Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore, Italy Copyright Shirley Sorbello 2006
My favorite place on earth is the island of Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore, near Stresa, Italy. I wrote about it HERE on this blog a couple of years ago. The gardens are lovely, and the beauty of the mountain views is undeniable.
View from Isola Bella Copyright Shirley Sorbello 2007
However, it’s more than beauty that draws me here…it’s the way it makes me feel when I’m there—joyful, loving, peaceful—a place that brings me contentment unlike anywhere else on earth.
What about you? Do you have a place nearby or at a distance that calls to you to visit because it makes you happy and stress-free to be there?
Cathedral and Tower of Pisa Copyright 2006 Sherri L. Sorbello
These photos of the Cathedral and Bell Tower of Pisa were taken by my daughter, Sherri, on June 30, 2006. I still remember how uncomfortable the heat and humidity were that day as we walked through the tiny town of Pisa, Italy to get to the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) where the cathedral and bell tower are located.
And yes, it really does lean, although apparently not as much as it did previously. According to the resources listed below, the tower began to lean during its over two hundred years of construction from 1173 to 1399. Various method of compensation and reinforcement continued over the centuries without much success until the late twentieth century.
Tower of Pisa Copyright 2006 Sherri L. Sorbello
When the tower was in danger of collapse in 1990, it was closed to visitors while engineers took on a major straightening project. This was completed in May 2001 after correcting the lean 19 inches (it leans about 13 feet at the top) and more importantly, stopping it from continuing.
Pisa got its name in 600 BC from a Greek word meaning “marshy land.” Apparently this is the reason for the problem with the tower and the fact that other structures in Pisa, including the cathedral, are sinking.
This is an article I had written a while back. This intriguing island is unknown to a lot of people who visit Italy. I urge you to seek it out if you are planning a trip there. I have been there on two of my three trips to Italy. In fact, the whole Lake Maggiore region is beautiful and worthy of a visit.
Approching Isola Bella
Millions of visitors fly into Italy every year to experience the art, history, culture and beauty of this fascinating country. Those who are fortunate, as my daughter Sherri and I were in July of 2006, stumble across the charming island of Isola Bella. The island seemed surreal with its white peacocks, gigantic unicorn statue, seventeenth-century palace and all those breathtaking views of Lake Maggiore.
White Peacocks on Isola Bella
Isola Bella, which means “beautiful island,” is one of three islands sitting in magnificent Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake. It is located near Stresa in northern Italy. This island displays a unique blending of man’s artistic design with the beauty of God’s creations.
A short boat trip from our hotel in Baveno brought us to this peaceful setting. Here we discovered an ornate Baroque palace with formal terraced gardens built in the seventeenth century by Count Carlo Borromeo in honor of his wife Isabella. The structure is surrounded by flamboyant gardens dotted with fountains, statues and abundant plant life ranging from lemons to hydrangeas.
In the Garden
Much of the garden is constructed in the form of a pyramid of ten terraces which descend gradually down to the lake, like layers of a gigantic cake. White peacocks strutted through the lush vegetation and manicured lawns. The culmination of these stylishly overstated gardens was the gigantic statue of a unicorn, the symbol of the Borromeo family, proudly sitting on top of the so-called garden amphitheatre.
The grandiose Borromeo Palace is another site which boasts of Napoleon’s visits. Inside, we discovered many treasures, including Murano glass chandeliers, rich tapestries, antique furniture and musical instruments. There were also famous paintings and sculptures by Tuscan and Neapolitan artists. We even passed by a small marionette theatre.
It was easy to feel like we were drowning in wealth as we walked through room after room in awe of such historic and artistic splendor. Especially unique were the six grottoes decorated with light and dark stones. This unique aquatic-themed, almost subterranean, series of rooms was said to be designed for cooler summertime living.
The most unforgettable experience for me was the way my eyes were so frequently, almost magnetically, drawn to the palace’s open windows by the rippled blue expanse of Lake Maggiore nestled so snugly against the majestic Alpine mountains. I couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to live in this regal setting, waking up each morning to these magnificent views. Today’s Borromeo family knows the answer, as they periodically vacation on the upper floors. I only know that for me, personally, looking out from those palace windows was a spiritually renewing experience. It filled me with a deep sense of inner peace and joy.
Lake Maggiore from the Palace
Isola Bella must be seen to be believed. It is real, yet certainly provides solid food for the imagination. With such diversity to its charms, each visitor’s experience here must be uniquely their own. To me, it will always be truly a “Fantasy Island.”
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit Italy three times in my life and hope to do it again in the near future. If you have only one chance to visit Europe, make it Italy. It can be the experience of a lifetime if you will allow it to be. You have only to be open to it. I wrote this shortly after my second trip there in 2006.
Italy will touch you. That is, it will gently speak to your heart and soul to the extent that they can hear. If you are lucky, it will reach inside you, pull out and hand to you, most elegantly of course, all your passion that’s been tucked away so deeply, but was hesitant to venture out in our more reserved American society.
Go to Italy if you want to love so strongly it will take your breath away, experience beauty around every corner, and breathe in the magnificence of the spiritual energy of hundreds of years that vibrates so strongly in places like Venice and Assisi.
It’s okay to “feel” things in Italy. Your soul is bared…open to sentiments of passion, pain, tragedy, love, joy, beauty and life. Your heart bursts open to all of life’s experiences with an intensity that has only simmered within you in the past. Yes, there is the return of that joyful breath of life traveling along with you. You wonder why you waited so long to start living and only hope that as you return to your own wonderful country, you can take with you as much passion for life as your heart and soul felt there.