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Published: November 19th 2017
Although most visitors to Italy concentrate on only the more popular venues and cities, we’ve discovered that northern Italy has so much more to offer than we possibly could have realized. In our fourth and final week in this most enriched and culinary blessed part of the country, we came upon a grand lake, a walled city and the “New York” of Italy. To make this part of the journey even more pleasurable, we were joined by our good friend Michael, who traveled with us through Myanmar several years back and now makes his home in Paris. Put natural beauty, great cuisine, historic venues and Michael together, and you’ve got the makings of grand adventure……and it was. Varenna
Our continuing affair with train travel brought us to the shores of Lake Como and the small town of Varenna. There are multiple choices of where to stay when you visit this grand lake, but we would highly recommend Varenna. It’s not as if we actually stayed there, but we were close. Traveling for multiple months requires detailed planning and for the most part, we were really quite good at it. Before leaving, we had all of our flights and lodging
Surreal Lake Como
Magical colors ending the day
booked along with most of our transportation.
Once again, we booked a nice place on AirBNB with a stunning view of Lake Como. From the pictures and descriptions, we would be a few hundred feet up from the lake and our private outdoor patio would provide picturesque scenery for our stay. The place was listed as in Varenna, but for some reason, neither of us checked the map of where our lodging was located and we ended up about 2+ miles south of town. The caveat for the grand view was that to reach our place, you had to ascend some 130 steps……and of course the first time you go up…..so does the luggage. The ultimate “bag drag.” As you might imagine our bags had gained some weight on this trip so this turned into a chore. But….we made the best of it as each day we would walk downhill into town and then at the end of the day after a full day of exploring, wandering and walking we would take a taxi back….and then walk up the stairs. Big walking workout for the “not so young” crowd.
We had a few days before Michael’s arrival and
set out to see some of the other towns on the lake. A ferry ticket would get you to all the places nearby, including Bellagio, Menagio, Tremezzo and Lenno. To our delight, Varenna was by far our favorite. The views from the ferry were outstanding and the weather cooperated quite nicely. We had no trouble finding fine food, especially at the Crotto di Pino, which turned out to be our favorite….. for more than just the food....
On the night of Michael’s arrival, the train stopped in a darkened and poorly marked rail station and Michael grabbed his backpack and hopped off to see where he was. Michael assumed he had a minute as the steward was off having a quick smoke. Before he realized it, the steward tossed the cigarette, hopped back on the train, the train doors closed and the train left…….with his suitcase still on board. He was in Varenna alright, but sans suitcase. He made his way to our place and we continued on to the Crotto di Pino where we had reservations, which was just down the street from us and as luck would have it, had a waitress who spoke perfect English. Upon
arrival, we shared Michael’s tale of woe and she then made several phone calls on our behalf, actually arranging for the suitcase to arrive the next morning on the first train to Varenna! Amazing…..as the suitcase either should have been turned in to the train authorities or the police. They were willing to break the rules for a local. The next morning, Michael and Dave hoofed down to the station to meet the 8:20 train and the conductor jumped off with Michael’s suitcase! Mission accomplished….crisis averted and now we have another great travel story to tell. Plus Michael has a great photo with the conductor.
We spent the next couple of days enjoying Lake Como and wandering about Varenna and Bellagio, taking in the ambiance of these two towns, which are very dissimilar. Each village surrounding the lake seems to have its own personality. We talked with visitors to each of the towns to hear what they liked and didn’t like about where they had chosen to stay. Bellagio is much more high-end and has quite a lot of shopping, while Varenna is more of a lakeside town with shops tucked in the side of the hill dropping down
to the lake. Vareena has a small but scenic square with a lovely church, tiny alleyways between buildings, steep steps from the lakeside up to the main road which makes it even more scenic. We were told there isn’t much to do in the other towns close by, but Varrena kept us quite satisfied. We also dined at throtto di Pino a total of three times as the food was fantastic and just down the street from our apartment. The owner/chef was a gracious and gregarious gentleman who definitely knew his way around the kitchen.
Now a certain Hollywood actor by the name of George Clooney (perhaps you've heard of him?) has a mansion on the lake a bit further down from where we were staying. We kept expecting a call from him inviting us to dinner but alas... the call never came. Maybe he was on location and could squeeze in a visit. One of our cab drivers did tell us he was in town a month prior on his motorcycle. No one realized it was George until he took off his helmet…. you can imagine how much excitement that caused. Oh well.....perhaps another time, George..... Bergamo
Then it was a couple of short train rides to reach Bergamo. Bergamo? Even our AirBNB host was curious why we Americans picked her city to visit. When we travel we certainly want to see all the famous sights and towns that we’ve heard of but we genuinely enjoy towns that are rarely visited by tourists and Bergamo fits the bill. When spending time in an undiscovered town or city you can get a much better feel for true Italian life, which is one of great parts of travel.
We discovered it was a smaller city that had amazing views from the walled “Old City” which was located high on the hills with lovely cobblestone streets and a funicular railway which always grabs our attention. The old city is perched high above the newer business center of town. We’ve had a small obsession with funiculars for a few years now and try to ride them whenever we come across one. This funicular connects the upper city to the lower city and if you want to avoid walking up hill for an hour use the funicular, which we did on our second day because on our first day....Michael loaded
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Nice shopping and restaurants
a guide to the city on his phone and we wandered off after lunch, a rather big lunch, having no idea whatsoever just how much elevation our walk would present, especially after our midday meal. It was more than a tad grueling....you learn as you go. The views from above were well worth the effort and we returned the next day for more exploration. Bergamo was one of the few cities spared the ravages of the Second World War and it was quite nice to stroll the Old City. Bergamo is on a series of hills so everything is up hill but this makes the views from the old city spectacular.
We were told that Leonardo di Vinci lived nearby for a few years and we suspect this area near the Bergamo alps was great inspiration to him. Just an example of the things you learn when you're on the road less traveled. Please add this non-touristy Italian location to your travel list. Bergamo was a very pleasant surprise. Milan
Our final stop was Milan…..the “New York” of Italy. Center of fashion, manufacturing and some very impressive architecture in the heart of Milan. We were glad to
be there, but also knew that we were nearing the end of another grand voyage, having been on the road for more than seven weeks. Michael was able to reconnect with a friend from Bali who now lived in Milan and he had not seen in a while, who took us to a fabulous local restaurant where we once again were lucky to have the chef cook for us…..cuilinary heaven once again!
We bought subway passes and headed to Piazza dei Mercanti, which has the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Duomo de Milano. Imagine an upscale shopping venue next to an impressive church in one of the oldest squares in Milan where tourists and locals alike gather. There were street musicians who played inviting scores and a general bustle of activity. This proved to be a people-watching gold mine....people from all walks of life and tourist galore filled the square. We also discovered that Milan had one of our favorite tourist attractions….the hop on-hop off bus. We always enjoy the bus as it gives you a great overview of a city and provides a good history of the city as well. Our plan involves riding the entire circuit
Italian chefs at work
Dave and Michael in action
once and then deciding if there is a stop that we would like to get off at while on the second trip around.
One evening found us in a charming chef’s apartment for yet another cooking class. We were joined by six other lucky people and learned to make pasta, gnocchi and other wonderful dishes, including fish and a sinfully delicious pear dessert. Ah…..the food in this country…..we wish we had more time to learn more delicious dishes!
And then that day final arrived……we were to leave Italy….four fabulous weeks of food, culture, scenery and of course, fine wine had come to an end. We felt we had explored a part of Italy that many do not get the chance to enjoy…..but now on to Iceland! The soothing waters of the Blue Lagoon await……. Where we stayed Varenna
- wonderfully scenic airbnb
Via Pino 55, Varenna, Lombardia 23829, Italy Bergamo
- airbnb- excellent choice
Via Giacomo Quarenghi, 17, Bergamo, Lombardy 24122, Italy Milan-
we used Marriott points Restaurant recommended Varenna
- Grotto di Pino Cooking Class in Milan
Cook and Dine - Instructor Aurora
Tot: 0.08s; Tpl: 0.026s; cc: 23; qc: 40; dbt: 0.0116s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb