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In July our family had dinner in Milan with a lovely group of Italians and Americans.
"We're going out to our place by the lake this weekend," one of the Italian husbands (Claudio) confided with a smile. "With the kids. The weather will be perfect!"
"Oh really?" asked his friend, another native of Milan. "Where's your place?"
"A little village along the lake, Cannobio," said Claudio, squeezing his wife's hand.
"Cannobio?" my American husband perked up and listened with interest. "We LOVE Cannobio!" He proceeded to regale the table with stories of his many long bike rides throughout that part of the Lago Maggiore region, and his special love for the Cannobino River.
"But this is amazing! I cannot believe that a foreigner... an American... can know so much about our little town of Cannobio!" exclaimed Claudio. "NOBODY knows Cannobio! You know more than I do!"
What a fun compliment! Dear readers, if you don't already know about Cannobio, this is your lucky moment! For all who love rivers, mountains, wild swimming and sumptuous Italian food, Cannobio is a restful vacation dream come true.
8. Arrive By Ferry!
Only around 5,000 people live in the lovely lakeside town of Cannobio year-round, yet it's a vibrant place visited (especially during summer) by travelers from around the world.
There are several ways to arrive in Cannobio. If you have a car you can arrive from Milan in two hours, circling around beautiful Lago Maggiore with wonderful glimpses of the lake along your drive..
The best way to arrive, though, is by ferry!
If you're not eager to deal with parking in a small, ancient town with narrow streets, it's perfectly simple to catch a ferry from a larger, more modern town (e.g. Luino) and head straight across the water to Cannobio.
We've been so impressed with the ferries that circumnavigate this enormous lake. Run by "Navigazione Lago Maggiore," they are clean, efficient, on time, and very safe.
In fact it's so easy and fun to see the lake by ferry, you may end up visiting many more towns than you'd originally planned!
To get more information about traveling through Lago Maggiore by ferry, or to find out how to book your tickets, click here.
7. Enjoy Window Shopping & A Famous Weekly Market!
Have you always wanted to see a 'typical' Italian outdoor market? This is a pretty good place to start. Held on Sundays between 8am and 13:00pm (that's 1pm for Americans!) the market sets up right next to the water's edge. An enormous line of well-tended stalls, side by side, offer all of the products you might imagine and many more.
Popular items sold at local Italian markets (including Cannobio) include leather goods, candles, crafts, paintings, beach wear, toys, clothing, jewelry and metalwork, handbags and more. Artisanal foods are available too, from handmade cheeses to beautiful salami, fresh fruit and vegetables... even fish from the lake!
The market starts right in the heart of town and fans its way down toward the outskirts of Cannobio. You could spend many pleasant hours shopping, speaking with vendors and looking through the offerings!
Best of all, if you get hungry, an entire row of good quality restaurants with open-air seating are just on the other side of the merchant stalls. You can unwind and savor your purchases over a glass of vino tinto with your favorite shopping partners!
6. Breathtaking, Unforgettable Views!
I can pretty much let the photos speak for themselves here. Whether you're a water person, a mountain person, a camper, an adventurer or someone who just loves spending time in (or photographing) nature... you're going to find yourself glowing while getting to know Cannobio.
It's hard not to be inspired with this kind of light dancing on the waves; this kind of verdant forest sheltering you!
At one point I commented to my children that I felt like a character in the novel "Heidi". With stunning mountains towering above us and blackberries to pick along the sides of the trail, I almost yodeled just for the sheer joy of it!
(Okay, maybe I *did* yodel. Can you blame me? Just too much joy to keep inside!)
5. Ponte Ballerino!
This special, rare suspension bridge (aka "catwalk") is famous locally as a tourist attraction due to its fun swinging quality. Touted as similar to a Tibetan bridge, its hanging steps rock from side to side as you walk across its center. The Ponte Ballerino reminds me very much of a peaceful, small version of the famous Capilano suspension bridge we've enjoyed in the forest outside of Vancouver, B.C.
The bridge itself has a special story. It was built to replace a simple ford that had existed long ago to help local people cross the Cannobino River. Sadly, a young woman in her twenties (the daughter of a local man) drowned while trying to cross the ford with a large bale of hay on her back. A few years later, another woman and her children had to be rescued from the river when a flash flood knocked them into the water.
Thanks to these incidents, 12 local families banded together to fund the building of the suspension bridge that continues to stand today. Constructed by Albertini di Cannobio, the bridge was partially rebuilt in the 1950s.
Now adorned with love locks, the suspension bridge sways gently from side to side as travelers and locals cross it daily. It's easy to imagine the romance of standing in the middle of this bridge in the midst of a vibrant sunset... or under the moon and stars.
Although not widely known outside of Cannobio, this bridge and the magnificent views in both directions are truly worth your time.
4. Meadows and Wild Berry Picking!
What's not to love about this picture? If you're headed to the many fantastic swimming holes up the Cannobino River, this is the view that will accompany you along the quiet, well-kept path.
Make sure to gather a handful of tart wild blackberries growing at the side of the walkway... they're delicious!
3. Cannobino River!
This exquisite small river begins in the Italian Alps around 7,200 feet of elevation, and winds its way gently down through the Cannobino River Valley. For most of the first twelve miles, its maximum width is only around 33 feet. However, once past the Church of Sant'Anna it begins to widen into a natural basin over 300 feet wide (and a few meters deep). Ultimately the Cannobino emerges into a wide river bed and then flows through the lakeside town of Cannobio, ending at last in Lago Maggiore.
Generally the Cannobino is gentle and peaceful, but a few times each year there is a sudden rush of water from snowmelt in the local mountains, causing the water to suddenly become powerful, rough and wild. Due to these rare flash floods, the Cannobino is known as a 'torrente'.
During the other 98% of the year the Cannobino is a tranquil and beautiful place to spend a lazy, 'chilled out' afternoon. During warmer months travelers and locals alike love to spend their days playing, swimming, relaxing in rubber innertubes and diving into its pure, cool waters.
Whether traveling alone, with friends or with family, this is a fabulous place to enjoy a hot July or August day!
2. Ristorante Grotto Sant'Anna!
We recommend calling in advance for reservations to this spectacular, unique restaurant. Perched next to a jagged, narrow gorge above the Cannobino River (which is many meters deep in this location) the outdoor dining experience at Ristorante Grotto Sant'Anna is almost unparalleled due in large part to its jaw-dropping setting and vistas.
We dined at a stone table beneath a lovely grape arbor. Since we were among the first reservations of the sunny day, the atmosphere among the servers was very peaceful, attentive and relaxed. A fabulous moth flitted around our table and spent some time hanging out with us, landing for a time on my son's hand!
The dishes and desserts turned out to be creative, well-portioned and well made. Dessert was an especially big hit with the children, but the entire meal was solid (photos below). We enjoyed excellent service but noticed that as the restaurant filled up, it took much longer for the food to arrive at other tables. So, we recommend making your reservation for an early seating!
"Someday you could bring your future partner here to propose marriage," I remarked to our 12 year old son, The Scientist. "It's such a romantic location!" (I was only half-teasing, it's that special!)
He, of course, groaned. "Awww Mom, you know I'm NEVER going to get married!"
His dad and I tried not to smile.
"Well, if that's the case," I nodded, "I guess we'll have to return as a family in a few years to celebrate when your Dad and I have our 20 year anniversary!"
Until then, we definitely recommend this dining experience! Nestled in the hills above the Cannobino, Ristorante Grotto Sant'Anna is a hidden treasure!
A word to the wise: Due to outstanding reviews and an unbeatable location, it's almost impossible to get a table at this restaurant without calling in advance. (We know this firsthand; we've found out the hard way that you can't just show up unannounced. They've absolutely turned us away in the past... with no availability for a week!)
1. Wild Swimming and Diving in Grotto Sant'Anna!
A favorite Aventura family pastime!
Wild swimming refers to outdoor swimming in pristine natural spots that lack infrastructure AND manmade pollution. There are entire guides devoted to wild swimming in various European countries, and my husband Señor Aventura has made a point of buying all of them. He and the children absolutely delight in wild swimming.
As it turns out, the Grotto Sant'Anna is a well-known and beloved destination for wild swimmers!
Just below the Church of Sant'Anna, a large natural pool flows out from the narrow gorge and down toward the much wider river basin. As swimmers glide through the basin and approach the gorge, the water suddenly becomes extremely deep and cold.
On hot summer days, many youth (and fit adults) spend time diving into these cool, deep waters from high up on the lofty cliffs towering above.
For the 'adventurous' set - for example, my husband and sons - going even further to explore the narrow, dark river gorge itself is delightful too!
"The water was the coldest I have ever experienced!" confessed The Scientist with a glowing smile as he emerged from the gorge. "It was freezing, Mom! There was basically no light because the stone walls of the gorge were so high. Suddenly we saw a really big frog! It was bouncing along the river, and it was brown! It was croaking!"
"Mom, I touched it!" crowed Soccer Dude gleefully. "I touched the big frog!" Their eyes were big like saucers as they described exploring inside the gorge with their dad.
Later, Soccer Dude and his father took turns diving off of the high cliffs. They emerged from the water completely exhilarated. I was amazed by my courageous ten year old son who clambered up the massive cliffs to dive again and again. He certainly has the heart and soul of a bold adventurer!
If you, too, enjoy a great adventure, look no further!
Wild swimming and diving at the Grotto Sant'Agata will make for a perfect summer's day!
L- Soccer Dude prepares to dive from halfway up the cliffs (center of frame)
R- Soccer Dude emerges beaming from the water after his huge dive!
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