Italian Lakes – Monte Generoso

THERE is something in the very name of Monte Generoso which leads us to expect great things. When we reach the summit we find it to be one of the most munificent, large-hearted, and broad-minded of our benefactors among the mountains, spreading out its welcome with panoramic gesture and inviting free inspection of its treasures in peak and plain, land and water.

All the alpine heights are friends of ours, and we like to dwell upon their good points and virtues, since from their tops the glib, the sordid, and the futile look low-down and insignificant. Even the little hillocks, to which we climb for an outlook, give us a freer aspect, and bring us nearer heaven.

But Monte Generoso somehow wins our special affection, because it gives so lavishly and profusely of its best in return for very little effort on our part. It is so situated between Lakes Lugano and Como as to dominate an area of unusual variety. From its summit can be read an epitome of the fairest and the best qualities of the Italian lakes region. Among all the mountains of the Alps, none can be found to resent the unstinted praise which tourists and travellers gladly render to this famous point of view. The topmost peaks of white are far above any petty jealousy, and fear no competition, while the lower heights look up to Monte Generoso with genuine respect and fraternal good feeling.

Monte Generoso has planned its largess on a sumptuous scale, with titanic proportions and open-handed hospitality. A mountain railway runs up to the hotel, and a short walk leads to the pinnacle of its fame, — the rock, whence lie revealed the glories of the range of the Alps, the rolling masses and serrated ridges of the fore-hills and spurs, the wealth of colour of lakes and flower-like islands and the table tapestry of the plain of Lombardy. There are several paths from the shores of Lakes Lugano and Como for those who wish to walk, but now that the railroad mounts so conveniently from Capolago, it is well to remember that these paths can be used going down as well as up, — and even a little better.

As you slip out from the summit hotel to see the sunrise, the larks are already singing and soaring jubilantly in the half-light over the grassy slopes. The cool clean air blows fresh across a scene of extraordinary grandeur and compass. Northward the chain of the Alps lies ashen gray in the dawn, waiting for the touch of light to fire its beauties, paint its peaks in bright colours and block out its deep shadows. Below and round about, the world of the Italian lakes still sleeps be-fore renewing the bustle and brilliancy of its daytime activities.

Then comes the sun. It picks out Monte Rosa for first honours and special favours, and tips its five-fingered massif with a rosy glow.

The sun now proceeds to honour by degrees all the other peaks in this amphitheatre of the Alps, in the order of their height and skyward attainment, touching them in a strict order of precedence that never varies, when the sky is clear, until its rays have surmounted the last intervening range and are seen to shine on all alike. Many of them are old-time favourites of ours, which have been seen before from other points of view, in detachments, companies, and groups, but are here brought together for a grand international review.

Standing on Swiss soil, we can let the eye sweep from the Graian Alps to the mountains of Tyrol, from France, over a good bit of Switzerland and Northern Italy to Austria. It is our privilege thus to unite all these countries in our kindly regard and pro-found appreciation. Beginning with the pyramidal Monte Viso, off to the west beyond Turin in Piedmont, the eye strays past Gran Paradiso to Monte Rosa and other peaks of the Zermatt region. The Matterhorn is there, but curiously dwarfed by Monte Rosa. Eastward along the line we come upon our familiar friends of the Bernese Oberland, now strangely distant in their attitude, the Aletschhorn, the Jungfrau, the Finsteraarhorn, and others. Then comes the break in the alpine wall where lies the St. Gothard Pass, and after that the Rheinwaldhorn, the mountains between Val Ticino and Lake Como, a glimpse of the mountains of the Engadine and the Splügen Pass, and finally the Colmo dei Tre Signori on the frontier of Italy and Austria.

As the sun’s rays creep down into the fore-hills a cuckoo calls to the morn from below in the chestnut groves, and this call supersedes the tremulous note of an owl in the thickets; the larks careen more gaily than ever in the faultless air, and presently the cattle are seen moving out from the huts where they have spent the night. They spread out over the rolling uplands in single file, or group themselves upon the knolls, where their deep brown and brilliant buff colours contrast well with the rich green of the pastures and the pale blue of the farther mountains.

As the sun rises still higher in the heavens all the details of this surprising sub-alpine region come more boldly to the fore, — forests, watercourses, roads, villages, cultivated fields, and villages nestling in the mountain basins. Down at Melide the shallow spots in Lake Lugano show glass-green beside the azure of the deeper parts. A constant rumble ascends from the torrent near Rovio. The height of San Salvatore far below looks like a younger brother of Monte Generoso with its striking resemblance.

The town of Lugano basks beside a miniature Bay of Naples, and the Val d’Intelvi seems as though caught up from the world to live apart. In the direction of Lake Maggiore there are glimpses of Arona, Stresa, Isola Bella, and of the island castle at Cannero. Over there lies Bellagio like a lion couchant on its headland, dividing Lake Como into halves. Black dots of people can be seen strolling on the Bellagio quay, and the steamboat crawls across to Varenna. The town of Como itself lies hidden, but its neighbouring and characteristic Baradello tower looms up large and near. Varese, the town, shows clear and bright, and so does Varese, the lake, with its pond-like attend-ants, Monate and Comabbio.

Turning our backs for a moment on the mountains, and looking southward, the hills of the Brianza are seen to fall away toward the great level floor of the plain of Lombardy, where new marvels await the gaze; we pass from the sight of little white villages, clinging to the rims of mountain terraces, to the faint outlines of great cities, stretching out upon a vast alluvial valley, which is lined off with rows of Lombardy poplars and mulberry-trees. Looking closely we see roads, walls, and other signs which humanity scratches upon the surface of the earth. As the weather and the telescope permit, Milan, Lodi, Crema, Cremona, Pavia, Piacenza, or possibly even Turin, may be seen like blurred and hazy spots upon the great stretch of mixed greens which reaches as far as the Apennines. Through the glass the cathedral of Milan looks like a chiseled gray pebble, buttressed on either side with spiders’ webs.

Herein lies the great charm of the view from Monte Generoso, in this vivid contrast between the silver arctics of the Alps and the dim half-tones of the Lombardy rice-fields. Here are uninhabited wastes of ice, snow, and rock, there sleep the fruitful lowlands, fat with the olive and the vine; here nature in her most stupendous mood has carved out her most massive constructions, there man’s most delicate handiwork has wrought some of the world’s great masterpieces in architecture, painting, and sculpture. From Monte Generoso it is possible to see at one sweep of the eye the rude alpine hut, the monster modern hotel, furnished with the most recent inventions, and the ancient palazzo, frescoed and full of storied art; to trace the cow-path on the steep slope, the broad carriage road along the lake, and the rail-road circling through the foot-hills. Over yonder, on the brink of precipices, grow the edelweiss, the gentian, and the alpine rose; down below in the fair Italian gardens that line the shores of the lakes, beautify the islands and dot the plains, waxen camellias grow profusely, lavender wistaria blossoms on house walls, and rhododendron hedges stand guard about the villas. In the heights the hawk sails slowly on the wing, and wild mountain birds dart and cry shrilly; down below pretty pigeons flap, swoop, and strut among the housetops, and nightingales sing their cadences in the thickets of the lakeside terraces.

Yes, Monte Generoso does not belie its name, and in return we can at least speak well of our grand host, and praise the good men who built the hotel and the railroad.

Geologists will be interested to know that the limestone formation of Monte Generoso contains marine fossils and petrifactions. Mere laymen in matters of natural history can also learn much about the formation of lakes by observation from Monte Generoso. Under the revealing touch of the sun, the making of the Italian lakes goes on apace,

while we wait and watch. First of all, there are the clouds which are seen to gather in groups along the white snow-capped mountains and cover them here and there with big shade spots of many shapes; they hover over the violet foot-hills and drop their purple shadows on the green slopes; they stretch out gentle, caressing fingers over the cliffs and the rocky débris, to hide the sterile mountainsides and ease their lot of constant exposure and disintegration. These same clouds will some day fall as snow and hail upon the topmost peaks and cover the foot-hills with refreshing showers. The water will seek the lower level by degrees and find the lakes.

Afar off, on the glaciers, tiny globules of ice and delicate snow embroideries are even now melting under the action of the sun, and water is trickling down the seams and folds of the mountain flanks. Little streams are passing through gorge and over water-fall, and bursting forth as full-grown tor-rents among the southern foot-hills. They are being led over beds of mountain rubble, by many twists and turns, into the great reservoirs, called lakes, where the work of filtering and purifying turns the gray water into the superb azure which the world ad-mires.

And so the day advances amid such sights and sounds, and the late afternoon is here with its special charms. A goat ninnies for her straying young. To right and left the tinkle of many cowbells rises and falls on the breeze. A flock of sheep nibbles on the slope, taking no notice of the great panoramic world beyond, each round, fluffy mite of cream colour casting a deep shadow to throw itself into relief. And all the while the water of the lakes below glitters like watered silk under the ruffling of the wind.

As the sun dips still farther, its slanting rays catch the corner of a lake, flood it with light and convert it into a sheet of fire. The swallows dart about with a wild provocative skim, circle, and swish of the wings. The mountains grow a trifle sullen and dark, and the valleys dim. Finally only black wavering lines tell of the presence of the ridges. But a sudden ray of the setting sun pierces through the gloom and illumines some slope with startling green. The cattle are seen to be driven in for the milking. Then comes the cleansing, fine-weather wind which draws down and whistles a little angrily in the ravines. Otherwise a great quiet settles over mountain and lake. By and by it is quite dark in the plain, and the night comes by degrees even for us, but it will be light for a good while longer on the top-most peaks, and longest of all on Monte Rosa.

Tomorrow, with the return of the first rays, the way will lie down the grassy slopes to the Val d’Intelvi and to the borders of our lowland lakes once more.