One of My Favorite Places on Earth, and Travel Tips for the Month

After the Villa d’Este Concours (see previous blog post) I headed over to the beautiful shoreline of Lago Maggiore to spend time with Marella Rivolta and Andrea Zagato.

I first met Marella in the early 1980s after I got to know her delightful father Piero Rivolta. The Rivoltas are a prosperous family from Milan that originally conceived and built robust motor scooters and the famed Isetta “bubble car” in the 1950s, and went head-to-head with Ferrari, Maserati and the other constructors in the 1960s and early ‘70s with a number of GT models constructed by their Iso Automobili firm. When Piero returned to the automotive industry in the 1990s, Marella was there at his side, learning an industry that is definitely in her genes.

The auto industry is also in the genes of Andrea Zagato, as he’s from of a long line of coachbuilders. Carrozzeria Zagato was founded in 1919 by his grandfather, and I first met Andrea in the early 1990s when the company was suffering through hard times. Back then he had grandiose plans on how he was going to return Zagato to glory and lo and behold, two decades later, he has accomplished everything he set out to do, and more.

Andrea Zagato clowning around with Zagato aficionado Sammy Hagar's recently released autobiography.

Andrea Zagato clowning around with Zagato aficionado Sammy Hagar’s recently released autobiography.

The Zagatos also resided in Milan in northern Italy, and I was a quite surprised to learn these two stalwart automotive names had never met. Knowing Marella and Andrea for some time, something inside me said they would be a good fit and I played matchmaker for one of the few times in my life. They hit if off, ended up getting married, and today live in one of my favorite places on the planet: their fabulous villa on the aforementioned shoreline of Lago Maggiore.

This May marked the first time I had seen the villa since Marella completed a masterful, multi-year renovation, so I indulged myself by wandering around the grounds, shooting a number of photos. Some of them looked like magazine advertisements for an ultra high-end exclusive resort, so we had a running joke during my stay on how much a weekend package would cost, what the itinerary would be, the menu, a day trip to the Zagato works complete with a private showing in the virtual reality room, and what cars would be provided for driving pleasure.

For the flight over to Italy I took along Hall of Fame rocker Sammy Hagar’s new autobiography “Red,” and some tomfoolery ensued when I informed Andrea that Sammy is a huge Zagato admirer. Normally I don’t go for such “tell all” fare, but having grown up listening to Hagar and being a lifelong Montrose fan (an absolute killer rock band that Sammy sang lead vocals for on the first two albums), I devoured the book and learned about his break up with Montrose, time with Van Halen, his successful solo career, and a whole lot more (such as when he got his first royalty check for $5,100, he promptly spent $5,000 of it on a Porsche; not the smartest move, but something any car lover would appreciate).

One morning Andrea and I went to the lakeside veranda to set up a photo for Sammy. Andrea has a good sense of humor, speaks outstanding English and reads it just as well, so in the picture we had him reading the book, expect it was upside down. I emailed it to Sammy, and he and Renata (who tries to keep the Red Rocker’s life sane) got a good chuckle out of it.

Another reason that back veranda is so special--the view! I call this shot "The Fisherman," and everything is indeed that tranquil.

Another reason that back veranda is so special–the view! I call this shot “The Fisherman,” and everything is indeed that tranquil.

Which leads to two pretty obvious travel tips. First, while Lake Como garners all the headlines, don’t overlook Lake Maggiore. It is about the same distance from Milan, gets a lot less tourist traffic, and is just as beautiful. (If you ever dream about a home on Como but find it too expensive, take a look around Lago Maggiore—there is a lot of value on those shores.)

And if you need a good book to keep you company while flying there, pick up a copy of “Red.” It’s one rollicking, entertaining read that (excuse the pun) truly rocks.

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