Hufflepuff and Gryffindor on the Shores of Lago Maggiore
March 2, 2018
We arrive at Oleggio Castello with looming rain greying the sky and a matinal chill penetrating the air. We wonder out loud after catching sight of the imposing Castello Dal Pozzo if my husband took a wrong turn and crossed the channel while we dozed during our drive from Tuscany. Are we in England?
Not so, Frank assures us and tells us we missed a very pretty town, Arona, a few kilometers from here, and sitting on the majestic Lago Maggiore.
We are further assured that we are still in Italy when we are very hospitably welcomed in Italian by two efficient and friendly young women at the front desk who soon after checking us in, show us to our rooms. I muse as we follow them into the elevator that guests’ comfort and happiness are clearly the focus here.
Our rooms are in the main palazzo, an 18 th century villa, respectful of its noble past but still offering contemporary elegance and comfort. Notwithstanding that the only rooms available to us do not have a lake view, the rooms with their Venetian plastered walls and opulent drapery are spacious and delightful.
We quickly drop off our luggage and hurry outside to explore. The air coming from the lake is pungent, but now and then, you catch the fragrant whiff of jasmine. Flowering pots are scattered everywhere along the expansive manicured gardens and velvety lawns. Occasionally a semi-hidden path pokes through a patch of trees inviting the explorer to meander through the park.
We pass what were once the castle’s stables and which now house eight spacious and contemporary rooms. But we wander on, led by the smell of the lake and the curiosity to find the English castle.
Rachele meets us at the front steps to the imposing main door of the castle. She has very kindly offered to give our little group a tour.
As we enter we find ourselves transported into a Harry Potter world. Wouldn’t my nephews Max and Jack just love this, I wonder? Massive double oak doors lead into the entrance hall where a wide wooden staircase on the right takes guests and visitors to the rooms on the second floor. Hey! Is that grand staircase moving? Surely this must be travelers’ fatigue! But then why does this huge rambling castle so look like Hogwarts? Like Hogwarts, the Castello Dal Pozzo too sits on the shores of a lake. Hmm….
My eye travels along the top edge of the walls; below the wood coffered ceilings runs a stencilled ribbon of what looks suspiciously like a William Morris pattern. Rachele confirms that the great Arts and Crafts master himself had been hired to create these exquisite motifs.
The Castello is a perfect example of neo-gothic Revival, so admired by the The Marquis Claudio Dal Pozzo d'Annone who turned the castello in the second half of the 18th century (originally built around the year 1000 by his ancestors the Visconti family), into a sixteenth-century Tudor Gothic style.
The interiors with their stained glass windows, coats-of-arms emblazoned on many walls, detailed and intricate wooden carvings are all enhanced by its grandiose setting of parkland, woodland and soft undulating green hills that slope gently down to the lake.
There is a photo shoot at the castle today, and carried by our curiosity we follow the voices and frenzied sounds of activity as we slip through the large glass doors of one of the grand parlour rooms and find ourselves on the magnificent terrace that runs the width of the castle. What a view!
There in the distance are the shimmering and still, silvery waters of Lago Maggiore.
Faced with such a sublime setting we are hard put to turn away and focus on the fashion shoot happening in the castle on this day.
Reluctantly we are led away, back through the hallowed corridors and sumptuous rooms of Castello dal Pozzo, to the private chapel of the Dal Pozzo family. As we step out into the courtyard a piercing ray of sunshine blinds us momentarily. I squint as I fumble for my sunglasses in my purse and think—just for a moment—that perhaps I’ve stumbled across a portal that in the space of a few milliseconds transported me to another time, and then back again.
As the twilight casts shadows over the lake, our small group of travelling friends finds itself sitting at a table on the summit of a tower that overlooks the tranquil waters of Lago Maggiore.
A short 10 minute car drive down the Via Dei Partigiani brought us to Nautica Ristorante. We’ve been told there are some great fish dishes to savour at this little restaurant. The young men, hailing from Calabria, who own and run Nautica come out to greet us. It’s a chilly evening but they wonder if we would like the royal view? The ladies have their shawls and Frank runs back out to the car to grab his cap. Yes, the royal view will suit us just fine after our day visiting the castle.
A turret like structure obviously dating back in time, and built probably as a lookout point to the lake serves now as the choice place to sit for dinner on warm summer evenings. The fact that it is fall and quite cool does not deter us.
Our decision pays off tenfold: as we enjoy a fabulous meal of varied sea and lake fishes, sitting atop a lookout tower surrounded by immense natural beauty, we raise a glass to good friends who travel together. One of us thinks of making the redundant comment that “Italy is always a good idea”.