Lifestyle · Travel

Enchanted Autumn: A Road Scholar’s Hike Through the Lake Country of Italy

FullSizeRender(5)Lake Como. (Photo: Jane Moffett)

Jane Moffett is a doctorate-level clinical social worker with advanced certifications in trauma. She works in New York City as a psychotherapist in private practice and is the Clinical Director for the Integrative Trauma Clinic at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies. She has long had an interest in the intersection of psychotherapy and spirituality and in mind-body practices. We are calling on her 28 years’ experience as a psychotherapist to speak to women in the second half of life who hope to find meaning in adversity and to develop practices for serenity. —Ed.

Over the years I have encouraged patients to take time out from their daily lives to do something relaxing and enjoyable. Glad to take my own advice, from September 21 to September 30 I was fortunate enough to spend a wonderful holiday hiking in the Italian Lake Country at the foot of the Alps. The program was a part of Road Scholar’s “Adventures in Lifelong Learning.”

Road Scholar, for those who are unfamiliar with it, was once called “Edlerhostel.” Most of us over 60—the program’s constituency—would prefer not to be called “elders,” and few of us would still be willing to stay in a hostel. Currently, Road Scholar sponsors more than 5,500 educational tours in the U.S. and 150 countries.

The organization’s focus certainly appealed to the active group of mostly retired men and women between the ages of 62 and 84 who were my hiking companions. We were a band of 18—three couples, plus women who came by themselves or in pairs as friends. Participants came from all over the U.S. Most of the group had worked in a professional capacity, and some still were active in their careers. Among us were teachers, school administrators, college professors, doctors, psychotherapists, a filmmaker, a lawyer, and business people. All had a zest for learning that more than justified our title as “scholars.” And if you think for a moment that the 84-year-hiker joining us might have found the daily walks too rigorous, think again. She sat out one steep climb, but otherwise never missed a day of the 4 to 8 miles of walking and hiking, often negotiating steep, rocky inclines and maneuvering over uneven footing on the descents.

We were richly rewarded with such culinary treats as saffron risotto, delicious salads, and local wines—all guilt-free after the exercise. This was my first group trip, and if you are used to traveling alone or with a partner—as I have been—there is less flexibility and anonymity. I found my fellow scholars congenial and easy to be with. I looked forward to having interesting dinner companions, and can honestly say that my fellow travelers made an effort to be inclusive and engaged in the mealtime conversation.

Road Scholar’s trips are moderately priced ($2,999 per person sharing a room, and $3,472 single occupancy, for this trip). Air fare is additional, and Road Scholar has a travel branch that can make your reservations. I used airline miles). Thus, its hotel picks are not luxurious. On the other hand, I came to see that with a group matched in interests and energy, as ours was, it was a relief to have the logistics so well managed and to stay in family-run hotels that cater to European guests. (The buses were comfortable, and, happily, we changed hotels only once. The buses or boat launches left for the day’s destination at a reasonable hour—usually 9—in the morning.)

On our trip, we had one terrific guide with us the whole time. Anna was thoughtful, paying great attention to detail as she smoothed the way for our stay. Anna speaks five languages and leads tours in Europe and South America. We also had local guides for the towns we visited. Passionate about the history, culture, and geography of their regions, they were eager to introduce us to the countryside, history, and culture they loved.

The Italian Lake region is in the north of Italy, abutting Switzerland. The five lakes we visited (Como, Garda, Lugano, Orta, and Maggiore) were formed during the last glacial period, and vary in size. Each is framed in the rolling foothills of the Alps that the Italians call “pre-Alps.” September was the perfect time to visit, as the buttery-yellow sunlight warmed the mountainous trails and sparkled on the water, but the tourist season was winding down.

There is so much to share with you, but perhaps I can entice you by telling you about some of what were the highlights for me. Many visiting Lake Maggiore are struck by the beautiful views of the Borromean Gulf from Suna, a short boat ride from Stresa on Lake Maggiore. Isola Bella, an island in the lake, features the Borromean Palace, a stunning 17th-century Baroque extravaganza (finally finished in 1959) built by Borromeo family, who still live there in the summer. The family opens the first floor to the public, so we got to see galleries hung with gorgeous tapestries and paintings by such artists as Cerano, Panini, and Zuccarelli. It was a bit disconcerting to see the large windows of the galleries wide open, with damp lake air flowing through the rooms. When I asked the guide about humidity control and conservation, she gave a diplomatic answer, but indicated that there was concern.

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