Gloriously languid at Lago di Como

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May 13th 2010
Published: May 16th 2010
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We arose very early (6am) for a 7.45am train to Milan. We arrived around 10am and had a short orientation walk before heading up to the roof of the Duomo. It was a fantastic view of Milan’s sprawling cityscape, and the feat of engineering required to build the cathedral was mesmerising (although I continued to ponder the cost in human lives that was spent constructing such colossal monuments). We wandered around the city, stopped for a coffee and then met Michael, Milroy and the kids (Ren’s cousins) in front of the Duomo at 2pm for lunch. The sun finally struggled out from behind the rain clouds and started burning down on top of us, so my scarf had to double as a headpiece (which changed my appearance entirely - I now looked like a seedy criminal - which was extremely useful in the crowded Milan streets).

After saying goodbye to Ren’s cousins at the Duomo, we made our way back to Milan’s train station and started our trip to Como. We arrived in Como in the early evening in the middle of a mighty thunderstorm, and just missed our planned bus to Cadenabbia, which resulted in a short wait at the station until the next bus arrived. The wait was rewarded by an inebriated (or just plain mad) Swiss Italian woman who decided to befriend us and tell us all that Italy was a terrible place that no-one should ever consider travelling to. Each time she staggered to highlight a point in her argument her cigarette ash would drop all over the road that she was telling us was in a disgusting state from the pollution the local council wouldn’t clean. Her argument was slightly flawed by the fact that she was standing next to a public ashtray. On a positive note, she loved Australians, and told us so many times.

We finally caught the bus to Cadenabbia, and the trip didn’t agree with some of our travellers, who ended up bent double with their heads in pot plants outside our hotel. As we are not affected by motion/travel sickness, we loved this bus trip in a thunderstorm, as the night views of Lake Como were fantastic. We arrived late, headed straight to the hotel restaurant for dinner and then four of us headed to our rooms in an overflow hotel 300 metres down the road (due to a overbooking). This completely worked in our favour, as our hotel was much more comfortable and the breakfast was fantastic. We all sat up drinking meloncello as the thunderstorm worsened outside before finally retiring to bed.

Exhausted from the travel day before, we slept in and ventured out after a small breakfast around 9.30am. We jumped on a ferry and crossed the lake to one of a number of villages we would explore throughout the day. It was raining fairly heavily, so we sheltered in a fantastic little corner store in Bellagio and picked up some bread, prosciutto and cheese for a picnic lunch. Later in Varenna we climbed a fairly steep ascent to a castle overlooking the lake (which was closed) and then meandered back down into the village for a fantastic picnic lunch by the lake. The rain clouds had cleared, the sun was out and the setting was exceptional. We shared wine while we ate and were entertained by a local council worker who was so hell-bent on blowing every last fallen leaf into the lake with his power blower that we had to move so he could blow the leaves from under our feet.

We then continued to village hop and ended up on our hotel’s side of the lake at Menaggio, where we dangled our feet at the lakeside and enjoyed the sun on our backs. It had been an invigorating morning and relaxing afternoon, made all the better by the company of our travel partners. We ferried back to Cadenabbia, freshened up at our hotel, had a beer while checking emails on the hotel’s free wifi and then headed back out to dinner at Bellagio. The ferry back across the Lake at night was fantastic, with the snow-covered Swiss and Italian Alps thrusting up into the night sky around us. After a nightcap of meloncello, we retired exhausted and happy.

En route to Lake Como, we stopped for a few hours in Milan. The train ride from Asti to Milan took about two hours on two trains, which was just long enough to properly wake up after an early start. After storing our luggage at Stazione Centrale we caught a tram (just like the old wooden trams on the Melbourne city circle) to get to the magnificent and awe-inspiring Duomo, which sits very imposingly in Piazza Duomo. Its mass of pink tinged white marble adds to the feeling of immenseness you feel when you step into the piazza. We also climbed the 165 steps to the Duomo roof...and while the view from the top was great, the roof itself had so many flying buttresses, beautiful statues and spires with detailed workmanship that the view became quite secondary for me. The Lonely Planet Guide we are using for this trip has the Duomo rooftop on the front cover, so I tried to recreate the photo with Claire, David, Taryn and Andrew on the peak of the roof.

We were meeting my cousins for lunch here and it was lovely to see Michael and Milroy who I haven’t seen for over 20 years, and meet Patty and Patrick - Milroy’s children. We had a quick lunch at the Galleria near the Duomo and then a coffee at a small café around the corner before it was time to say goodbye (it was a work day).

We caught the metro back to the station later that afternoon and continued on our travels by two trains and a bus (about three hours) through Lombardy country to Lake Como, which lies midway between Milan and the Swiss border. The countryside is lovely and lush and there are beautiful valleys, forested hills or the Alps in any direction you look. The bus ride to the hotel was on very winding narrow mountainous roads and we had a mad driver with a death wish. Poor Taryn and Jennie did not cope with the trip and were a whiter shade of pale with a tinge of green by the time we reached our destination...but as soon as we arrived in the very cute lakeside village of Cadenabbia, we knew this was going to be a sanctuary of rest and relaxation. It is so much easier to unwind when the vista is stunning, the air pure and crisp, and the hotel owners smiling and welcoming. 😊

Our hotel in Cadenabbia was over booked, so Claire, David, Andrew and I volunteered to go to the overflow hotel down the road. Very luckily this was the cute Alberghetto La Marianna which was right on the lake’s shore. It had the ambiance of a cosy bed and breakfast, and it was also only a few metres from the ferry stop. We got an all day ferry pass the next day and explored Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio - all exquisite villages. However we were lucky to be there during the week, apparently it’s pretty horrendously packed on the weekends with weekenders from Switzerland. Travelling to the lakeside villages via the clear green waters of the lake is pretty special and monumentally more romantic than catching the bus on mountainous roads. Roads full of bad tourist drivers in holiday-mode, and bad local drivers at their wits end at having to share the narrow roads with meandering tourists…

Bellagio is a luxury village and we loved its narrow cobblestone lanes with flower boxes in the windows, old-fashioned boutiques and trendy little cafés and galleries. We bought a picnic lunch at the local salumeria (ham shop) and formaggeria (cheese shop), and then caught another ferry to Varenna, a quiet little fishing village in the shadow of a prominent castle on the steep mountainside. We walked up the very steep and slippery cobblestone steps to the top of the hill only to find the castle locked up! Even though this was disappointing, the view of the lake with the snow capped mountains in the background was so pretty that it did not matter. By the time we walked down to the town again, we had worked up an appetite so we lunched in a park under some big oak trees right on the waterfront. I found Varenna even prettier than Bellagio, the coastline was stunning and the back laneways were adorable. It could have something to do with the fact that it had been a rainy morning in Bellagio, where as a brilliant sun was out by the time we got to Varenna. We then visited the last village on our ferry trip - Menaggio - a striking place with a gorgeous lakeside promenade full of well dressed types with designer dogs. We pottered around for a little while, and sat on the lake wall enjoying the sun on our backs, but we didn’t take to this village as we had to the others and decided to ferry it back to Cadenabbia for a nap before dinner. 😄

We had dinner at Ristorante Bellagio right on the waterfront in Bellagio, a lovely spot on the first floor of Hotel De Luc. We had an interesting antipasto of rocket, boconcino, mozzarella and tomatoes; primo of a gorgeous minestrone zuppa; secondo of a pork fillet for me, and a salmon from the lake for Andrew; and dolce of a nutella tart with gianduia (a paste of 70% chocolate and 30% hazelnut) and vanilla gelato.

With regards to other meals, I am a bit disappointed with the polenta here, it was served as an almost solid mass on the plate as opposed to the creamy consistency I like. The risotto was also a little bit of a letdown, not that it’s bad, but more that it’s not that different to the lazy version we make at home and denser than what we had believed a ‘real’ risotto should be. But the good news is apparently we make perfect Lombardy style risotto at home. 😊

There are a few tragic celebrity hunters who travel to these parts purely to stalk George Clooney. The poor guy moves to Italy for some peace and quiet, only to be written up in all the Italian guide books so that the loonies can find him!

We travel east to Venice in the Veneto region next…


17th May 2010

The Rain Forests Of Italy
I really do hope it's not raining in Venice for you. It smells like the Great Flood even when it's fine. (As does Leningrad non-coincidentally).
19th May 2010

Re: Rain Forests Of Italy
We know what you mean Keith, it rained the first day and it was not pleasant! All sunniness after that though :)
24th May 2010

I would be one of those "tragic" tourists if I knew Clooney was in town! Cannot wait to hear your views on Venice... Love and hugs xxx
25th May 2010

Hey Rom... I knew you would be! Hope all is well, love to J and K. xx

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