Back home. Been visiting the small town of Stresa in North Italy. Wow. Expected Lake Maggiore to be an attractive spot. It's spectacular. No, its better than that. One of my (and many others) favorite view in Wales is across the water from Lake Vyrnwy Hotel in Montgomeryshire. Imagine multiplying by a factor of 20 - times number and height of mountains - times expanse of water - times number of gasps of admiration. And it was warm as well. Oddly, there were very few birds about - despite there being so much wooded area that we were told that European Bears live and sit in the woods there.
Only reason that I'd heard of Stresa was because a highly significant conference was held there in 1935, following Hitler's declaration earlier that year of his intent to re-arm Germany. The French Prime Minister, Pierre Laval, Britain's Ramsey Macdonald and Benito Mussolini met and formed The Stresa Front to resist the resurgent Geman dictator. But Britain then did a separate deal with Hitler without involving her new partners, which led Mussolini to stick two fingers up to the agreement and invade Abyssinia - a decision which eventually led to Il Duce hanging upside down from a lamp post full of bullet holes. The Conference took place on Isola Bella, an island off Stresa which is the most enchanting place, complete with palace and a very special garden - the main reason we were in Italy. There was another room in the palace, where Napoleon and Josephine slept when they were in town. There are three islands in Lake Maggiore - Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori. We did the gardens in the first two, and took a romantic dinner on the third, where Hemingway liked to go to write. A separate post about a Ceder tree on Pescatori will feature this weekend - the most amazing thing we saw on the whole trip.
Didn't do much touring. But did take the cable car to the top of Monte Matterone, a climb of around 3.000 ft. Stunning. It was too misty to see Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in the Alps - over the border in Switzerland. Couldn't see Interlaken either. That's also just over the border, and is where Wilberforce spent as much time as he could spare, attracted there because of its great beauty. Which informs you that I've been reading William Hague's biography of the great man. Also read Ian Rankin's latest,'The Complaints', and 'City of the Sun' by David Levien, which I didn't like much. Have not read a single newspaper for five days. I wonder if anything's happened.
Visiting other countries spreads understanding - and I understand a lot more about Italy than I did a week ago, and what leads to the election of a man like Berlusconi. Much of the property around Maggiore is owned by a rich Italian family. The Borromeos have been rich for many hundreds of years, and are much involved in business, in culture, in politics and in religion - with links to several Popes over the centuries. These activities are intertwined. Appropriately, Berlusconi has a house near Stresa. When the head of the Borromeo family is staying in his palace on Isola Bella, his flag is raised, just as it is when HMH is in residence. And the locals refer to him as ' The Prince'. And we all thought it was a republic. No matter what it is, you should make a visit to Stresa if you can.