“Venice, Florence, Rome, and… Luino? What’s Luino, and why would you go?” people asked, when I told them where I’d been in Italy. Valid questions, to be fair. To answer the first part, Luino is a tiny but picturesque lakeside town in northern Italy, very close to the Swiss border. I hadn’t heard of it until I put up public trip on Couchsurfing, notifying hosts in Switzerland where I was planning on traveling. I actually got a response from a guy named Davide, who basically said that he didn’t live in Switzerland (though very close), but if my plans were flexible and I wanted a few days to relax in a small town, he could host me in Luino.
I Googled Luino and it looked beautiful, similar to Lake Como (which had also been on my list), but much less touristy. Not only did a visit to the little town sound like a great way to see more of Italy than just the big tourist destinations, but after dealing with frustrating crowds in Venice, Florence, and Rome, chilling out for a few days sounded exactly like what I needed.
I decided to chase the experience, not just the destination, so I tweaked my itinerary a bit and accepted Davide’s offer. What happened next…?
1. I went to aperitivos with a big multicultural group of friends. The day I was arriving there happened to be a dinner for Davide’s group of friends (who he describes as “multicultural”), so he invited me along, and we ended up at a restaurant offering aperitivos (where you buy a drink for 8-10 Euros and get an unlimited buffet). I got to experience how locals spend their weekday evenings, and I met so many nice people, either living there for work or school, from countries all over the world including Sweden, Portugal, India, Japan, Italy, and more. It was really interesting to hear their stories about why and how they all got there.
2. I discovered a beautiful place I’d never have known about. Tourist attractions are interesting to see, but it’s always nice to visit non-tourist destinations too. Walking around Luino was something out of a storybook. Swans glided along the peaceful Lake Maggiore, whose glassy surface reflected the huge snow-capped mountains surrounding it. Children played on a lakeside park while their parents read books in adjacent grassy lawns. And I wandered through the yellow and red colored leaves of the autumn trees up into a quaint town with cobblestone streets. While I wondered how this picturesque place wasn’t a top destination, I loved that its beauty hadn’t yet been affected by tourism.
3. I attended an Italian birthday party. On Saturday night Davide had a friend’s 25th birthday party and once again invited me along. It was a dinner party, so that day I helped him make quiche to bring, and we headed to the party later that night where I met all of his best friends from high school. We sat down to an awesome meal of various homemade Italian dishes (of course including many types of pizza), and we topped it all off with traditional post-meal Limoncello. Most of them actually spoke great English and were excited to practice, and turns out some of them reminded me of my own high school friends.
4. I tried the local favorites. It’s easy to fall for the “tourist traps” when you’re traveling, but one of the benefits of staying with a local is that you find out all the inside secrets. When staying with Davide, I got to visit the local bar for live music, eat at the best pizza place in town, and try roasted chestnuts, a local favorite. I can’t be sure what I would have tried had I visited on my own, but I know it wouldn’t have been the same experience.
5. I kicked back, relaxed, and did nothing for hours. It might sound lazy to some people, but those who have traveled long-term understand that traveling can get tiring! For weeks I’d been constantly moving from place to place, running around every day trying to see and do as much as possible, researching next destinations and making bookings for the future. So when I was exploring the town and came across a grassy lawn next to the beautiful Lake Maggiore surrounded by snow-capped mountains, I sat down and relaxed, doing nothing at all (not even a blog post!) I simply enjoyed the fresh air, the sound of the lake lapping against the shore, and the brilliant colors of the trees above my head.
As it turns out, heading to a place you know nothing about (and therefore have no expectations for) can be a pretty great time. So great, in fact, that I might just add more of these little unknown towns to future itineraries. After all, it’s not really about the destination and sights you see, what really matters is the experience you have.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌