Adventure on the Italian Lakes of Lake Como and Lake Orto
Who says adventure travel means you have to rough it? Today we are heading to the Italian Lakes District, named the most beautiful lakes in the world by the Huffington Post.
Located in the Italian alps, the Italian Lakes District has spectacular pristine lakes surrounded by the majestic alps! No wonder so many celebrities like George Clooney, Madonna and Sir Richard Branson have purchased homes here.
On today’s Active Travel Adventures podcast, we interview Christine Jenkins, who went on Active Adventure’s ‘Dolce Vita’ fully guided ten day adventure travel holiday. Christine explains that each day, she thought if she had to go home that day, her expectations were exceeded, and still every day got better still!
She hiked stunning trails overlooking the lakes, and kayaked on Lake Como and Lake Orta (the latter being her favorite since it is less crowded).
Of course, in Italy, all the food and ample wine was divine – and plentiful!
Italian Lakes Villages
Of course, you're not always hiking or kayaking. You're also here for the ‘Dolce Vita' the sweeot or good life, and that means lots of great food and wine. Christine says she didn't have a single meal that wasn't outstanding! Christine also enjoyed having wine with both lunch AND dinner as is typical in Italy.
On Christine's trip she visited the utterly charming villages of Stresa and Alagna, checked out the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sacro Monte di Varallo, explored the relatively undiscovered valley of Valsesia, hiked through the Bors valley and so much more!
Christine got a great view looking towards the Swiss alps at the Madonna del Sasso Sanctuary – don't miss this!
Bellagio Boat Tour Video
This is a brief video that takes you on a boat tour of Bellagio
Here is the Dolce Vita itinerary:
Day 1 — Arrive Milan Malpensa, visit Sacromonte Varallo
Day 2 — Hike to Rifugio Crespi
Day 3 — Hiking the Walser hamlets of Valsesia
Day 4 — Hike down to Pella, boat to Orta San Giulio
Day 5 — Sea kayak Lake Orta
Day 6 — Hike the Mottarone mountain range
Day 7 — Hiking Val Grande National Park
Day 8 — Journey to Lake Como, hike to Vezio Castle
Day 9 — Sea kayaking Lake Como
Day 10 — Back to Milan Malpensa
Kayak the Italian Lakes
You can of course hire a boat to tour the lakes, but isn't it better to get up close and personal? Why not kayak so you can slip in to the coves. Plus you can avoid the crowds better this way! Christine preferred Lake Orta over Lake Como because it was quieter, but she loved kayaking both! She also found the boat garages built into the sides of the mountains particulary interesting.
Hike Italian Lakes
In this picture postcard area, there are wonderful opportunities to get spectacular vistas!
Earn your view by hiking to the top of Mottorone!
You'll get striking views of the Po Valley and the summits of the alps – including a fabulous view of Mont Rosa!
If you don't want to hike back down, simply take the Funivia (gondola) down to the heart of Stresa!
FREE Italian Lakes Travel Planner
Click the box to get a FREE Italian Lakes Travel Planner. The planner will save you a ton of time and provides helpful links and recommendations to help you have an awesome vacation at the Italian Lakes!
Active Adventures, while the name sounds similar to Active Travel Adventures (ATA), is a completely different company. However I do have an affiliate relationship with them and you'll often hear me recommend them. I do not accept any advertising on my podcast, website or downloads. However, for the companies that I choose, and that I choose to affiliate with and recommend, I may earn — at NO additional cost to you — a small commission, a break on costs, or sometimes just a pat on the back and a thank you:)
Using my links is a great FREE way to show your support for ATA. I offer unbiased recommendations only of fine companies that I know, like and trust. Many thanks! Kit
Italian Lakes Refugios
Sometimes you just need a break – especially after a steep uphill climb! Check out one of these darling refugios for a delicious break!
Offering up only the finest local ingredients, you will be rewarded for your hiking efforts with a delicious meal featuring fresh from the local valley meats, cheeses and beverages. This truly is the Dolce Vita!
Even though it may be warm in the summer down by the lakes, don't forget that you are peering up at the magnificent Italian Alps!
Take a gondola ride up to see a glacier, and ice hikers with their crampons.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
02:13 How Christine got in to adventure travel
02:30 How switched from regular travel to adventure travel
03:30 Making new friends on adventure travel holidays
03:55 Why chose the Italian Lakes vacation
04:58 What makes Active Adventures different
05:32 How difficult was this adventure
06:11 Adventure travel as team building
06:24 Where were fellow travelers from
06:47 How did she train
07:33 Is elevation an issue
08:47 UNESCO Valsesia
09:48 Favorite memories
11:45 Hike into Alagna
13:47 Italy does food right
15:48 Typical daily activities
17:36 Describe the lakes
19:21 Describe the landscape
20:35 Visit to the glacier
20:57 When did Christine go
21:42 Using hiking sticks
22:06 Surprise lake swim
23:16 Christine describes her group
24:32 The trip exceeds all expectations
25:53 Mont Blanc and Annapurna (Nepal)
26:58 Celebrities at Lake Como
28:28 Played hooky
29:38 Using a local guide
31:57 Naked boaters at dinner
33:30 Christine’s guides
35:15 Fresh foccacia
37:25 What she wished she’d known
38:19 Traveling solo
39:23 Advice to anyone considering the Italian Lakes
40:20 How Christine chooses where to travel
42:15 ATA and affiliate partners
43:13 How to get the FREE Travel Planners
43:29 A shout out to Pat
43:37 Reach out to Kit
SEE BELOW FOR COMPLETE ITALIAN LAKES PODCAST TRANSCRIPT
Time Stamped Podcast Transcript
Christine: 00:00 I said to my roommate, my neighbor, I said, you know, if I have to go home tomorrow, I'm still ecstatic. I've had the best time ever. So each day was like a bonus day… it just can't get any better, and it kept getting better. That's all I can say.
Kit: 00:21 ‘Dolce vida' the good life, the sweet life. Today we're going to explore the sweet life in Italy. We're going to the Italian Lakes district, an area of Italy you may not be familiar with. Welcome to the Active Travel Adventures podcast. I'm your host Kit Parks, and if you're listening to this podcast, you're not interested in an ordinary life. You want a bigger life, one filled with excitement, adventure, interesting people and challenges. You want to explore the world and different cultures. You want to stretch yourself. You get your jollies off a conquering a difficult feat, and you love how adventure travel can propel your life forward. At the Active Travel Adventures podcast, website, and community, our number one mission is to provide you with the information and tools that you need to take on these adventures. Each show explores an exciting new destination to see if it's something you're interested in and you'll be learning what to expect from someone like you who's actually done it.
Kit: 01:11 If the destination piques your interest, then head over to the website where you can see photos, get more detailed itinerary information, and other important information on the website. Also, you can download the free printer friendly travel planner. The planner has all the important links and recommendations you need to actually plan your adventure, or you can wait for the beginning of the month when I send out a monthly and note, I say ‘monthly' newsletter that includes all the new travel planners along with other tips and deals. I'll never sell your email or spam you, I promise.
Kit: 01:41 So today we're going to be going to the stunningly beautiful Italian lakes district. Our guest today explains how she enjoyed the good life in the Lakes District of Italy. So let's get started. If you could start by just introducing yourself and perhaps telling us your age.
Christine: 02:01 My name is Christine Jenkins and I am 66 years old.
Kit: 02:05 And how did you first get into adventure travel?
Christine: 02:08 I probably started a good 15 years ago. I've always wanted to travel. I've always wanted to see the world. I think I got that from my mom who never had that opportunity, so she always was encouraging. And I also love the outdoors and I just connected my two loves.
Kit: 02:28 How did you make the leap say, okay, I want to do that kind of travel versus the tour bus or go to the cities and all that? And so what, what was the thought process or how did you finally say, okay, this is what I'm going to do? And then what did you do?
Christine: 02:40 Well, I actually, I have done the bus tours. I did two with my mom and then one day I, and this was before the Internet was really popular, I knew there was a hiking trip in Nova Scotia, Canada and I decided to sign up for that and flew Halifax in Nova Scotia. And my husband was a little worried about me going by myself, so that was my first test and I loved it ever since. I love the outdoors. I love the sounds when you're by yourself. I love getting off the beaten track. Usually you're with a group of likeminded people. I've met some fabulous people on all my hikes.
Kit: 03:22 That's one thing I, that's a recurring theme in this show is that you meet people… That usually each trip I make one or two lifelong friends from that trip.
Christine: 03:32 I still keep in touch with two people. In fact, one couple lives in North Carolina. Actually, no, it was my second trip. It was to Newfoundland and there's a couple, both doctors, and they're in Raleigh, North Carolina. And I still keep in touch with them.
Kit: 03:47 And today we're going to be talking about the Italian lakes. So, of all the different trips that you've taken, what made you say that's where I'm going next?
Christine: 03:55 It's actually a kind of a funny story. I knew, you know, I was looking around to see where I wanted to go next. I happen to be on Facebook and one of my Facebook friends kept saying, you know, he liked Active Adventures, so I thought, — and he's kind of an outdoors guy… he teaches physical education… he's a kind of a historian… So I decided, I'm going to checkout this Active Adventures.
Christine: 04:21 So I checked it out and I saw the different hikes, but the one that really drew me was Italian Lakes District, I think partly because of the length of time it was 11 days, which was really nice. We could fly in from Toronto to Milan. So it was a direct flight. It was easy to get to, but I think the kicker was we got to kayak for two days, which broke up the hiking. And I love kayaking and it was perfect. I asked my neighbor, “Do you want to come?” She said, “Sign me up,” and away we went.
Kit: 04:50 Perfect. Yeah, that's, that is one thing I like about Active is it's usually not just hiking. They usually mix in some cycling or paddling or something like that, so multisport, but predominantly hiking.
Christine: 05:01 That's right. Predominantly hiking and if you didn't want to hike in a day, that's fine too. We had a lady who had a a meniscus issue and she had a torn meniscus. She had come in from Iceland. She was a photo journalist and so they accommodated her and so she got to do what she wanted to do during the day. So they were very accommodating, very flexible
Kit: 05:24 And how difficult is this, because you know, there's different degrees of difficulty for some of these adventures. On a scale of one to five, where would you place this particular adventure?
Christine: 05:33 I would probably put it, I'd say between three and four. I mean I've certainly done more challenging hikes, but there were a few days it was challenging, like our very first full hiking day, you know, because where I live we don't have mountains to climb, so yeah, it was, I thought it was challenging, but it wasn't beyond… none of us had to say, “I can't do this. I give up.” We all did it. We all pulled together and we had a great time.
Kit: 06:02 It's almost like a team building experience as well.
Christine: 06:05 It was. It was and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. And trust me, when you got to hike through some of these beautiful alpine valleys, it was worth it!
Kit: 06:16 And that's one thing that we really didn't tell folks exactly where the Italian lakes are… And this is in northern Italy. So you're in the Alps?
Christine: 06:24 You are in the Alps. When you land in Milan, you can actually… It doesn't take long for you to leave Milan and you can see the Alps in the background. And a couple of places where we were, Switzerland was across the lake, so that's how far north we were.
Kit: 06:39 Wow. Wow. So what kind of training did you do to prepare for this?
Christine: 06:44 I kayak because I live near a lake, so I did a lot of kayaking. I try to walk, I have two dogs. I walk them everyday, so that's seven kilometers. And I did small day hikes in my area. I've always had good cardiovascular health and so I didn't really find it a problem. I just keep active in the winter. I snow shoe and I cross country ski so I always had my heart rate up and I think that's the key. And pacing yourself, you know. Pacing yourself, if you pace yourself too, you don't have to feel like you have to be at the head of the line all the time. If you do, not to say slow, but a, a steady pace, it works out.
Kit: 07:25 Was Elevation an issue for you or for any of the other hikers?
Christine: 07:30 No, not here. I've had it in Peru, but no. I did not experience it and I don't believe any of my other fellow hikers experienced it, or, they didn't mention it at all.
Kit: 07:42 Okay. So most of the higher mountains are surrounding you, is that right? I'm trying to get a visual. Tell us a little bit about the landscape so we can kind of get a picture what it looks like.
Christine: 07:50 Well, at the beginning, like I said, in our first full hike, you know, we went up through the alpine meadows. There was snow up higher in the mountains. You went through these little lush valleys. It's just like a picture postcard you would think of as a for Switzerland, but you were still in Italy. And you come to a little hamlet in the middle of nowhere and the people were lovely.
Christine: 08:14 We'd have our lunch at a refugio somewhere. We'd have local meats and cheeses and you're just looking at the mountains and the waterfalls, and all you can hear when you're hiking is a bit of a breeze. The cow bells, because all the cows have bells around their necks and it was… there was no other manmade sound. So it was, it was beautiful, priceless.
Kit: 08:38 Very cool. Now in that first valley you go to as a UNESCO World Heritage site that I'm going to say this wrong, I say everything wrong, Valsesia, something like that.
Christine: 08:48 Valsesia. Yes. I believe that's how it's pronounced.
Kit: 08:51 Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Christine: 08:53 It was nice because as far as landscape, it was stunning. I'll probably use that word a lot in my descriptions, but everything was stunning… spectacular. At the main center was Varallo, and it was beside a river. And we hiked up to a UNESCO world heritage site and there's a monastery there. And you can come out over edge and looked down over the town of Valsesia.
Christine: 09:17 Yeah, and yeah, it was incredible. Incredible. Some of the oldest religious structures in Italy are located there in. It's on the side of the valley.
Kit: 09:27 I see here in my notes that the Franciscan friars built that in 1491. For those of us here in the States we are like, “Whoa, that's old. Right?”
Christine: 09:36 That's the year before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Kit: 09:41 Well seeing that sounds like a great way to start your adventure. Any other favorite memories from that day?
Christine: 09:45 You know, it's funny, one of the memories I have is looking at the ledge over the town below and we could see this thunderstorm, this huge thunderstorm coming down a valley across the way. So that was really kind of neat to see and you could see it approaching us. And the thunder in the mountains, you know, they bounce: the echoes of the thunder bounces off the mountains. So it's sounds a lot louder than it was probably was.
Kit: 10:08 . You mentioned refugios. For those that may not be familiar with that term, can you explain that please?
Christine: 10:17 It's a small hamlet or a refuge, I guess would be the English way. We went to a couple of them for a couple of hikes and one in particular we had to hike up to this place where we were going to have our lunch, and it was uphill and it was a, it was a challenging hike and it was by this really wildly raging river. Anyway, we get to this refugio. It's like a little hamlet there.
Kit: 10:43 Okay. I need some more clarification there. I think of refugio is kind of like a mountain hut.
Christine: 10:48 There was, there were several huts, so you could actually, I think stay there, but I don't think they're privately owned and they had this restaurant. And there's no road in and the food was outstanding, like it was just, you know, you couldn't believe like you could have fresh cheeses and meats from the local valley.
Christine: 11:13 There was fresh rabbit, there was fresh fish. Nothing was deep fried. Like in North America, we would not hike or walk our way to a restaurant like that. If we did, people would complain, but everything would be deep fried. Everything here is fresh and you could sit out in the patio and look at the mountains and the rivers and it was beautiful. Just beautiful.
Kit: 11:36 And so after your lunch, then what did you do?
Christine: 11:39 Well, we had a bonus because we get to go downhill the whole way and we hiked all the way back into Alagna and that's where we stayed for three nights in Alagna. And actually one of our guide's, Andrea, he was from Alagna. So he was able to give us the inside scoop on Alagna.
Kit: 11:58 So tell us a little bit about Alagna.
Christine: 12:00 Alagna, it looks like a little Swiss town, but you've got to keep reminding yourself that you're in Italy. There's all little cafes, shops… Where we stayed – at the hotel Monterosa – it was right beside the church and the church rings the bells every hour and a half hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But it was a beautiful little hotel where we stayed. The town was old. Alagnal is sort of off the beaten track for North Americans to go over, especially in the winter. But English wasn't… It wasn't difficult to get by when you were talking to a shopkeeper or in a little cafe, you were understood or you figured it out. But there were all little side streets. There was a beautiful little river going outside of town, which we could hear from our hotel. And yeah, it was a lovely time. We were there for three nights. Fabulous breakfast in the morning. Yeah, it was great.
Kit: 12:57 And so what, what kind of foods do they have for breakfast? And from my notes, it looks like that whole area was populated by German people that moved there in like fifth century AD or something.
Christine: 13:08 Yeah, the Valser people. Yes. Well the hotel we stayed at for the three days are actually owned by some, a couple from Sweden and think that's been a couple of generations in their family. But in breakfast we had fresh fruit, Granola, homemade breads, homemade jams, coffee, tea, yogurt. Really good yogurt. You didn't starve. That's all I can tell you. It was probably the best Granola I've ever had in my life.
Kit: 13:37 Probably freshly made and everything. And they do food right!
Christine: 13:40 It's all fresh. I can tell you that whole trip I did not have… We did not have one bad meal anywhere. It was hard to come home.
Kit: 13:50 We could sure learn how to do food better from the way they do things we do. We do. And they eat seasonally to. They wouldn't think of having strawberries in the middle of winter. They eat which locally produced and available then.
Christine: 14:01 They do eat seasonal and the other thing they do is they eat as local as possible, so you may get… If we had a prepared lunch, like maybe our guide, we had two guides, Andrea and Jo, and they might prepare, pick up some stuff, at little stores or grocery stores and they put out this fabulous picnic lunch with cheeses that were from that valley. That was the only place you could get it or salamis… That type thing. Breads, fresh fruit and yeah, it was. It was incredible. The wine, of course we had wine at lunch.
Kit: 14:37 Nice. Nice. And what about dinner?
Christine: 14:39 Well actually I was going to say that was one of the things that was outstanding for this trip was the food. All our meals were covered and nothing was skimped on. We ate the best you could possibly have. We had wine with lunch. Usually we had wine with dinner, but what was interesting is after we'd finished our hike for the day or our kayak, we go back to our rooms, change, meet for dinner. We'd always have an aperitivo, which is like… it was a tray brought out and the had meats and cheeses and crackers and add wine. Then I'd think, “Oh, that's our dinner.” No, it's not dinner, and then we'd still go to a restaurant. And so I'm really glad that we were hiking because I'm sure I'dve come home about 10 pounds more than I normally am.
Kit: 15:27 And you're in Italy so you know everything's going to be good.
Christine: 15:31 Oh yeah. Everything was beyond my expectations. Everything was fresh, nothing was processed. It was awesome.
Kit: 15:39 Very cool. So now you're using this as your base camp. So what kinds of things did you do each day?
Christine: 15:44 If we didn't do hiking, we did the kayaking on the lakes: Lake Orta and Lake Como. We didn't kayak on Maggiore. There was one day we decided as a group — and we had a small group that was just five hikers– so that was kind of nice, and we decided one day we didn't want to hike and were in Stresa, which is on Lake Maggiore. So we went and walked into town. Some went to the islands and we did a little bit of shopping. So we just, like I say, the guidess were very flexible, and like I said, we decided we didn't want to hike that day.
Christine: 16:19 On the days we went kayaking, we'd be out by the water's edge at nine in the morning and then there was a gentleman by the name of Juliana who came up from Genoa, Italy. He brought the kayaks first time, most all the people had kayaked before, so that was good. But he gave us safety instructions. We got fitted with life jackets and we were usually by 9:30, we were out on the lakes. We stop about maybe 10, 30, 11 at a little village and stop for an espresso and then we get back in our kayak, kayak a bit more and then stop it another village and maybe have lunch or stop at a beach. And our guides would put lunch out. In between that we go swimming in the lakes. And then in the afternoon we might stop about 2:30 or 3:00 in another little village and have gelato. It was very civilized. It was, yeah. It was very civilized.
Christine: 17:19 And swimming: The lakes were clear and it was… It was hard to believe you weren't at the ocean. The colors of the lakes were beautiful.
Kit: 17:28 So tell us about the lakes itself. What is it? The fact that the lakes are surrounded by mountains or the lakes are particularly pretty in and of themselves? I'm trying to get a feel for what it looks like.
Christine: 17:39 Well, the lakes are, they are like jewels. And there was this one day we did hike to the top of one of the mountains , and we could see Orta and Maggiore on both sides. So we had a really good view. Orta is the smallest, then Maggiore, then Como. The lakes were like a blue color, like a aqua blue color. Very clear. Especially in Como. The sides had these old Italian homes that have probably been in families for generations.
Christine: 18:10 You know, there's the Piazza's nearby, and I think George and Amal Clooney live on Como, (but we didn't see them). But very steep sides to a lot of the lakes, but there are some beaches. Two of the lakes are Lake Como and Lake Orta are what they call ‘crypto depression' and that's the one word I took away… my takeaway from that trip. Crypto depression means the bottom of the lake is actually below sea level and there are a few other ones in the world. Actually the Finger Lakes up in New York state. And actuallyOrta is not a crypto depression. Maggiore and Como are crypto depression, so they're below sea level and the lakes are usually long and narrow and their shores are very steep.
Christine: 19:06 I think it was in Maggiore that they believe Mussolini hid his gold and it might be lying at the bottom of the lake. He had a hideout on Maggiore, on one of the islands on Maggiore. So that's the legend. That's a local legend
Kit: 19:12 OK, so when you're doing the hiking, are you in pastures, forests, or what are you hiking through?
Christine: 19:17 We're doing it all. There were pastures, forests… There was one day we went through a whole, for about an hour and a half, all it was was chestnut trees. And it was quite a challenging hike. It was steep and it was very hot, but it was so, it was so pretty and so quiet. And we came out to pasture area, and then we had to go under some fences. So yes we had a real variety of landscapes for. hiking.
Christine: 19:57 There was another day when we went up in a gondola and then we went up on a series of three gondolas, too. We actually got up to where the glaciers were, and that was an interesting day. It was cold and there was a lot of ice hikers, they had the crampons on their boots and they were doing some ice hiking. But we had to take three sets of gondolas to go higher and higher and higher. And if you have a fear of heights, you may not want to take it. I found that kind of a challenge, but you know, it was very barren landscape, which is a rock and ice and we'd be going along and you'd think that the gondola was going to hit the side of a rock face and then suddenly it will go up and then you were in your station where you get off and walk to the next one and keep going higher up. That was quite incredible.
Kit: 20:33 Did you get to walk on the glacier or just look at it?
Christine: 20:37 Yes. We got to walk on the snow. Yes, we did. That is so cool. It was down below. It was probably in the upper eighties, low nineties up (there). It was a bit of a reprieve.
Kit: 20:49 And so what month did you go? July. July. Okay. So you're in the heat of summer.
Christine: 20:53 Oh yes. Yes. But apparently it was very warm there in June. They had a trip in June, so I understand it was warm then, but you know what? It wasn't a really oppressive heat. It wasn't really humid. It wasn't really dry, but it was manageable. If you're dressed appropriately, I would strongly recommend a sun hat, especially to cover the back of your neck and your face, I would. That's the one thing. And the other thing I would suggest to people is to take hiking poles. Some people didn't. I think that they're really is helpful for, steadying yourself and, and pulling yourself up on steep parts or giving you some stability.
Christine: 21:31 And when we're on the way down the mountain.
Kit: 21:33 Well I like polls too, for going downhill because they take a lot of pressure off my knee. Yes. And also I'm clumsy. I cannot tell you how many falls they've stopped by having that extra appendage to me or crossing a river or creek. They give you that little extra stability. I don't think I've ever fallen in a creek. I don't want to jinx myself though.
Christine: 21:51 No, I haven't either, but one never knows.
Kit: 21:54 Of course. Now I will. Now that I've put that out in the universe. Any other special memories from that area?
Christine: 22:00 Well, one of the days I have that sticks out in my mind was on Lake Orta and we went over to San Giulio Island and it's… There's a monastery there and abbey and you could… It's very easy to walk around this little island and there's several spots where you looked down like the old cobblestone streets.
Christine: 22:20 Very narrow. In fact, I don't even think there was vehicles on it. I don't even recall any vehicles anyway that you could go swimming. So our group (Jo left us, she had to do some things), so our group, we went down the small passageway to the lake and four of us didn't have bathing suits on, but they were in our pack sack, so we lost all modesty. Just went into just a little dip in the wall, threw caution to the wind, stripped down, put on our bathing suits, dove in the lake, and we thought, well, if there's cameras out there, there's cameras out there. So be it. But the water felt so beautiful against your hot skin. It was…it was beautiful. It was just the most incredible feeling. You can feel yourself cool down and we were laughing like crazy, yet we felt like kids.
Kit: 23:07 That was fun. In your group, you said there's a small group of five: men, women or a combination?
Christine: 23:12 All women. My neighbor came, and then there was a lady from San Diego and a lady from Manhattan, and a lady from Rochester.
Kit: 23:21 And what would you say the age group range was?
Christine: 23:24 I would say the age group would have been maybe 52… The lady from San Diego was in her fifties, early fifties and to about in the upper seventies. And these ladies — all of them are really in great shape — they did their age group proud. They had nothing to be ashamed of . We had the lady from Rochester who was in her seventies and she was fabulous. She was in fabulous shape.
Kit: 23:55 Wow. Those are my role models. In fact, I interviewed a guy by the name of Stan on the Annapurna episode, which I'll put a link to in the show notes. He's in his seventies and has already planned an adventure for two years out. Unbelievable! Cool. That's how I want to age.
Christine: 24:07 Wow. That's good for him. Well, I'm planning to go to Mont Blanc next year. I've already booked my trip.
Kit: 24:16 Alright, so any other, any other thoughts about that area before we go to the Val Grande National Park?
Christine: 24:22 All I can say… I'll just reiterate just the whole atmosphere. You know, it's funny, I was thinking about it last night: thinking about what I was going to say each day of that trip, the whole trip and combination each day. I, I remember saying to my roommate, my neighbor, I said, “You know, if I have to go home tomorrow, I'm still ecstatic. I've had the best time ever. So each day was like a bonus day, a bonus day. It just… it can't get any better, and it kept getting better. That's all I can say. This has been no doubt, the best hiking trip I've ever had, and I've been to a lot of places. There was nothing I have to say bad about it. Nothing.
Kit: 25:10 Wow. And that sure says a lot.
Christine: 25:12 Yes. And I'd actually consider going back again in two years… Do it again.
Kit: 25:17 Yeah. It hadn't really even been on my radar, but then I started doing some research, and I thought, that looks really nice. I think that's now on the radar.
Christine: 25:23 Well, it hadn't been on my radar either. I mean I have looked at other places. I've looked at Scotland, I've been to Scotland before. I thought about Iceland and I do know Active Adventures does Iceland now, but I was supposed to go to Mont Blanc with another company two years ago, but I badly broke my arm so that put a caboosh on that. So anyway. But anyways…
Kit: 25:46 In fact, the Mont Blanc episode is probably one of my most popular ones. You'll want to take a look at that? That's episode number 35, and I forgot to mention that Stanley, the guy that I said in the seventies that did Annapurna in Nepal, his was episode number 28. Anytime you want to look at an old episode, just go to ActiveTravelAdventures.comslash the episode number, so it'd be slashed 28 or 35, or if you forget, just go to the Directory Page, and then you can either use the search bar or just scroll down and see what rocks your boat.
Kit: 26:15 On the website. You can either directly download and/or listen to the podcasts. Plus, you'll also find more details on the trip itself, including itineraries, tons of photos, often videos, and there's just a lot of information there. If you need either even further details, you can download -for free- the travel planners that have clickable links that can get you directly to the information or places that you need in order to plan your trip. And those come automatically with the monthly — and note that I say monthly– newsletter. I do not spam you or sell your name. Or you can download them as you need them from the website. Let's go back to the interview.
Kit: 26:50 I know from the pictures that you sent, and from my research that the Italian Lakes area is absolutely gorgeous. But to put that in prospective, residents have included George and Amal Clooney, Richard Branson, Madonna.. These are folks who can buy and live anywhere: where money is no object. Yet, this is where they choose. That demonstrates how beautiful it is there.
Christine: 27:13 There are some beautiful mansions and you can tell they've been in families for a long, long time and they're old architecture but so beautifully maintained and what was really neat is the boat pulls into a garage at the side of the cliff. It's like a boat garage, you know, and these beautiful old wooden boats. Oh yeah. Fabulous. Fabulous. Obviously this is a ritzy area, very private, very exclusive, especially at Como and. But you'll also see a lot more North Americans there too. Like eEnglish is extremely common, and British and British accents or North American accent. So on my flight over to Milan, there were people… That's where they were going to Bellagio on Lake Como,
Kit: 28:04 A Huffington post article once ranked the Italian Lakes district as the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Christine: 28:10 Oh, it. I can understand that! Orto is not as busy a lake. It's the smaller of the lakes. I preferred that lake just because it was less busy.
Kit: 28:21 So let's switch gears and now you're going to the Val Grande National Park. an you tell us a little bit about that?
Christine: 28:24 Yeah, that was the one day… We actually that day we did not do that. That was the day we decided not to hike. That was the hookey day. So a couple of us walked into Stresa, which is a small village, beautiful little boardwalk from where we were staying, all the way into Stresa. And some of these beautiful old hotels along the lake side, you know, something you would see from the 1920's-30's. I'm sure they're wildly expensive and then there's three islands on the lake and you could take the boats to them. And we all met on this one island for lunch.
Kit: 29:02 But it sounds like that was a well worth it Hookey Day.
Christine: 29:04 It was well worth the hooky day. So no, and everything was fine. We enjoyed our day so I can't comment on Val Grande National Park except to say apparently there's a lot of hiking trails in there. And they suggest you have a guide or a proper map because there are people who have gotten lost and they have never been found there. So that kind of struck the fear of God into us.
Kit: 29:30 So I think to a lot of times when you're hiking in some of these particularly remote areas that it's good to have a guide with you.
Christine: 29:37 I think it is too. I mean you learn so much too. Especially somebody local, right?
Kit: 29:41 Yeah. The flora and fauna as well. You might see an animal. You have no idea what it is or a pretty flower and it's just something you take a picture of where they can tell you, oh, that's a little, little whatever it is.
Christine: 29:52 Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Kit: 29:54 When people ask you, “Oh, how was your trip?” What's the story that comes to mind?
Christine: 29:57 Well, I did something on the trip that was accommodated for me and for the lady from San Diego. We were able to do it. It's not so much funny, but it was fun. We were able to do it, I think, because we had a small group and we went paragliding.
Kit: 30:17 That sounds fun.
Christine: 30:19 Yes. So, and that was in Alagna. So two of us went paragliding one morning. When we went with a pilot -and we went separately- and we had to take a gondola up to the site is about at 8,800 feet. And we were up for about 20 minutes and then you could come in. And we landed over in Alagna and I remember the pilot saying to me, “Do you want to touch the steeple of the churches as we go by?” I said that I'd pass on that one.
Kit: 30:47 Oh brother, I don't know if I'd have the nerve to do that!
Christine: 30:52 So that's wasn't in the plans. And and I don't think if they had a big group that they could do that, but they accommodated, us. And we were able to do it because we could do it early in the morning and the weather was right, the window was right, that type of thing.
Christine: 31:07 So the other things we did that was a lot of fun is we went down, it's called LP Land and it's on Mottarone Mountain and it's up at the top. You start at about 1,490 meters and it's a go cart, and you go down the mountain in a go kart by yourself (or with somebody else) and it zigzags down and you can reach some pretty high speeds. That was, you know, you get a beautiful view of the lake, although you're trying to not scream as you're going down, so not die and hope hang onto your water bottle or if you know. But um, that was fun.
Kit: 31:47 Any funny story come to mind?
Christine: 31:49 Oh, okay. I do have a funny one. Actually. We were on Lake Orto. We were out for evening dinner. One night we were at arestaurant right on the lake. Beautiful meal as usual, and w see this boat going by. And there's three naked men in it, and they're raising their glasses of wine to all the patrons of the restaurant. So everybody's kind of stunned and we thought, well, we'll wait for them to come back. We'll have our cameras ready. But they never came back. But we all had a good laugh over that one. That was. Yeah, that was funny. That was funny.
Kit: 32:21 And Europeans have a different mentality about nudity than North Americans.
Christine: 32:25 You know what? And that's the other thing too, is I really like. You're absolutely right. I saw a lot of ladies who would be in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and they were wearing bikinis. And I thought, “Good for you!” In fact, I almost thought about buying one for myself, but Jo our one guide, she said that their attitudes over here are so different. And yeah, I thought: it is what it is, and they were out there in their bikinis.
Kit: 32:54 I'm surprised they had tops on, but maybe that's just the south of France.
Christine: 32:58 I saw all with tops if they were standing up or sitting up. But their men folk were attentive to them. They were draped in gold jewelry and all that.
Kit: 33:08 That's so interesting. Yeah. And France, most of the women didn't have tops and it didn't make a difference what shape your body was in skimpy bathing suits.
Christine: 33:17 I know, I know. And we have a lot to learn in North America.
Kit: 33:23 Any other things you want to tell us about your Italian lakes adventure?
Christine: 33:27 I want to tell you that we had two guides and I really want to mention our guides, Andrea, who is from Alagna, Italy and Jo. Jo was originally from Wales but lives in Auckland, New Zealand now. Those guys were outstanding. They were knowledgeable. They were patient, they were flexible. Andrea, he was a really good van driver. He navigated all these little narrow roads. Sometimes we go through these little villages where the road was barely wider than the mirrors of vehicle and yeah, he, you know, we always felt safe with him. Jo was funny. We gave her a nickname. We called her '10 minute Jo' and the reason was, if we'd be hiking a particularly challenging day,she'd go, “Well there's a refugio up ahead.” “Well, how far is that, Jo?” “Oh, it's about 10 minutes,” and then a while later we'd be thinking. Well, it's been 10 minutes. She'd then say, “Oh, it's another 10 minutes.” Everything was 10 minutes with her, so we ended up calling her '10 minute Jo'.
Kit: 34:29 That reminds me when I was doing a two week section hike of the Appalachian trail with my girlfriends, Gerry and Jane. And I had the elevation map and so I would always know exactly how many more hills we had to climb, but as we're getting tired at the end of the day… Everybody's pooped., ready to find a camp site and all that. I'd be like, “Come on, you can do it. This is the last hill, I promise! This, the last hill!” And we'd get up over that hill, and of course there'd be another hill. I was like, “Oh no,really, THIS is the last hill.” So I'm not sure what they called me behind my back, but I doubt there were as kind in calling me “10 minute Kit”. Sometimes to make it to the end, you've just got to fib.
Christine: 35:03 Yeah, I know.
Kit: 35:07 Anything else about your guides or transit?
Christine: 35:09 Well, one of the other little things I have to tell you about is Giuliano, who was the gentleman… He would drive up from Genoa twice with all the kayaks. And the second time he came up he brought us some foccacia from a local bakery. He left at 5:00 AM in the morning from Genoa to get up to the Lakes ,and he had this fresh foccacia. And it was actually still a bit warm when we had it at our break. That was memorable, and it was so good.
Kit: 35:36 Oh, how sweet and thoughtful.
Christine: 35:39 Yeah. Very thoughtful.
Kit: 35:42 And I forgot to ask you accommodations. Are you in guest houses or are your camping? I know you said you were at one place for three days. Tell us a little bit about where you stayed.
Christine: 35:49 We stayed in hotels. The first three nights and we were in Alagna. It was a beautiful old hotel run by a couple from Sweden and I love the wooden shutters because they could open up, you know. And clean, clean rooms. In Stresa, all the rooms were clean and had air conditioning. Yeah, there was nothing too. ..There was absolutely no complaints about the accommodation. It was close to everything. If we wanted to walk somewhere, the one place we stayed at, and I can't think of the name of the town, but they would mostly have balconies or a little doors that open up, although we didn't because it was quite warm. Yeah, it was. The combination was excellent. Excellent.
Kit: 36:30 I'm surprised you had air conditioning. That's great.
Christine: 36:32 I know, I know. The one thing, over in Europe, if anybody's ever traveled there, the elevators are very small, so if you know, maybe two people get on with one suitcase each. No more than that. So that's the one adjustment. The other adjustment is a lot of times in Europe they don't use face cloths, so you might, if you, if you are big on using a face cloth, you might want to bring your own face cloth, that type of thing. But other than that it's um, you don't want for anything. I mean, if you need a toothpaste, it's easy to get. If you need wine, it's easy to get. So it's not like you're in a third world country. But little tips like that.
Kit: 37:16 Is there anything you wish you'd known beforehand that you could share with us?
Christine: 37:23 No. The only thing I know in the guide -our gear guide- they suggested bringing is a hat and gloves and long underwear. We definitely did not need to pack that. It was too hot. So that took up room and maybe they have a standard gear list they give to everybody, but if I was going in June or July to the Italian Lakes District, definitely don't worry about that. You wouldn't have to worry about that.
Christine: 37:51 But I would strongly. I've mentioned earlier, I would strongly suggest poles.
Kit: 37:55 Yep. That's a given for me.
Christine: 37:56 I know some people don't like them, but I. Yeah, that's a given for me too as well.
Kit: 38:00 Yeah. I don't hike without them anymore. I don't care where I'm going and also keeps my rhythm.
Christine: 38:04 Oh, it does! Yeah, it does. And it really does. And it gives you a bit of an upper body upper body workout to.
Kit: 38:11 One final thing. You say you travel solo. Usually you will pair up with a group or something like that. I just finished an episode, in fact, I just finished editing it this morning on solo travel. Do you have any thoughts on solo travel?
Christine: 38:23 It's how I usually travel. I happened to ask my neighbor. We have traveled once before together and she's a great traveler. We had gone to Point Reyes national seashore in California. We went for a week with a group.
Christine: 38:37 I prefer… I like solo traveling because I can, in the evening if I want to go to bed earlier, if I want to read till 1:00 in the morning, I'm not disturbing anybody. You meet some great people traveling solo. I used to be really nervous about traveling solo. Not anymore. There's a lot of women out there that travel solo now. A lot more than one would think. And, and if you find there's other solo travelers, you just kind of end up connecting and looking out for each other. And that's the other thing too, as a group, you spend that much time together. You do become a big family and you do look out for one another.
Kit: 39:16 Two final questions for you. Number one: Somebody says to you, “I'm thinking about going hiking in the Italian lakes.” What do you tell them?
Christine: 39:25 I say, I'll give you the name of Active Adventures. You will have the best time ever. I promise. I promise you. In fact, I'll go with you.
Kit: 39:34 My last question for you. Where's next?
Christine: 39:38 Next year in Switzerland, Italy where you fly into Geneva. So I'm going to do that with Active Adventures. That's my next one. And then in 20,20 I always say I want to go back to the Italian Lakes, but there's so many places to go in this world. I've been to New Zealand but I've never hiked in New Zealand. So I mean there's always that option. There's so many places, so little time, you know, and you want to do those things when you're healthy.
Kit: 40:07 And I mean this is not an ad for Active Adventures, but we're both fans. Do you now, when you're picking out which trips are you looking at their website and say where do I go next from there? Or how do you pick your next trip?
Christine: 40:20 Well, like I said I had wanted to go to Mont Blanc two years ago and was I had already booked it and I was actually going with my neighbor, the one who went on this one, but I had broken my arm. She went on ahead so it was always in the back of my mind and I was going to go with another company, but I saw through Active Adventures they did Mont Blamc but they also do a kayaking day, which I thought I liked that it kind of changes things up a bit, so that's why I'm going with Active. I've put my deposit down and I'm ready to roll next June.
Kit: 40:51 Cool. And so is that how you choose your trips? Is by looking to see where they go now that now that you're a fan or do you follow what I'm saying? How do you choose your next trip? Are you looking at their website to see where they go and choosing from there or do you pull from different areas are or how do you pick your next destination?
Christine: 41:09 Oh, so if I was going post 2019, I would see if they have any changes in what places they want or new additions. If there was a particular place I want to go, let's say I wanted to go to Croatia or I wanted to hike in Portugal. I may look online and see about other hiking companies or if it's doable, so I kind of explore. I kind of explore a bit, but to see what others have to say. And like you say, the only reason I found out about Active Adventures was through a friend on Facebook who his Active Adventures kept coming up. So I said, you know, yJo Blow likes Active Adventures. I thought I'm going to have to look into this because I know this guy and he wouldn't just say that. So that's how I got onto it.
Kit: 41:56 Well thanks Christine for your time. It's been great and we sure loved learning about the Italian Lakes with you. We'll have to have you back on when you do your next adventure.
Christine: 42:03 Alright, for sure.
Kit: 42:05 I love how adventure travel doesn't always mean that you're getting in the mud and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes you can even go to luxurious locations like the Italian lakes district and live the good life.
Kit: 42:15 Regular listeners will know that I don't accept any advertising at all for this program so that I can keep it commercial free. However, I do have affiliate partnerships with companies that I have selected that I truly believe in, that I recommend to you and with these affiliates at absolutely zero cost to you. Sometimes I'll either get a discount or I might make a commission or sometimes I'll get some bonus travel and such like that. And I want to mention that Active Adventures, even though their name sounds very similar to Active Travel Adventures, we are two totally separate companies, but Active Adventures is one that I highly recommend because my friends and I are true believers that It's just a great company.
Kit: 42:51 The people just really spend their time trying to give you a trip of a lifetime, so if like Christine, you want to explore the Italian Lakes District with a guided tour company, I would recommend Active and if you do so, please be sure to let them know that I sent you either by using any of my links or just by letting them know when you book. Using any of my links is a great FREE way for you to show your support of this program.
Kit: 43:13 To get the free travel planners, be sure to sign up for the newsletter. You can do so by going to the ActiveTreavelAdventures.com website and then clicking on the newsletter tab, or you can just write me a Kit [@t] active travel adventures.com and ask me to put you on. I'll be happy to.
Kit: 43:29 A special shout out to Pat. Pat did just that, and then it wasn't long before we were on the phone chatting. And before you knew it, we're going to be roommates on a great trip to Egypt this fall. I can't wait!
Kit: 43:37 Reach out to me. I'd love to hear from you and I'd like to make this a two way conversation. Until next time, I'll be back in two weeks with another great adventure. This time we're going to go a little bit further north. We're heading up to Norway, which I can't wait to share that with you. Until then. This is Kit Parks, Adventure On.
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