On the opposite shore of Arona the chunky medieval Rocca di Angera fortress lords it over the town of Angera in no uncertain terms. From a distance, it is the first thing one sees. Inside is the 12-room Museo della Bambol , displaying the Borromeo family’s priceless collection of dolls. What better place for them than this towering, fairy-tale castle with its high, crenelated walls atop a rocky outcrop? Modest vineyards cling to the slopes around it.
The Borromeo clan bought it from Milan’s Visconti family in 1449. Various rooms and halls open on to the courtyard, among them the awe-inspiring Sala della Giustizia (Hall of Justice), with its overarching vault and lively 13th-century frescoes. From the tower you have breathtaking views. The doll collection counts more than 1000 items, while a separate collection of French and German mechanical dolls and figurines (dating from 1870 to 1920) becomes highly amusing when they are set in sometimes noisy motion.
The easiest way up is by car (signposted from the centre of Angera). By foot, follow the signs from Piazza Parrocchiale. The rest of Angera repays a stroll too. The shady waterfront is speckled with villas and old fishing families’ houses.