Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Balcony View of Locarno

The Balcony
The Balcony View of Locarno
travel memoir
by Greg Larson

           Although my wife, Gretta, and I enjoy active vacations of hiking, biking, and daily excursions, my favorite memory from our trip to Locarno, Switzerland, is our apartment balcony view of Lake Maggiore. The combination of the old rooftops in Locarno, the placid surface of the lake, and the Swiss Alps rising over 6,000 feet above the shoreline make it difficult for my brain to digest everything that lay before me.
          “How can one possibly describe this view in thirty seconds or less?” I asked Gretta one evening.                           
          “You can’t,” she responded. “You’ll have to write about it.”
          To describe the view, one must understand the setting. Locarno is in southern Switzerland, in the Ticino region, where the official language is Italian. It is where the culture and climate of Italy to the south overlap with the culture and climate of Switzerland. The mixture of architecture, mountains and valleys, vegetation, and the Swiss and Italian people are what make the Ticino region unique. It is a place where giant glaciers of long ago carved out massive valleys in the granite mountains . . . valleys which are now filled with long, deep lakes surrounded by vegetation that varies from palm trees to firs.

View of Lake Maggiore from the balcony.

          The early evening is the best time to sit on the third-floor balcony and become immersed in the view. The tiled roofs and Spanish-style chimneys frame the lake and mountains beyond, while the courtyard below is filled with fan palms, hydrangeas, potted plants, and flowering bushes. Iron fences and stone walls line the cobbled alleyways that lead to the lakefront avenue below. Grapevines hug the canopied restaurant in the courtyard, where the smell of garlic and simmering sauces drift up to the balcony. Suppers in nearby apartments are being prepared and the voices of the Italian-speaking occupants echo from the stucco walls.
          I feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window as I’m drawn into the activities unfolding below as the daytime fun changes to an evening of food and music. Couples walk hand-in-hand along the promenade at the lakefront park which is lined with towering magnolia trees, pines, palms, and colorful flower beds. The shouts of children laughing and playing in a shoreline park mingle with the sounds of a nearby piano bar.
          Church bells chime on the hour, and an occasional police car or ambulance siren interrupts the peaceful scene. Clouds float in the pearl-blue sky where swallows dart and sea gulls float above the harbor. A mama swallow flies into a gap in a nearby roof eave to feed her chirping young.
          The surface of the deep-blue water of Lake Maggiore has barely a ripple. Traces of the wakes lazily remain from the large passenger boats which transport people from town to town along the shore. Ducks mingle with the anchored boats, while large, pleasure craft ply the lake and sailboats lean to squeeze out any available wind from the open-water breezes.
          Across the lake, the puffy clouds graze the mountaintops where bits of snow remain in the granite cracks and crevices which tower above the verdant slopes. A passenger train hugs the shoreline, weaving through villages nestled on the mountainside, where villas, apartment buildings and churches are sprinkled on the slopes like an abstract painting.
          The view has cast a spell on me, and it is difficult to pull away from the balcony, but eventually my craving for the pasta from the restaurants which line the avenue below takes hold.
          After some wine, dinner, and an evening walk along the promenade, Gretta and I return to the apartment after sundown. Like a magnet, the balcony tugs at me to come and view the twinkling lights and reflections from across the lake. Where else would I want to go?

Locarno, Switzerland