps, etc. Not because we didn't have them; but just because we just didn't want to use them.

Here's the backstory:    (  continued ...   )

I have a friend, here in America, whose family owns an ancestral property in a tiny town called Someo, in Switzerland. The house was built by my friend's great-grandfather in the late 1800s, but my friend had never seen the house, or been to Someo. Not having been there, she also didn't have much information to offer me in terms of directions, landmarks, or distances. Even more, she didn't know the actual street address of the house, or what it looked like, or where it was in the town. But she assured me, everyone in Someo will know the house, and her family. So, no problem! Of course we set out to find it.

We could have researched it better, but not doing so was the point, of course. It became the challenge. A treasure hunt of sorts. If we didn't succeed, at least it would be a fun day out.

Back to the route. We headed east out of Stresa on the lake road, taking it all the way around the lake, through Baveno, Verbania, then continuing through Ghiffa, Cannero (where we paused to see the house and castles), on to Cannobio, and finally crossing the border into Switzerland, just past Cannobio. Continuing a little further on the lake road, we went through Ascona, Switzerland, and finally stopped for a caffe and a pause in Locarno. Time from Stresa, about an hour; distance, 53 km.

Note: Stopping for a caffe in Switzerland could mean needing to pay in Swiss francs, as the Swiss don't always accept euro. Prices are shown in francs, indicated as CHF, so 2 CHF for example. In Ascona, closer to the Italian border and full of tourists arriving by ferry, I found many places would take euros or even dollars, converting on the spot the amount needed. In Locarno on that day however, we had trouble finding a place willing to take our euro. Credit cards are fine of course for larger purchases, but not for just a caffe.
The main piazza in Locarno is a good place to stop for a caffe. Note: I cannot walk on those river rocks that form the piazza.   Not. at. all.


We had stopped in Locarno because we knew roughly that we had to veer away from the lake now and head into the Swiss Alps to find Someo. I know, I know, I said we did this without any aids, but at this point we cheated the tiiiiiniest little bit. Pretending to peruse some tour books in a shop, we managed a very quick glance at a map, before being stopped by the shop owner. It was just a quick look. Just enough to see that yes, this was the road to turn north on.

So we headed north through the Alps on a beautiful, beautiful, clean, well-maintained Swiss main road. Much of the way it traveled next to a narrow river that was flowing in the opposite direction, back to Locarno and Lago Maggiore. We didn't know how far Someo was, but before we began worrying too much about being on the wrong road, we saw signs for it, and eventually exited into the town, which also ran along this river that was now just a creek. Actual distance from Locarno: only 19 km. Travel time about 30 minutes.

Found the town, now, can we find the house? My friend had promised everyone would know the Bedaschi house. Let's find out. Stop car, roll down window, ask the first passerby, in Italian, if they know where the family's house is. And they do. How cool is that?

For my friend. Proof we found it. Above the door of her family home, her great-grandfather's initials, and 1885, the year she told me the house was built. Treasure hunt gold.

About Someo, since we are here. It seemed not unlike most of the other small towns we passed on the road. Small, clean, beautiful. And of two distinct ages. Someo had an old part, and a new part. The new part was the center of town where the house was, and new meaning from the 19th century. The old part was a collection of houses built completely of stone, including the roofs, in the old mountain manner, up the hillside just off of the center of town, with houses built onto each other, next to each other; the stairs of one house would continue onto a roof which became the terrace for another house above it, which had stairs to another, where a path then connected that one with yet another, in a crazy little medieval maze. Kind of Escher-esque. Many of these, however, had clearly been recently renovated, evidenced by the very modern windows and doors, sometimes offering peeks into clean Swiss kitchens inside. Very different, and great exploring fun. I imagine many of the towns along here would offer the same. Here are a few photos I took in Someo:

The entrance to Someo from the highway.

Nice waterfall on the mountain side of the town.

Someo's newer part of town. The house we had come to find is one of those on the left.

And the older, medieval section.

Onward. This road, by the way, eventually ends in the Alps. It does not continue north to any major cities. So we doubled back a bit. Looking at the map now it seems we took the 560 out of Switzerland, which became the 337 in Italy. We took back roads, winding, narrow, mountain roads through deep woods, that eventually met up with the road that goes through the Valle Vigezzo, the same path that the Centovalli railroad of the Lago Maggiore Express takes. We made a few small stops here, as you can do from the Express trip. We saw the cathedral in Re, the towns of Santa Maria Maggiore and Druogno, before we headed toward Domodossola and then back to Stresa. All of that along the same routes as the trains. Someo to Santa Maria Maggiore: 43 km, 53 minutes. And from Santa Maria Maggiore back to Stresa, about the same: 57 km, 46 minutes.

From what I hear from the many people who write in to Stresa Sights, most people do the Lago Maggiore Express in the opposite direction, beginning by heading up to Domodossola, catching the Centovalli train to Locarno, then returning to Stresa via the ferry on the lake. 


The Lago Maggiore Express route. As you can see, it is similar to the one we drove. 

This entire trip comprised about 3 hours of driving. This leaves plenty of time to stop wherever you want. I offer these stories of my drives (ok, as we already know, as the passenger) only to give you ideas of the possibilities of the many wonderful loops you can create for yourself.

Note: Always carry your passport if you plan to cross into Switzerland.


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