We were welcomed to Lo Scoiattolo e la Noce (The Squirrel and the Nut) by Massimo, a former journalist from Milano who now welcomes guests into his B&B and home on the mountainside above Lago Maggiore where he lives with his two sons, with an afternoon espresso. He told us to simply head down to the town of Stresa and enjoy a walk along the lake. I asked if he might recommend a place for our last dinner and without hesitation he called his friends at Osteria Il Vecchio Tram (which he pointed, from the terrace overlooking the lake, was just right below us) to make a reservation.
We did stroll along the lakeside, admiring the wonderland that is Lago Maggiore. Stresa is situated on the western shore with a ringside view of the Borromean Islands – a small group of 3 islands totaling just 50 acres, they were acquired by the Borromeo family starting in the 16th century who built grand summer palaces and elaborate gardens on them. Had we (not lost our car in Vercelli) arrived earlier, we might have taken a boat ride over and explored them ourselves, but instead we enjoyed them from the equally picturesque promenade, where we also enjoyed a glass of prosecco. As the sun began to set and the mosquitoes came out, we ventured into the insanely exquisite lobby of the Grand Hotel des Isles Borromes for an overpriced spritz before heading to dinner.
We were welcomed to Il Vecchio Tram - named because this area was the first stop on the tram that was built when skiers began coming down to Monte Mottarone from Switzerland – with an aperitivo and plenty of enthusiatic conversation. The outdoor dining area was a simple covered patio aside the building which was also nestled into the side of the mountain and overlooking the lake through the trees. It was a typical set-up of a husband chef and a wife running the front of the house. She decided it was best for us to recite the daily menu in italian and thus we began our journey of selecting and eating, course by course some wonderful food to accompany the amazing setting, much of it featuring local lake fish, at a pace that was molto tranquillo…
We enjoyed swordfish steamed and marinated with mint over a salad of tiny greens with oranges, and zuchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella di bufala and baked with pomodori for antipasti. For primi we tried taglierini (we’d have called this a tajarin) with a lake fish ragu. We also had a very interesting ravioli stuffed with ricotta, sundried tomatoes and almonds in an anchovi sauce. Together we ate a fritto misto of lake fish and vedure (vegetables including zucchini, zucchini flowers and radicchio). For dessert we were persuaded, and we are grateful, to try a fonduta (we’d say molten) chocolate cake served with a due latte gelato. The meal was accompanied by more great piemontese wines, the dolci with some very interesting amaro - one was made with cherries, which was incredible with the chocolate cake, and the other a typical bitter amaro - from a winemaker on the mountain, Mottarone.
After the meal, we offered our usual thanks and compliments to the chef. They laughed at my jokes about it being the last supper and we all agreed we would experience dispiacere when we left Italy the next day.