What would you imagine a Travel Belles trip in Italy to be like? In my last, weary days in South America, I was having hallucinations about relaxed excursions on an Italian lake, basking under the last of Europe’s summer sun, wearing something a little more chic than my ruined jeans, which were at the point of falling apart.
A few days later, my dreams were coming true. From our beautiful Belles’ residence in the northern town of Vogogna, Margo, Krista, Kathy, Kate and I had taken a train across the border to Switzerland. The sun was warm – Europe was in the midst of an Indian summer – and I was even wearing a skirt, having retired my poor, battered jeans.
We began with a stroll around the little town of Santa Maria Maggiore. The Swiss-Italian-style houses – complete with painted shutters and window-boxes bursting with geraniums – were everything I could have hoped for, and it was a luxury to be in the company of other keen photographers, who were equally snap-happy and not telling me to get a move on as I took yet another shot of a leaf, or a man on his bike, or a nice arch.
It was from the considerably bigger, but equally whimsical, town of Locarno that we got our first sight of the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore. I have always loved boats and the feeling of being on the water, so even seeing the distant sailboats gave me a quiet thrill. After quelling the grumbles of my stomach with a caprese salad and a caramel gelato, it was time for us to board the ferry boat which would take us back to Italy.
We ensconsed ourselves on the very top deck and did nothing but gaze out over the water and take a few photos. It was mid-afternoon when we set off, so the lake was a silvery-blue, the sun a white orb. There was nothing to disturb the peace; the only noise was the constant chug-chug-chug of the boat and the occasional murmur of chatter. The water had that serene appearance of a single sheet of silk, shadows and light playing across its surface, making it look crumpled. Just a few sparkles – reflections of sunlight – danced in the distance. We sighed little sighs, “happy sighs”, as Margo said, and sank back in our seats.
Every now and then, we would pause at some charming little village, each as picturesque as the last, with a church dome or spire perfectly composed against the mountain backdrop. A few passengers would disembark, a few others would board and we would continue on our way again. Slowly, the sparkles on the water multiplied and stretched, creating a shimmering path between the boat and the horizon. The sun got gradually lower in the sky, the scenery around us become sharper, clearer and honey-toned.
We passed a small, forested island and the sun sank behind the mountains, casting a yellow, then orange glow across the sky. This caused us to stir -we grabbed our cameras, powerless to resist the siren-call of a sunset. Within minutes, the burnished sky faded and the air grew chilly. We shivered, with nothing more than pashminas to keep us warm, but stubbornly refused to complain.
Soon, just as lights were appearing, illuminating the small communities which dotted the coast, the boat chugged into its final dock: the town of Stresa. We were back in Italy, just a short train ride away from our Vogogna home. We looked at each other and sighed happily.