Bellissimo Lago di Como

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” That is exactly the way I felt during a September visit to Lago di Como (Lake Como) in northern Italy. It is sublime. Glittering waters at the feet of Alpine mountain ranges. Photo-opp villages with cobbled alleys and flowered promenades. Baroque villas and impeccably manicured gardens.

Like me, lots of famous people have been seduced by the lake’s beauty and charm. Artists, writers, opera singers and aristocrats have homes on the lake shores. Not to mention Hollywood stars: George Clooney, Madonna, Richard Branson, Sylvester Stallone…

Varenna

My friend Karen, who knows the lake well, suggested we stop at Lake Como en route to her apartment in Croatia. I had fond memories of previous lake visits and was all in. She chose Varenna, considered one of the prettiest lakeside towns, as our destination for two nights. We enjoyed soaking up the vistas and the captivating ambiance of the lake and town.

The most heavenly time was high above the lakeside town of Tremezzo at the restaurant Al Veluu. Karen has friends who know the restaurant owner. She made a reservation mentioning her friends. We never did meet the owner. The waiter who greeted us was neither impressed nor happy to see us. It was close to 2 p.m.. The restaurant terrace was empty. He, no doubt, wanted to call it a day.

We had the spacious terrace and garden all to ourselves. The divine surroundings and spectacular views made up for the disappointing food. It was calm, peaceful, relaxing. We did not want to leave, but the warm sun was no longer so warm, and we needed to start the trek (taxi then 2 ferry rides) back to Varenna.

Karen chills out at Al Veluu.

Boats are the primary means of transportation for visiting Lake Como. Ferries of all sizes shuttle from town to town. The previous day we took a ferry to Bellagio, the “pearl” of the lake. Years ago husband Bob and I visited this treasure of a town. We visited the park and gardens of the grandiose Villa Serbelloni, hiked in the hills, took boat rides. It was all delightful.

Bellagio

Years later we returned with my mother who was overwhelmed. In addition to the gorgeous views and surroundings, she loved the shops. Bellagio, like most of the towns, has a plethora of boutiques and souvenir shops. On one visit, I purchased a large olive wood basket which I still treasure.

Varenna at night

In Varenna, we stayed at an Airbnb which promised a “bella vista” of the lake. What a joke. From a small bedroom window in a corner, if you twisted your neck you could spot the lake. Never mind. We had plenty of bella vistas as we climbed up and down the steep stairways in Varenna that lead to the lake, and strolled the path, Passegiata degli Innamorati (walk of lovers), along the shore.

Lake Como was the perfect start to my much-needed R&R break.

Thanks again to Karen, adventure in Croatia followed. Read all about it in an upcoming post. Don’t miss out.

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Bellagio

For more on Bellagio, read my report on a previous visit- click here.

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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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