About the Host:
Bob Morse will be your host on this Northern Italian Lakes Tour. As a senior at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972, he and Corky Calhoun co-captained the 25-3 basketball team. Drafted by the Buffalo Braves, Bob opted to play professionally in Europe and during nine seasons with the Varese, Italy team, he won three European Champion Cups, four Italian League titles, one Italian Cup, and one Intercontinental Cup. He led the Italian League in scoring six times. He received his Master’s degree in Italian from the University of Virginia in 2007 and taught Italian language, culture, and literature at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana for nine years. In recognition of his contributions, in 2009 the City Council of Varese made him an honorary citizen.
During the trip, you’ll head to two Italian League basketball games with Bob where you’ll experience an up-close and personal perspective of the team that is so close to his heart!
In addition to this, Bob looks forward to sharing his favourite old-haunts – from quaint restaurants in the Italian Lake Districts, to the magnificent Duomo of Milan.
Varese is a provincial capital (population circa 80,000) in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It is little known to American tourists and is considered by most guide books to be “off the beaten track”. Varese lies nestled north of Milan in the heart of the Italian Lake country, strategically situated between Lakes Maggiore and Como in the Alpine foothills. It offers beautiful panoramas of the Italian and Swiss Alps. Varese’s nickname is the Garden City of Italy, given because of its many stunning Liberty (Art Deco) style villas and their lovely surrounding gardens.
Fly from the USA to Milan
Upon your arrival at Milan Malpensa airport, you'll be picked up and transferred to Varese. After check-in at your hotel, the group will meet for a welcome talk and dinner. Sleep at Varese Art Hotel or similar.
This morning, you'll head out to Sacro Monte (Italian for “Holy Mountain”). It lies only a few miles north of Varese among the pre-Alps. From its peak, on clear days you can enjoy a breath-taking view of the Alps and of the many lakes that make this region so famous. Your local guide will explain to you why Sacro Monte has been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and introduce you to its 15th century church, chapels, and terracotta statues. Lunch will be at Ristorante Teatro, one of the most picturesque restaurants in Varese, whose building dates back the 17th century. Ristorante Teatro is also Bob's favorite fine-dining establishment in town. After lunch, the group will enjoy a walking tour of Varese's historic center. In the evening, the first of two Italian League Basketball Games will surely entertain you! Sleep at Varese Art Hotel or similar.
Today you'll enjoy a visit to Milan. Named by the Romans as “Mediolanum,” Milan's first settlement, which dates back to 600 BC, has grown over time to become Italy's capital of fashion, banking, and publishing, as well as a thriving cultural city. Together with your local guide, you'll visit some of Milan's iconic places: The Duomo and its cathedral square, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele – one of the world's oldest shopping malls – and the Castello Sforzesco. The castle was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, and for the next two centuries remained one of the biggest citadels of Europe. After this visit, you'll enjoy some free time to wander around the busy streets of downtown Milan and, perhaps, shop in some of the many boutiques and designer stores. The bus will then drive you back to Varese, well in time for dinner. Sleep at Varese Art Hotel or similar.
This morning, you'll say arrivederci to Varese as you head to magical Lake Maggiore and the wondrous village of Stresa, which will be your home for the next three nights. You will enjoy a boat ride to Isola Bella, an island directly opposite Stresa, and for many centuries a destination for Europe's aristocrats. When the noble Borromeo family took possession of the area in the 16th and 17th centuries, they summoned the best architects, artists, and gardeners to completely transform Isola Bella and the adjacent island, Isola Madre, with opulent palaces and the most beautiful parks in Italy. Dinner will be an opportunity to sample the area's main specialties like the risotto made with local whitefish, coregone, and delicious butter cookies of the city: Margheritine di Stresa. Sleep at Hotel Regina Palace or similar.
Today you will explore one of the smallest lakes of Northern Italy, Lake d'Orta, and you will surely be awed by its beauty and special atmosphere. Considered the most romantic and mysterious of all Italian lakes, Lake Orta hosts a beautiful village, Orta San Giulio, built on the slopes of another “sacred mountain”. You may not want to leave because as the light changes constantly, you'll have the feeling you’re living in a fairy tale. You'll enjoy an exquisite lunch and have time to explore its narrow streets and its nostalgic dock. By evening, you'll be back in Stresa. Sleep at Hotel Regina Palace or similar.
Today you'll visit a very interesting artisanal cheese producer. You will have the opportunity to see a traditional seasoning cave and taste several very different kinds of cheeses while learning about the ideal micro-climate and bacteria needed to produce the best quality cheese. You'll also enjoy a tasting of the wine produced in this area of the Piedmont region. In the afternoon, we'll head to a panoramic viewpoint just outside of Arona to visit the statue of San Carlone. Dedicated to Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, this colossal statue is a massive bronze monument that rests on a hilltop overlooking Lake Maggiore. At 115 feet high, it was once the largest bronze standing statue in the world and is still second only to the Statue of Liberty. Your next visit is to the Borromeo Park to see the ruins of Arona's castle, the birthplace of St. Charles Borromeo, and enjoy a botanical walk around the park that hosts many sub-tropical species of trees and shrubs. Sleep at Hotel Regina Palace or similar.
Today you will have a relaxed departure to yet another beautiful lake – Lake Como! The beautiful small village of Lenno, located in one of the most fascinating parts of the lake called “Tremezzina,” will be your home for the next two nights. You will start your discovery of the lake with a visit to Villa Carlotta, just a few minutes north of Lenno. The villa hosts a botanical garden and a museum that boasts masterpieces by Canova, Hayez, Migliara, and Thorvaldsen. You might decide to visit the museum or simply walk around the garden – an example of Italian-style design – admiring its fountains and sculptures. Before you leave, be sure to go to the upper floor of the villa to enjoy the view of the lake and the Bellagio peninsula! You will then have time to stroll around Lenno and enjoy a fantastic dinner of local specialties. Sleep in Lenno.
Today you will cross Lake Como by boat to discover charming Bellagio and some of the beautiful villas of the area. The elegant architecture on the lakeshore is as inspiring as the beauty of the lake itself. Later in the day, you will have the opportunity to try the diverse and characteristic food of the area, including pizzoccheri, a tasty buckwheat pasta, and a famous lake fish served with polenta. You'll have the afternoon to yourself to explore. Sleep in Lenno.
Today you'll leave the beautiful shores of Lake Como and cross the Swiss border to explore the shores of Lake Lugano. This Italian-speaking area of Switzerland is known as “Canton Ticino” and takes its name from the Ticino river. Here you'll enjoy a lakeside promenade past palm trees through the Parco Civico – Lugano's major green space that covers fifteen acres. The parkland boasts manicured flower beds and tree species from around the world, as well as a forest of oak, lime, plane, and maple trees. You'll also explore Lugano's town center, characterized by Mediterranean-style squares and arcades, modern buildings, and historical banks. Lunch will be at a quaint restaurant where you'll savor some of Lombardy's iconic specialties like risotto with porcini mushrooms – Bob's favorite risotto. In the afternoon, you'll head back to Varese before going to your second Italian League basketball game. Sleep at Palace Grand Hotel or similar.
Today you'll visit the historical Poretti Brewery, founded in 1877, and enjoy a beer tasting while learning the inside-outs of hops, yeast, and malting. The complex housing the brewing facility is one of the rare examples of Liberty-style industrial buildings. In fact, you'll be able to admire gargoyles, flared medallions with drops, and gigantic pilasters and shells, all inspired by the Naturalism and Classicism of the Art Deco age. At the end of your visit, you can stop by the gift shop to bring home a bottle or two of beer. Your next visit will be one of the most unforgettable: The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso (Saint Catherine of the Rock). It is a 14th Century Roman Catholic Monastery clinging to a rock face directly overhanging the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore with stunning views and gorgeous frescoes! As you leave the monastery, you may want to buy tinctures, liquors, and tea blends made by the monks. You'll then head back to Varese for your farewell dinner. Sleep at Palace Grand Hotel or similar.
Today you'll be transferred back to the Milan Malpensa airport in time for your flight back home. It’s possible to extend the trip upon request.
5 nights in Varese (days 1, 2, 3, and days 9, 10)
3 nights in Stresa, Lake Maggiore
2 nights in Lenno, Lake Como
Tot: 10 nights – 11 days
$3,750 per person, in double room – 12 to 14 paying travelers
$3,600 per person in double room – 15 to 20 paying travelers
$ 650 single supplement
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