Reflections on a Lake

In Foody Travellers Recommend... by Anna HymanLeave a Comment

Fact Box

The Hotel Cannero has 60 rooms and 10 apartments. Visit

Numerous airlines fly from the UK to Milan Malpensa airport. Airport transfer Milan Malpensa to Cannero approximately 80 minutes.

Our trip was organised by and booked through the ever-helpful and cheerful Mel and Astra of Medway Travel. Visit; tel: 01622 608265.

A hotel at Cannero on the shores of Lake Maggiore became a home from home for two Foody Travellers. Anna Hyman explains why.

In my mind’s eye I am sitting on a small balcony reading in the warm late afternoon sunshine. Every now and again I put my book down and look out over a variety of connecting buildings; a dove cot adopted by some local pigeons; a sun terrace partly hidden by shrubs. The top branch of a eucalyptus tree reaches up to my third floor balcony as does a spreading wisteria. Beneath me my friend’s room on a terrace close to a pond where goldfish lazily swim through water lilies; a few yards away are steps to a pretty shaped swimming pool edged by plants and loungers. If I turn my head to the left and peep through the balcony’s geraniums I have a glimpse of a sparkling lake; opposite me a cobbled court yard with doors to the wine cellar and the hotel entrance. The air is almost heavy with the perfume of flowers.

I sigh, close my book and retreat into my room with its umber and red colour scheme. I love this simple, but comfortable room. I feel at home here and I don’t want to leave, but packing has to be done. We leave the next morning for the flight back to the UK.

A second home

In a week the Hotel Cannero has become almost a second home. Outside my room is a small table piled with magazines – English, French, German. Downstairs there are cosy rooms, shelves of books and more magazines, vases of fresh flowers everywhere. There is a tiny bar and in the evening you will find us either there or outside at a table overlooking the lake with an Aperol spritz or a glass of prosecco. There is a piano in the bar and sometimes Annalisa plays it, more for her own pleasure than to entertain us. She plays beautifully. The dining room is just a few yards away – we have a table on the verandah and I can watch the lake lights twinkling, reflected in the still waters as darkness gathers. Dinner is good: portions too big for me; the service charming – Raphael once worked at a hotel close to where I live in the UK and we reminisce about local pubs. Breakfast eggs are boiled in small batches so they are usually still soft inside; my friend loves the pastries.

I’ve stayed at many family-run hotels but this one is in a class all of its own. Maria Carla Gallinotto , the current owner, runs it with the help of her family – Samuele, Annalisa and Felice. However busy they are they always make time to greet us with a smile and a chat. They are so kind and helpful, as indeed are the rest of the 30-strong staff (several of them second generation). One of our suitcases took three days to arrive – I shudder to think how many phone calls Samuele made to track it down.

Lake view

Lake tours

The lake steamer has become our means of transport – its mooring is just across the narrow cobbled road in front of the hotel. We bought a seven-day lake pass for €60 on day one and have used it every day since. That first day we headed off for the shops of Verbania to buy emergency clothing and necessities. Cannero is the sweetest of little lakeside towns – plenty of bars for its 1000 inhabitants plus visitors, but only one tiny supermarket and a pharmacy.

Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy, also crosses the border into Switzerland. The Italian part of the lake lies within Piedmont and Lombardy and in its waters are 11 islands – the most famous and popular the Borromean Islands.

We cruised down to Stresa and transferred to another boat to take us to two of the islands. The first, the aptly named Isola Bella (beautiful island). In the 17th century the island once a rocky outcrop with a few fishermen’s houses was transformed by Carlo III and his heirs, with the help of thousands of tons of soil, to resemble a ship. On it they created a substantial palazzo and magnificent terraced gardens. Twenty minutes away by boat is Isola dei Pescatori – the fishermens’ island. Some narrow cobbled alleyways weave between ancient buildings and by the water’s edge stall upon stall of souvenirs.

Back on the mainland we spend a couple of hours in Stresa – a charming town always worth a visit – with plenty of shops, restaurants, some grand hotels and a lakeside esplanade. We found several foody shops but it seems that apart from one or two cakes and biscuits such as the Margheritine biscuits there aren’t really any dishes special to Stresa or the lake. Though there are excellent regional wines and cheeses like Toma and Bettelmatt as well as salami, honey and rice. The lake fish is good; they include pike perch, trout and eels. I usually choose lake fish from the dinner menu.

Markets and expensive boutiques

The prospect of Italy’s, if not Europe’s, largest market pulled us like a magnet and along with thousands of others we headed across the lake to Luino. It’s famous throughout Europe and visitors make their way from Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands along with the locals plus a fair few holidaying Brits to attend the weekly Wednesday market. It is amazing and great fun with lots of good bargains. Somehow we managed to miss its food section but we made up for that a few days later at Cannobio’s Sunday waterfront market. On sale were cheeses, hams, salami, olives, pickled onions, candied fruit, cakes, bread, biscuits, nuts, meat, vegetables and fruit including the blackest cherries and rosiest apricots I have ever seen.

Another day we headed off into the Swiss part of the lake to Ancona with its attractive waterfront esplanade and expensive boutiques. En route we had an hour and a half stopover at Luivo, a small working town more for locals than tourists with narrow streets just wide enough for a car. Lunch on the lake steamer came to €30 for the two of us – fried lake trout, French fries and carrots plus half a litre of Prado wine, two bottles of water and coffees. It was good.

Romantic ruins

I particularly enjoyed this excursion as it took me closer to two tiny islands just off the shore fairly close to Cannero – on them castle ruins. These ruins fascinate me. What fate befell the castles? Investigation revealed that in the 15th century the islands were the headquarters of the five notorious Mazzarda brothers who plundered, destroyed and killed anything or anybody they had a mind to. Their rule of terror continued until the Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti sent a 400 strong army to get rid of them. As time passed the castles fell into ruins which in turn became a fashionable tourist attraction. Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince of Wales picnicked on them in 1815 and wanted to rent them, but her offer was declined.

Maggiore may not have scenery as dramatic as Lake Como but it has, to my mind, a more tranquil air. At certain times it takes on a soft hazy blue light that seems to seamlessly merge sky and lake together. On its shore huddles of old houses punctuated by a church make up the lake towns and villages. In the gardens camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias grow alongside lemons and olive trees. Cannereo itself is famed for its mild micro-climate and plants flourish here that might perhaps not grow on other parts of the lake.

Cannero hotel

The hotel’s story

Back in the hotel we often join Samuele’s wife Giuliana in the wine cellar (open 5-6pm) to learn more about the local wines, and maybe choose a bottle to go with our evening meal. On another occasion we sat and chatted to Maria Carla, who told us more about the history of her hotel.

In the mid-1800s, she tells us, part of an old monastery was converted into a hotel – the Albergo dei Tre Re (Three Kings). In 1902 it was taken over by Carolina and Giovanni Gallinotto who changed its name to Hotel Cannero. And so it has remained in the family to this day. The hotel was commandeered during the last war and badly damaged by solders. (The hotel features briefly in Robert Ryan’s war time story – After Midnight.) Next door, we learn, was the Casa della Posta, once home of a local Baron and his family, which became part of the hotel in 2001. It has been charmingly converted – still retaining its original style and decoration but brought sensitively up to date.

It might not be the grandest hotel on Maggiore but our taxi driver who brought us from Milan airport was adamant that we were staying at the ‘best hotel on the lake’.

In our opinion she was right, and therefore the delightful warm and welcoming Hotel Cannero with its delightful family receives our accolade of ‘Simply the Best’.

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