Labor Day weekend in lovely Lesa, Italy on Lake Maggiore… Part one

Bill and I usually go somewhere for the long Labor Day weekend, although last year we didn’t do anything because we had a cruise planned for Scotland and Northern Ireland.  This year, we hadn’t really talked too much about it, since Bill had a big business trip to Morocco the week prior.  We also just found out that we might have to move and the need to secure a job and potentially new housing has kind of dominated our thoughts.

I got to thinking about it, though, and decided I did need a short break from Germany.  So, a few weeks ago, I casually asked Bill what he wanted to do for Labor Day.  He said he wouldn’t mind a quick trip, despite having to travel to Africa the week prior.  I had been looking at going to Ticino in southern Switzerland, which is near Lake Lugano, but I knew we’d need to bring our dogs with us and I wasn’t finding any appropriate self-catering properties.

Then I looked at all the places I had saved on Booking.com and most of them were already booked.  Suddenly, I remember that my German friend, Susanne, had recommended Lake Maggiore.  This lake is close to Lake Como, which we’ve visited a couple of times, but was rumored to have a quieter vibe.  Also, although I had been looking at Ticino, Switzerland, when it comes down to it, Italy is much cheaper.  And if you’re going to be that close to Italy, you might as well just go there.  So I searched Lake Maggiore on Booking.com and found the Rose Apartment in Lesa.  Bill flipped a coin; it was between the Czech Republic and Lesa.  Lesa won.

The word “apartment” is kind of a misnomer for this property.  When I think of apartments, I think of small rented quarters sharing walls with other people.  The Rose Apartment is, in fact, a good sized house, complete with a huge fenced in yard.  I noted that it was very close to the lake and the price was right, so I booked it for three nights.  In retrospect, I should have booked it for at least four nights.  Our break in Italy wasn’t long enough.  However, we were in Lesa long enough to get a feel for the low-key town.  I now know that I don’t have much of a reason to go back to Lake Como.  Lake Maggiore is definitely more my style.  It’s less flashy and more homey.

First thing’s first.  How do you pronounce Lesa?

No, it’s not like “Lisa”.  It’s more like lay-zuh.

Bill got home from Morocco late Thursday night.  Friday morning, we considered waiting to pick up the mail before starting our journey south.  Fortunately, I realized that waiting for the post office to open would really put us behind.  We set off from Germany at about 9:30am or so, expecting to arrive in Lesa by 4:00… maybe 5:00 at the latest.

The drive to Italy through Switzerland is very beautiful.  You pass through stunning mountains and lakes that will take your breath away.  I probably should have been enjoying more of the scenery, but I also got to try out the cellular capability on my new iPad.  I signed up for a month of data from GigSky for 50 euros (5 GB).  It worked very well and I only used one gig to and from Italy.  Sometimes I’m surprised I was born in the 70s.  You’d think I never had to live without Internet access.  But for a small country, Switzerland takes a long time to get through and since it’s not in the EU, roaming charges are a bitch.  Gig Sky worked well enough that I’d use it again.

This lake is so beautiful.  We need to stop sometime so I can take proper photos.  We had sun on the way back today and the lake was even more gorgeous.

Sadly, because we had our hoodlum dogs with us, we ended up eating lunch at a Burger King, where we both had sandwiches that were sodden with mayonnaise.  I don’t know why, but fast food restaurants in Germany and Switzerland really overdo the condiments, especially mayo.  Next time, maybe we should pack our own sandwiches.

Way too much mayo!!!

Then… fate conspired to keep us on the road much longer than we originally planned.  First, we hit a ton of traffic in Switzerland near the Gotthard Tunnel.  It took awhile to get through the 16.9 kilometer passage.  Once we were through that, we hit more traffic in Italy.  We got there just as rush hour was starting.

Just over the Italian border.  It was like this the whole way.

And then, we hit a section of the autostrada, really not that far from Lesa, and ended up sitting for in traffic that was pretty much at a standstill.  We were stuck there for well over an hour and, when Bill honked at a young woman who was apparently asleep at the wheel, she flipped him off.  In Italy, it’s not illegal to flip people off like it is here in Germany.  I wouldn’t ordinarily do something like that, even though we were really tired and our tempers were very short.  When you’re sitting in traffic that has come to a standstill after you’ve been driving for hours, you tend to have less patience.  Bill was amused and surprised by her vehement response.

We paid just under three euros in tolls to drive on the autostrada.  Bill remarked that it was very cheap.  I turned to him and said, “You would have wanted to pay more for that experience?”  He had a good laugh at that.  While we were stuck in the Stau, we managed to stop into an Autogrill (Italy’s rest stop chain) and the gas station attendant pointed out that the back wiper on our RAV 4 was slightly cracked.  The attendant offered to replace it for us.  Bill got the sense he might have cracked the wiper himself, looking for extra euros.  We’ve been to Italy enough times that we’re seasoned when it comes to small time scams.  Unfortunately, this was not the only calling card our car brought back from Italy.  More on that in the next post.

Bumper to bumper traffic.  Turned out the holdup was a very bad accident.  My mouth dropped open as we passed what appeared to be an overturned truck.  I’d be surprised if the driver walked away from that with his or her life.


First view of the lake.  I was so glad to see it!


By the time we got to Lesa, it was about 7:30pm.  Since he and his wife had dinner plans, the host sent his two very beautiful and charming teenaged daughters to give us the keys to the house.  They got to try out their English skills and our dogs, Zane and Arran, got lots of welcoming pats.  I don’t think I could have picked a more dog friendly rental!

Below are some pictures of the inside of the Rose Apartment.

Huge chestnut tree in the yard.  There are swings.


Sliding board next to a pavilion where you can grill.

Crib in the master bedroom.


Master bed.  Fairly comfortable mattress.

Laundry room in the basement.  There’s a washer and an ironing board.


Hall bathroom.


Kids’ bedroom has four beds.  There’s also a twin bed in the living room and in the basement.


Basement bed.


Basement half bathroom.


Couches in the living room and another twin bed.


Nice sized kitchen.  Opens to a lovely terrace with an awning.

We were too tired to go out to eat, so Bill found a local pizzeria and got a margherita pizza and tortellini with sage.  

Then he tried on the hat that was left behind.  I’m not sure the Italian look is for him.

This is a post office we passed in a big town on the way to Lesa.  I thought it was an interesting mix of dramatic art and 60s kitsch.


We didn’t stay up long after we had dinner.  The drive down was very exhausting.  I was kind of bummed, since we might have found a nice restaurant if we’d had a little more time on Friday.  Food, wine. and a change of scenery were pretty much what this trip was all about, anyway.

I should mention that the Rose Apartment has old style Italian three pronged L outlets, which means that our regular electronics didn’t fit.  However, the owners did provide a power strip in the kitchen that gave us enough outlets that we could charge up our phones and such.  Also, WiFi worked great, which is more than I can say about our experience in the last Italian rental we stayed in last year.

I will continue this series tomorrow, after I’ve had a good sleep.  The drive back to Germany today wasn’t quite as exhausting or obnoxious, but I could use a drink.


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