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Scented summer blossom perfumes enter the opened veranda door, awakening me to Lago di Mergozzo's first light.

The comfy La Quartina Hotel bed tugs, but lets go. I slip on a robe, enter the veranda and take a seat on the black wrought iron chair.
The gauzy, golden Italian light brings deep warmth, permeating well-rested nocturnal pores as I view the unwrinkled Mergozzo waters.

This little lake in Northern Italy's Lake District is a shirt-tailed cousin to the large and popular Lago de Maggiore, located six kilometers to
the southeast. It is the obscure, unobtrusive cousin, a less known getaway for locals and select travelers.

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Mergozzo, Italy

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Patio Dining, La Quartina Hotel


Whereas Maggiore is large and boisterous, Mergozzo is serene and laid-back, comfortable in its supporting cast role. No motorized craft,
it is a haven for canoes, kayaks, sailboats, sculls and swimmers. Local boys fish with hand lines from rowed boats.

Maggiore has much fame. The Swiss Riviera occupies Maggiore's northern waters. This temperate zone is home to palms, cactus and exotic plants,
a surprising contrast to the fabled Switzerland alpine topography.  Cosmopolitan Locarno, Switzerland, is perched on Maggiore's northern shore.
It is lively, robust and vital.

Ernest Hemingway convalesced from a 1918 war wound in Stresa, which clings to Maggiore's southwest shore 20 kilometers from Mergozzo. Part ofhis book, "A Farewell to Arms," was set in Stresa's Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees. The luxurious Hemingway Suite can be rented for a paltry $2,750 a night.  Opulent homes and fashionable resorts surround Maggiore, which is more provincial and removed from the Maggiore summer crowds.

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Walking beside Lago Mergozzo

The charming cobblestone street village of Mergozzo anchors the lake's
northwest end. A few hotels, campgrounds and residences are along the east
shore. The west shore's length is unoccupied except for the train line that
connects Domodossola to Stresa. A small, verdant mountain rises like a
tropical volcanic island on that shore which was the view from our room.
The white stucco La Quartina Hotel ‹ framed with brilliant red geranium
planters in windows and patios ‹ has a private beach. My travel companion
and I developed a coffee and swim ritual each morning. In the quiet hours
before most guests stirred, we slipped down the hotel's stairway, hot room
coffee in hand, strolled to the beach and swam far out into the lake. This
invigorating purge set the tone for serene days with activity and

The after-swim breakfasts on La Quartina's terrazzo will always linger
with conversation, incomparable cappuccino, melodious bird sounds and exotic
views in perfect short-sleeve shirt weather.

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Balcony at La Quartina Hotel

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Boats along the lake

Afternoon walks into nearby Mergozzo were like a stroll through a Monet
painting: lovely gardens, old world architecture, swans on the lake,
brightly painted fishing boats moored in the compact harbor, outdoor cafes
and a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys with elderly neighbor ladies
conversing between themselves.

Sampling the Italian wines, we found them superb and priced well within
the reach of budget travelers. At one wine store in nearby Domodossola, the
proprietors took us to the cellar where we sampled Barola, Barbera and
Dolcetto wines from large tanks. For $9, we purchased a 5-liter recyclable
jug of Dolcetto.
Dining at the LaQuartina was a superb culinary voyage under the guidance
of hotel owner and chef Laura Profumo. Italians treat food as art, each dish
viewed and consumed slowly, savoring every morsel.

The four-course dinners begin with antipasto (salad), followed by primi
(pasta), secondi (main dish) and dolce (dessert). Red or white wine is
generally the drink of choice, though beer, tea or Italian sodas are also

My meal started with insalata di pompelmo/petto d'anatra/ scarola e
nocciole tostate (salad with grapefruit, duck breast, endive and hazelnuts).
This was followed by the delectable Northern Italian primi dish gnocchetti
di patate saltati con pomodorinil/olive taggiaschee parmigiano (potato
dumplings with tomatoes, olives and Parmesan cheese).

Secondi was always a toss-up between costolette di Agnello grigliate alle
erbe (lamb chops with herbs) and filetto di manzo al Barbaresco (fillet of
beef with Barbaresco wine).

Dolci was simply mousse au chocolat, though Iım still curious about their
foliating calda alle mele con gelato (warm apples filled puff pastry with
custard ice cream). I surmise that means another La Quartina sojourn to
unravel that taste mystery. We also had the fortune of trying many famous
Italian gelatos at some of our other travel destinations.

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The talk of the Afternoon

If a traveler needs a break from too much tranquility at Mergozzo, I recommend a day journey to nearby Stresa with its colorful villas and verdant gardens.
Lake Maggiore boats depart Stresa for a variety of enticing explorations, most notable the Borromean Islands, which are small glisteningjewels of natural
beauty augmented by spectacular gardens and fascinating architecture, including the historic palace on Isola Bella

Days get away too quickly in Northern Italy. A traveler wishes for 48 hour days. The endless sights, sounds and tastes create a seductive trance,
not easy to let go. Saying goodbye is difficult, like leaving your dearest friend.

Nevertheless, "salute la buono vita" ( here's to the good life!)

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Church in the Alps around Mergozzo

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Italian Alps

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Hay field, Oira, Italy


Article and photos by Larry Turner.

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