A real Fantasyland? (only in Italy)

toptownOnce upon a time, high in the Italian hills overlooking azure Mediterranean waters, a local gardener decided he would like to become a prince. But, he needed a kingdom – or at least a patch of land to rule. No problem. He did some research and figured a small portion of this mini paradise did not legally belong to Italy. (That is all a bit complicated.) He convinced the local population of his claim and managed to have them vote to give him the title of Prince. That was in 1963, and Giorgio Carbone, His Supreme Highness, ruled the micro nation Seborga until his death in 2009, when Prince Marcello I assumed the throne.

So, all 2,000 citizens of the fairytale-like kingdom have been living happily ever after? More or less, but with some political intrigue to muddy the waters from time to time.

I had never heard of Seborga.  When the American Club of the Riviera sponsored an event in the principality, a gala dinner following festivities for the national holiday, the feast of Saint Bernard, I signed up. And, did some Seborga research.

A gala dinner to commemorate Seborga's national festival.
A gala dinner to commemorate Seborga’s national festival.

Perhaps I exaggerated the part about Giorgio wanting to become prince. Who knows? For details on Seborga history, see Wikipedia.   In brief, from the 10th century, monks ruled the principality. They sold it to the King of Sardinia in 1729, a sale Giorgio and his followers claim was invalid. Italy, they maintained, annexed Seborga “illegitimately and unilaterally.”

The Principality of Seborga (14 square kilometers) calls itself a separate state within Italy’s borders, similar to Vatican City and San Marino.

A demonstration to show how Seborga's currency was made in days gone by.
A demonstration to show how Seborga’s currency was made in days gone by.

Italy ignores these claims and has jurisdiction over the territory.   . Nonetheless Seborga has its own army, flag, royal family and currency. The latter, as well as passport stamps, are popular with tourists.

Prince Marcello, a 38-year-old former professional speedboat racer, is protected by his eight-member, blue-bereted Corpo della Guardia who were on duty for the national day festivities. To the delight of spectators, the Prince and Princess made a ceremonial entrance to the town in a horse-drawn carriage following a parade of costumed locals and guards.

Princess Nina and Prince Marcello
Princess Nina and Prince Marcello

Marcello’s German born wife, Nina, serves as foreign minister of Seborga. The couple were formally received by Queen Elizabeth in 2011. On the world stage, Burkina Faso recognized Seborga as an independent state in 1998. According to one source, some 20 other nations also recognize the tiny nation’s  independence.  The U.S. has an ambassador to Seborga who attended the national festivities.

blog.1That is not enough, says Nicolas Mutte, described by the Wall Street Journal as “a shadowy, possibly French figure whose occupation is unknown.” He posted an online video this spring proclaiming himself “His Serene Highness Nicolas I,” Seborga’s new ruler. Mutte, who says he is a descendent of Napoleon, seeks a split from Italy and accuses Marcello of only promoting tourism and folklore.

Although the Prince, a local real-estate entrepreneur, was elected on promises to fight for independence, secession has taken a back seat as Seborga and its traditions have become a tourist magnet. Marcello does not seem threatened by Mutte. “Seborga is a free and blog.3sovereign principality that has elected me as its prince,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Mutte has no rights over Seborga.”

Even Giorgio had to fend off pretenders to his throne. In 2006, a woman calling herself “Princess Yasmine von Hohenstaufen Anjou Plantagenet” stated that she was the rightful heir to the Seborga throne. Giorgio dismissed her claims, calling her the “internet princess.”

All of this intrigue adds to the fascination of this secluded fairytale sovereignty snuggled aside a long and twisty road above the coastal city of Bordighera on the Italian Riviera. Throngs of visitors conquered the challenging journey to attend the August festivities. Flags, hundreds of the principality’s blue and white banners, set the scene for a parade, music, seborga+fone 069flag throwing demonstrations, costumes, dancing – and the dinner. ( I only hope Seborgans have better food than the definitely-not-delicious offerings we were served at this repast. At least there was no shortage of wine.)

Seborga, the eponymous capital city of the principality with a mere 337 inhabitants, is one of those ancient hilltop villages of skinny, cobbled streets that climb and descend, past old stone dwellings decorated with flower boxes.   Views of the Med and distant peaks from the town terraces are splendid. A visit to its privately owned gramophone museum is mind boggling.

So, too, is the Seborga story.  Could I overthrow Nina and become Princess Leah (think Star Wars ) ?

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We wore our finest for Seborga.

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Members of the prince’s Corpo della Guardia were happy to pose with guests for photos.

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Italy’s German Accent: Sud Tyrol

blog.st.10Signs advertising “Speck” everywhere we looked: along the roads, in shop windows, at street stands. ”Speck” is German for bacon, but we had just come down the mountains from Switzerland into Italy, not Germany.blog.st.6

This was northern Italy, known as Sud Tyrol in German and Alto Adige in Italian. The majority of the population speaks German – and obviously eats plenty of Speck. Ordinary bacon this regional specialty is not, nor should it be confused with Italian prosciutto (ham). Speck is rubbed with herbs, spices and berries, smoked for different lengths of time with different hardwoods, and air dried in the area’s mountain climate.   This makes it distinct, unique – the echt expression of the region.

Speckmantel gebratener Ziegenkase auf gedunsten Feldsalt (Goat cheese enveloped in Speck -- yummy)
Speckmantel gebratener Ziegenkase auf gedunsten Feldsalt (Goat cheese enveloped in Speck — yummy)

I was on my annual trip to research articles for the magazine German Life, with BB as my chauffeur, Sherpa and trusty companion. After a few days in Leukerbad, a Swiss spa town in the Alps, followed by a visit to Davos, we proceeded to this intriguing part of Italy.

Since German predominates here, I’ll call it Sud Tyrol. Our travels took us to Merano, Bolzano, Brixen, and lovely spots in between. We found it all enticing and enjoyed two fascinating museums, picturesque hikes, the charming towns, blogst.1some excellent meals and a wonderful hotel. BB, who sadly does not do much biking these days but is passionate about wine, was thrilled with the local vintages. I may have to change his name from Bicycle Bob (BB) to Vino Roberto (VR).   Which shall it be?

Merano (Meran) is a marvel, a beauty of a town on the banks of the frisky Passirio River with fanciful flower beds, an arcaded shopping street and a spa center, all surrounded by mountains. The riverside summer and winter blog.st.2promenades  (passeggiate d’Inverno and passeggiate d’Estate) – paths through woods, past flowers and tropical plants, with the sounds of the rambunctious river tumbling over rocks, are glorious. We stopped to watch a kayaker practice on surging rapids.blog.st.13

“North and south meet here. It’s the best of two worlds,” said our Bolzano city guide, Luciano Rech, who filled us in on the region’s history. Sud Tyrol was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until World War I during which Italy initially remained neutral. In 1915, as an incentive to enter on their side, the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Hungary) offered Italy a chunk of land, all territories south of the Alpine water divide regardless of the ethnic makeup of the regions. At the time, 92.2 per cent of the population was said to be ethnic Germans. In 1919 the territory was annexed by Italy, and has been Italian ever since,  with the exception of the years 1943-1945 when it was de facto annexed to the German Reich until the fall of Germany. Both German and Italian are considered official languages.blog.st.18

It has not always been a peaceful co-existence, marred at times by repression and terrorism. During the 1930s and again in the 1950s Italians were forcibly resettled to the region. According to the 2011 census, German speakers make up 61.5 percent of the population, Italian speakers, 23.1 percent, and 4 percent  speak Ladin, an ancient language derived from Latin. All seems peaceful, and the region has a significant degree of autonomy. However, there are still some who resent being under the yoke of Rome and argue for independence.blog.st.15

“I’m Tyrolean” announces Rech. “I don’t feel we are the same as people from Naples, Rome.”   Many others I spoke too echoed his sentiments.Bolzano (Bozen), a bustling city and the capital of Sud Tyrol, is the home of Ötzi, the mummy of an Iceman discovered in

Recreation of Otzi
Recreation of Otzi

1991 in the mountains at the edge of a melting glacier. The museum where he is preserved behind glass is a must with enlightening exhibits of garb and objects that were found with him. And, extensive documentation, including videos, on the sensational find and what has been learned from and about Ötzi. He died 5,300 years ago after having been shot by an arrow, presumably murdered.

Famous mountain climber Reinhold Messner (first solo ascent of Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen) has created the Messner Mountain Museum outside of town on the slopes of a mountain and in the ruins of a castle. It’s blog.st.20a genuine mountain experience, with lots of steps (I felt we were back in Myanmar), skinny walkways, metal ladders and fabulous views.   Follow the itinerary in and out of buildings, up slopes and towers, across bridges, past exhibits on his climbs, mountain terrain, Himalayan artifacts and more. Messner, who is a native of Brixen in Sud Tyrol, has established four other mountain museums in the province.blog.st.19

En route to Bolzano we stopped for an overnight so we could take a hike in the hills and soak in the scenery. We trekked amongst grape vines and apple blog.st.11orchards, and stumbled upon some sexy snakes. We had a wonderful lunch at an eatery under an arbor of grape vines with gorgeous views. The food, especially the apple strudel, was definitely more Germanic than Italian. The proprietors also sell wine, so of course we tasted and bought.blog.st.12

Unfortunately we did not make it to the mighty Dolomites which are part of the province for some real mountain hiking. After Bolzano we spent two nights at an inn, the Ansitz Zehentner, in the town of Lajen (Laion) where a rollicking fest was underway when we arrived. Women in dirndls. Men in trachten (traditional costume). Plenty of beer. And, blasen music (wind instruments). We could have been back in Germany.blog.st.22

Frau Schenk, proprietor of the inn which dates back to 1358, suggested a hike through fields and forests to a well-known hotel and restaurant , Gasthof Ansitz Fonteklaus. Sitting outside under mammoth trees amidst the mountain scenery was perfect — and so was the food.blog.st.21

Our travels ended in Brixen (Bressanone), another gem of a town, where we splurged and spent a night at the classy Elephant Hotel with an excellent dinner in the hotel’s noted restaurant. The 450-year old hotel has been run by the same family since 1773. It was named after the pachyderm which was sent by blog.st.24Suleiman I to Archduke Maximilan as a gift in 1551. The elephant had a long journey from India, to Portugal, then Genoa and onto the Alps where it rested at the inn in Brixen, causing a sensation among the locals who had never seen such a beast, en route to Vienna. The elephant fresco on the hotel’s façade was painted many, many years later by someone who had never seen an elephant but based his rendering on descriptions.   What happened to the well-traveled elephant?   I learned that after the epic journey it only survived another two years.blog.st.17

Before heading back to France I stopped at a butcher shop and loaded up on some very savory sausage — and Speck.

For more information:

Bolzano: www.bolzano-bozen.it

Ötzi : www.iceman.itblog.st.26

Messner Mountain Museum: www.messner-mountain-museum.it

Excellent central hotel in Bolzano (Stadt Hotel Citta): www.hotelcitta.info

Ansitz Zehentner: www.zehentnerhof.com

Hotel Elephant: www.hotelelephant.com

 

Comments welcome and appreciated. Today’s Taste features a recipe for Rhubarb Streusel Pie.  If you like rhubarb, you’ll love this.  See “Today’s Taste” at the top of this post. While  you are up there, sign up to become a Tales and Travel follower.

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Trip finale -- dinner in the romantic Hotel Elephant dining room.
Trip finale — dinner in the romantic Hotel Elephant dining room.

A magical meal in Italy

I felt I should have been reporting for  Bon Appétit magazine.  It was one of those fabulous food and people spreads – a multi-course meal in the huge, homey kitchen of a 500-year-old house in a tiny Italian village shared by Italians and Americans.  And, I was lucky enough to be part of it.  Too good to be true.cucina7

Thanks to our friends Noel and Carol, whom husband Bob and I know from our days together in Germany, we were included in this memorable feast which went on for five fun-filled hours.  Noel and Carol have retired to northern Italy where they enjoy la dolce vita.  We were their houseguests.

Carol and Noel
Carol and Noel

The lunch hosts:  Fabio and his American wife Victoria.  Fabio is a vintner (www.policreti.it)  with a passion for precious gems as well as grapes.  He has been trading in gem stones since the age of 18, worked for the up market jeweler Bulgari in New York as well as in Italy, and is also dedicated to restoring his

Fabio
Fabio

family’s ancient home, Palazzo Policreti Negrelli in Aviano, which has 47 rooms and has been in his family for more than 200 years. The original owner, engineer Luigi Negrelli , played a significant role in the construction of the  Suez Canal.

Fabio  met his warm and gracious wife  Victoria in California.  She is employed by a German construction company as a translator and much more.  “I am lucky to have an American wife,” says Fabio.  “Italian women often have headaches or give you headaches.”

The guests: In  addition to me and Bob, Noel and Carol, seated at the table were  Riccardo and Zeta, two jolly Italian characters who have known each other since the age of 3, met Fabio  in Los Angeles years ago, and call themselves “professional  travelers.”    Riccardo said he “doesn’t belong to one place,” while Zeta calls himself  “a man of the planet.”   ”We can’t retire, we don’t work,” explained burly Riccardo, who says he has four wives, each in a different country, and claims his only possessions are “an old car and a bicycle.”

Riccardo
Riccardo

Zeta, a chef,  does work six months out of the year at his brother’s restaurant in Greenville, S. C. “When Zeta visits us the first question is ‘what’s on the menu?’  His creations are famous at our hose,” says Fabio. “Instead of making a grocery list, he just looks in the refrigerator and his imagination begins to spin.  He can literally put together a feast by using all the various items which have been abandoned in our frig.  Needless to say, I like to work around him as there is always something to learn or a new taste to discover.”

Zeta
Zeta

The food: Zeta was the coach, Fabio the student who made a big patch of Ligurian pesto with guidance from the chef.  They wanted to share their creation with friends, hence the lunch party.

The French are obsessed with food — Italians perhaps even more so.  Most Italian men cook, Fabio told us, as he checked the boiling pasta for texture.  “A cucina10big part of the day is based on food,” he said.  And, it  is essential that ingredients  be of top quality, he explained.  He claims that Victoria  is “thankful to me for showing her the true secrets of Italian cooking improvisation.”

A refreshing cocktail, a combination of Campari, white wine, Prosecco, and Schweppes, got  the afternoon of to a festive start.

The meal began with fresh ricotta, so creamy and delicate, served with homemade mango chutney and caramelized figs with balsamic vinegar.  The cheese was locally produced, and it was exquisite with the tangy chutney and figs.  There was a platter of prosciutto from the local butcher who cures it cucina1himself, we learned.  And a salad — greens, tomatoes and  luscious mozzarella di Bufala with pungent olive oil from Puglia and black salt from Cypress.  The main course:  trofiette, a  Ligurian pasta,  with the pesto which had been prepared with pecorino.  “Never use parmesan,”  insisted Fabio.

This was followed by a bowl of spaghettini  with the same pesto.  The flavor of the pesto changes with the different type of pasta, we learned.  It seemed hard to cucina2believe, but it was true.  I preferred the pesto on trofiette, others liked the spaghettini  version.  This initiated an animated  discussion of the difference between trofiette and trennette, another type of pasta… Food is definitely serious business in Italy.

For dessert, aged Sardinian pecorino and pears. “It’s hard to get good pears…these are organic from Trentino… Never tell a farmer he has good cheese.  Then he will eat it all, ”  said Riccardo. The cheese was knock-your-socks- off strong.  I loved it, but it was too much for Bob.    He had several  helpings  of the  perfectly diced fresh strawberries that followed.  This prompted Fabio to tell of his cucina6grandmother’s fantastic crop of strawberries in 1986, the year of the Chernobyl disaster.  A boost from radiation?

He went on to relate more engaging tales of his grandmother, a remarkable woman who  “was a very special person to me.”   She lived through two great wars,  suffered the tragic deaths of several family members, but was always a positive and smiling person, Fabio recalled.  “She was the oldest car rally driver in 1996 at the age of 95.  I was the only person brave enough to be her co-pilot.”’

Fabio and his grandmother in 1996.
Fabio and his grandmother in 1996.

We drank Fabio’s Pinot Grigio, followed by a strong red wine called Stroppolatini, then a Sud Tyrol Kerner as an after dinner wine.  Some indulged cucnia9n a rare 45-year–old herb Grappa to top off the meal.  There were also chocolates, courtesy of Riccardo who brought them from a special shop in the Dolomites.

All the ingredients for a magical afternoon:  lively ambience,  fascinating personalities, excellent food and  amusing, entertaining, educational conversation  covering  everything from religion and politics, to the economy, movies — and food of course.

“Italians lose interest in politics,” Victoria said.  “That’s the problem.  They’d rather discuss food.”cucina13

Just in time for summer picnics, Super Slaw.  See recipe in column at right. Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right

Vacation Fiascos

Not every trip is paradise perfect.   I’ve had my share of travel mishaps. In Buenos Aires, three gold chains were ripped from my neck (my fault for wearing them).  I missed out on an excursion to the Brazilian side of Iguaçu Falls because I did not have a Brazilian visa.

I never made it to the Brazilian side.  No one told me I needed a visa.
I never made it to the Brazilian side. No one told me I needed a visa.

The trip had been prepaid, but the travel operator failed to tell me that as an American I needed a visa, and there was no time to get one.  $100 out the window.  In New Zealand, I was so excited about the chance to swim with dolphins – something I’ve always wanted to do.  Alas, I swam in frigid water, but nary a dolphin to be seen.  (I’ve written about these catastrophes in previous posts. “Misadventures in New Zealand,” Apr.27, 2012;  “Cry for me Argentina,” Oct. 30, 2010; “Iguaçu Falls,” Nov. 19, 2010 )

Last fall husband Bob and I had some frustrating experiences thanks to GPS.  We are slow to get on the technical bandwagon, but finally decided to purchase a GPS gadget for this drive trip.  All went well in Germany.  Without it, we might still be driving around looking for some of those off-the- beat- and -track hotels I had booked.

When we got to northern  Italy and were trying to find my friend Trina’s apartment on Lake Varese, another story.  Suddenly we were crossing the border into Switzerland as directed by our GPS mentor.  (She’s British, and her pronunciation of Italian, French and German  street names is abominable, but good for a laugh.)

GPS got us to Bellagio on Lake Como, but failed us thereafter.
GPS got us to Bellagio on Lake Como, but failed us thereafter.

This can’t be right?   What’s with this wacko woman directing us?  What’s with GPS?  We stopped at the nearest gas station, and were told she was all wrong.  Reverse directions and go back to Italy.  We eventually found Trina, but with a map.

After the Italian/Swiss mishap, I verified GPS instructions with a map.  Until we were driving back to France on the autostrada in northern Italy, a stretch we had driven many times.  I relaxed. All seemed well.  Then out of the blue  we ended up at the toll booth for the Frejus Tunnel, 39 euros, no turning back.  Strange.  We had not remembered going through this tunnel before. Perhaps our GPS genius  knew a shorter route?  We had no choice but to continue.

It’s a long, long tunnel.  When we emerged, I checked the map.  Holy S—!  Where are we?  We had driven far out of our way to get home.  And, that GPS crackpot was leading us farther astray.  So much for advanced technology.

Time for another gas station inquiry. I was obviously distraught,  thinking about all those extra miles and hours lost.  The kind woman in the gas station took pity on me and explained that we had two choices, one route via Grenoble, much longer but all on the speedy autoroute, and one over the Col du Galibier, a slow but scenic mountain pass.  We opted for scenery. It was an adventure, up and up a twisty road into the wilds of mountain tops with no civilization in sight, but incredible views.  It was getting dark and this was not a road for sissies, so we took no time to stop and ponder the surrounding beauty. But, it’s a drive to repeat.  Sometimes bad leads to good.

Lots of gold shops in Singapore, but it was in a camera shop where I made my mistake..
Lots of gold shops in Singapore, but it was in a camera shop where I made my mistake..

And, sometimes, as with the jewelry theft in Argentina, you learn from the disasters.  Such was the case in Singapore.  I needed a few accessories for my new camera.  This was the beginning of a long trip, so best make the purchases here.  We paid a visit to a camera shop in Singapore’s Chinatown where a very eager and fast-talking salesman convinced me to buy, not only the needed accessories, but a few other items – including a very costly filter, which, he cleverly demonstrated, would do wonders for my photos.  I was taken in and made the purchases – over $400 worth.

As we ate lunch, I pondered the purchase.  Something did not seem right.  Should they have been that expensive?  I went back to the hotel and checked the items on Amazon.  I had been royally ripped off—the total for the items at Amazon prices would have been no more than about $50.  How stupid I was.

Not to be outdone, I printed out copies of all the Amazon data and marched back to the photo shop for a confrontation. I was all smiles and friendly and took photos of our chatty salesman before presenting the evidence of his deceit. I threatened to put his photo and the shop on Facebook with a warning if he did not give me a refund. The manager, another slick operator, appeared.  He was wary and not about to risk bad publicity.  I could have the refund, but first he wanted to delete the incriminating  photos on my camera.  I obliged, took my money and ran.

Back at the hotel, I related the experience  to the desk clerk who had helped with the copies.  Never do business in Chinatown, he said.  And, never be so dumb and shell out big bucks for items if you have no idea of the going price.

Tour of the wondrous Sydney Opera House was a trip highlight. But, it was downhill after that.
Tour of the wondrous Sydney Opera House was a trip highlight. But, it was downhill after that.

No trip is without some minor aggravations.  In Sydney, when we purchased our tickets for an opera house tour, we were given coupons for a free cup of coffee valid until 5 p.m. at the opera house café.  We showed up at 4:40 pm.  “Sorry. Too late.  We had to close early today.”  No big loss.  Back to the hotel, but by bus as it was raining. We waited and waited.  Finally bus number 53 came.  We proceeded to pay the driver for our passage.   ”Sorry.  No tickets sold on buses after 5 p.m. “  They must be purchased ahead at a ticket office, he explained, but we weren’t about to track down the office, which, by then, probably would have been closed anyway.  O.K.  We’ll take a taxi.  We wandered from street corner to street corner and hailed many a taxi.  All full.  Distressed and soaked, we gave up and trekked in the rain back to the hotel – a good hour’s walk.

Not our lucky day, but far worse could happen. It’s all part of the adventure that can make travel a challenge – and an educational experience.

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup was the overwhelming favorite at a lunch I recently prepared for friends. Several requested the recipe which is listed in the column at right.

Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right

 

Bellissimo Bellagio

Instead of moving to France from Germany eight years ago, I tried to convince my husband to consider Italy as our future home.  It seems such a happy, fun, cheerful place.  I love the language, the people, the food, the countryside.  But, Bob finds it all a bit too chaotic, so France won and life here is fine (see previous blog post, All about Life in France).  But, I still adore Italy and am always thrilled with visits.

Watching the boats go by.
Watching the boats go by.

On the way home from our recent trip to Germany we spent three joyful days in Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como.  Friend Trina, whom we visited later in nearby Comerio, suggested the perfect hotel, Silvio, www.bellagiosilvio.com, just outside of town where we had a room with a balcony overlooking the lake and the distant Alps.  We’d been to Bellagio twice before, once with my mother who was also a fan of bella Italia and loved Bellagio.

View from our balcony at the Hotel Silvio.
View from our balcony at the Hotel Silvio.

The ancient village is perched on the shores of this idyllic lake ringed by mountains.  Steep steps climb skinny alleys lined with intriguing shops.  Sightseeing ships and ferries blow their horns as they pull in and out of the harbor.  It’s the perfect place to hang out and enjoy il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing)

Our journey began with a car ferry ride at sunset from Colico on the northern end of the lake to Bellagio which sits on the promontory jutting into the water at the junction between the Como and Lecco legs of the lake.  Unfortunately the lens on my Canon Rebel camera froze on our last stop in Germany, so my photos were limited to my Blackberry.  I was amazed.  Not too bad.  And, there were

Lake Como at sunset.
Lake Como at sunset.

scenic, spectacular photo opps all around —  splashes of coral and orange across a dark sky streaked with wisps of clouds, rays of light dancing on the rippled water, postcard villages hugging the shore — all framed by deep blue silhouettes of mountains.

We did more than lounge on that lovely hotel balcony and ponder the Bellagio scenery.  Walk.  Down to the shore and through the perfectly manicured gardens of the Villa Melzi along the lake.  The English garden is enhanced with

October at the Villa Melzi Gardens.
October at the Villa Melzi Gardens.

sculptures, small ponds, a stream, exotic plants and ancient trees.  The complex, including the neoclassical villa, was built between 1808 and 1816 for Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Duke of Lodi, and vice president of the Italian Republic under Napoleon. www.giardidivillamelzi.it

The  garden walk led us to the village where we wandered in and out of the shops and found the perfect souvenir – an olive wood basket.  It was pricey, almost beyond our budget.  I tried to bargain, but the proprietor and craftsman, who had his workshop on the premises, would not budge.  He explained that it was a very time consuming process to create this piece.  We splurged – and are happy we did.  It’s a sensation on our table.Basket

Bellagio is known for another villa on a hill above the town, the Villa Serbelloni, owned by the Rockefeller Foundation.  It is used mainly for conferences.  On a previous visit we toured its gardens which are open for guided tours from April to October.  In town the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is the address of class where Churchill and John F. Kennedy stayed.

Along the shore in Bellagio.
Along the shore in Bellagio.

Another day we walked up a hill and along a road to Pescallo which I had remembered as being a quaint fishing village.  My memory failed.  It was not much.  No fishing boats.  We did find a lakeside restaurant where we had an expensive but disappointing lunch.  The next day we set out by car for a hair raising ride along the all- too-narrow- winding coastal road (well suited to the Honda S2000) to Lezzeno and a fabulous lunch at the restaurant of the Hotel Villa Aurora adjacent to the lake.  www.hotelauroralezzeno.com   There, as well as at the restaurant in the Hotel Silvio, we enjoyed fresh fish from Lake Como.  Twenty-eight different species are said to thrive in its waters.  Lavarello is a favorite.

On the way back home to France, we stopped first to visit the major town on the lake, Como, and its majestic cathedral, then to Comerio to visit Trina in her gorgeous apartment overlooking Lake Varese.  I met Trina years ago in an Italian class in Germany (she was the star of the class).  Her husband Ian, who used to work in Italy, now works in London. Trina, who teaches English, and her faithful companion, Lucky, a precious 16-year-old Bichon Frisé, are holding down the fort in Italy.bellagio17

We arrived on the evening of Bob’s birthday.  Trina prepared a delicious mussels pasta dish for our dinner – and there was a tart with a candle for the birthday boy.

See slideshow below for more photos. For a holiday brunch, try the Puffed Apple Pancake, recipe in column at right. Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right.

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