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The lands between Milan and Lake Orta
starts off flat and drab; Milanese suburbs slowly turning into
farmland that holds little interest to the eye. It is at the village
of Novara that the first hint of the far-flung snow-tipped Alps
appear: misty, purple-white, a dramatic contrast to the cultivated
Italian lowlands.

Slowly the train ascends through the
grassy, vine-covered hills, whose walls close in so close that it
appears that we are traveling through a green tunnel. Then, suddenly,
the riotous, hilly landscape suddenly opens wide and falls away, the
last hill marked with a lone tower, a watch-post to warn against
armies of some long ago age that made their slow way up the valley
that the train now hurtles out of and there, below the tracks, lays
the deep alpine basin of the lake, whose sides are formed by forested
sharp cliffs and steep slopes that go right down to the water’s edge.

From where I sit I can’t see what lays
ahead of us, though I’m captivated by the sight of the distant
southern shore, where towers and domes and Moorish spires of the
village, San Maurizio D’opaglio, rise, all pink and orange and
yellow, sprouting up here and there between the endless waves of
chestnuts, walnuts and larch. Higher up along the towering granite
cliffs ancient villas can be seen; outposts of Medieval wealth where
the Milanese princes and bishops escaped the heat of the summer to
hide in their cool eyries.