The Lombardy Region: Lakes, Walls and More Cuisine


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September 29th 2017
Published: November 19th 2017
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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 ComoSurreal Lake ComoSurreal 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
Pasta Class in MilanPasta Class in MilanPasta Class in Milan

Pumpkin Ravioli


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 IIGalleria Vittorio Emanuele IIGalleria 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
Admiring the beautyAdmiring the beautyAdmiring the beauty

Varenna Italy
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 workItalian chefs at workItalian 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


Additional photos below
Photos: 58, Displayed: 29


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Milan FashionMilan Fashion
Milan Fashion

Tailored suites.... looking good.
Stylish Italians Stylish Italians
Stylish Italians

Heading for a business lunch
VarennaVarenna
Varenna

Lake Como Italy
Michael in BergamoMichael in Bergamo
Michael in Bergamo

Talking to his friend in Bali
MJ and MichaelMJ and Michael
MJ and Michael

Working hard in cooking class
PearsPears
Pears

Cooking class


19th November 2017

Stairs and More Stairs
I hurt reading this one. Some nice eye candy though-both human and otherwise.
19th November 2017

Stairs and more stairs
The first time up was the toughest. We were beginning to feel in a little better shape by the end. Michael is very fit so he just watched in silence as we struggled. Definitely need to work out more. Milan had some attractive people wearing nice clothes.
19th November 2017

Northern Italy
What can I say? I didn't think you'd have room for more food after we stuffed ourselves in Armenia. But you guys have the determination gene...always room for a bit more. Great pics.
19th November 2017

Northern Italy
You would not think we could have eaten any more.... but clearly we were able to force ourselves. Thanks for following along.
19th November 2017

Good Things!
Good wine, good food, good friends and good views. All the best things and even a few cities we haven't been to. All the reasons we need to make our way back to Italy soon!
19th November 2017

Good things!
You've got to get back to Italy soon. So many places undiscovered that you will enjoy.
20th November 2017

Lake Como & Bellagio
As usual I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog about the Lombardy Region. Some great pics to enjoy which brought back happy memories of our visits to Lake Como and Bellagio a few years ago. You've given me so many reasons to consider going back!
20th November 2017

Lake Como & Bellagio
You must go back! Just a great region of the world. Thank you for reading along. MJ
20th November 2017

What a way to wind down the trip
Ah, I can see the relaxation on your faces. Lake Como, food, Milan, fashion- what a wonderful time it looks like. Thanks for sharing.
20th November 2017

Winding down
It was a great trip and the Italy portion certainly was a different pace. All of your senses will be used on a trip to Northern Italy.
20th November 2017

Too bad, George never called!
For a moment I almost believed George Clooney is your personal friend! Right away I realized MJ must be pulling our leg. How could I be so naive, especially when dealing with MJ! Can't believe the luggage return! I think I should forward your story to United for them to take a lesson or two in luggage handling. Once my luggage from Tokyo reached Calgary 10 days later because UA goofed up! I missed my chance to visit Milan as we had to cut short our time in Venice. From your description it seems, I can't afford to miss it next time. It appears you and Dave had a great trip to Italy...sightseeing, food, wine and good company. Great blog! Let's see what Iceland has to offer!
20th November 2017

Too bad, George never called!
Ha ha... what do you mean you believed he is our friend? Isn't he? No. oh well. A lot of airlines could learn from the luggage experience but we owe all of it to our wonderful waitress who called local police, the train chief locally who spoke to the conductor and so on. She was really amazing! You must get back to Northern Italy.
20th November 2017

Traveling with friends
Traveling with like-minded souls is one of life's greatest joys. Having adventures, creating and sharing travel stories makes friendship bonds stronger. Traveling with anyone is a true test of any friendship. The fact we've traveled together successfully several times is a reflection of how well we truly get along. Travel adventures always tend to find me, my suitcase as case in point. It's good to travel with sane, organized friends who see these things as future stories without getting attached to negative aspects and judgement. Like a good suitcase, good friends roll from one adventures to the next.
20th November 2017

Traveling with friends
.... like a good suitcase, good friends roll from one adventure to the next... Great line. No wonder you are a published author! It was great seeing you again. Thanks for joining us. No telling what continent we will find you on next time. Cheers.
20th November 2017

Bella Italia
Yes I remember steps and hills to climb up from Lake Como ...but always so worth it to have those views. And I always loved taking the ferry across to the various little towns. And it’s very handy to have that funicular in Bergamo . Travelling in Italy is always so rewarding.
20th November 2017

Bella Italia
All around the world the good stuff is up hill .... so we continue to climb. Those views are amazing. Italy is a joy to all the senses and my weight gain proves it. MJ
20th November 2017
Such culinary artistry!

Breakfast
It's seven in the morning here - I want to eat this for breakfast - it looks great... Yesterday, we went to the only store in our little town. The lack of variety, often means that Theresa and I have to be creative, but rarely can we cook exotic dishes. We both love Italian food, and your blogs leave us drooling. It's nice to read about somewhere different too - I like off-the-beaten-track travels. Dave
20th November 2017
Such culinary artistry!

Breakfast
I'm with you I could eat this for breakfast. You'll need to go to Italy and take a cooking class. You can be very creative with food after that. I love the pasta sauce that is nothing but olive oil, butter and sage. OMG.
20th November 2017
Duomo di Milano

You can walk on the roof
Did you get up on the roof? We did when we were there. It was a surreal experience to walk in between the pillars up there. We absolutely loved that. /Ake
20th November 2017
Duomo di Milano

You can walk on the roof
Italy offers so much beauty and great places to view it from. Milan is a great city.
20th November 2017

Lombardy region
Looks like a beautiful relaxing trip all around! And now enjoy the Blue Lagoon and all the waterfalls in Iceland. 😎 🍷
20th November 2017

Lombardy region
Beautiful and relaxing. Italy guarantees a great time.
21st November 2017
Stunning Lake Como

Beautiful
Just beautiful
21st November 2017
Stunning Lake Como

Beautiful
Every sunset was different
21st November 2017

Lake Como
What beautiful photos of Lake Como. I also love visiting less popular tourist destinations, so have noted the names of the places you've both visited.
21st November 2017

Lake Como
We look forward to your future blogs.... and maybe they will include off the beaten path Italy and other countries. Loved your last blog.
21st November 2017

The thigh of Italy
Of all the lost/misplaced luggage stories I've heard, Michael's train experience probably has the most unusual but great ending! How lucky you came across that lovely waitress. From reading about everything you saw and ate in Italy, it seemed like you were there much longer than four weeks. I bet you missed the glorious food after you left :)
22nd November 2017

The thigh of Italy
Actually we were glad to get home and stop eating. As much as we loved it we've only had pasta once since we returned. We were just talking about the fact that we might like to have some soon. Michael was fortunate we found some one so wonderful to assist us. She was not going to give up. She kept making phone calls.
26th November 2017

Wow, What a Journey!
Wow! What a journey you guys are having. Beginning in off-the-beaten track Central Asia, through Armenia, Northern Italy, and next up Iceland! What an amazing adventure! Loved the return of the suitcase in this one, visiting the non-touristy Bergamo, and then stylish Milan. Great travel reading :)
28th November 2017

Wow, What a journey!
Alex, thanks for following along. It was a great trip... a variety of experiences. We were pleasantly surprised by those quaint Italian towns that few go to. Such a joy.
5th March 2018

Wonderful region and beautiful pics!
Your post and pictures brought back memories of this beautiful region. I went to Lake Como, Milan, and Bergamo with my parents when I was a girl. Would love to go back, your story and pics really inspired me to do so. Thanks!
5th March 2018

Thanks for reading along
A part of the world worth visiting more than once.

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