We left the romance of Venice to another equally charming place in Northern Italy, the captivating Lake Como. After negotiating our large suitcases on the uneven cobbled streets of Venice we found our car rental depot and set off on the autostrade heading towards Verona, Milan and then the tranquility of Italy’s third largest lake.
Fortunately I had pre-purchased a Europe travel sim prior to our trip to Italy and was able to access maps on my iPhone, which made it extremely easy to navigate our way to Lake Como.
Lake Como is shaped like an upside-down Y, with three slender branches that meet at the resort town of Bellagio. The lake is set against the foothills of The Alps that provide breathtaking scenery and is dotted with small villages full of charm and character.
Our digs for four amazing days was just outside the village of Varenna. After negotiating a narrow lane up the hillside we came to the Albergo Eremo Gaudio. We were not disappointed as our hotel boasted a large terrace overlooking the magnificence of Lake Como with views towards Bellagio and Menaggio.
Then there was a second part to the hotel that you accessed via a rickety funicular that had a second large terrace with exquisite views. We were so glad that we had selected this unusual hotel.
After a quick unpack into our spacious room, we strolled into Varenna and were immediately struck by the beauty and elegance of the town.
Passing the elegant Villa Monastera and Villa Cipressi, we reached the square of the village, Piazza S. Giorgio, with the beautiful St George Church and Bell Tower taking pride of place.
The square is surrounded by restaurants, bars and cafes and a tiny delicatessen, with mumma proudly guarding the doorway, that offered all sorts of local delicacies.
We entered the narrow cobbled laneways and eventually joined a pathway that traces the shoreline of the lake. Here there were waterfront restaurants with pretty flower boxes and shops selling the usual souvenirs, chic clothing, handmade jewellery and pottery and leather goods.
We were all starving and thirsty so took a seat at one of these restaurants and enjoyed the stunning views of the deep blue velvet lake and the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains engulfed in cloud. It was mouth watering platters of anti-pasta, white wine for the ladies and Italian beer for the men all round.
On our last day in Varenna we set off on a picture-perfect day to see The Villas and The Gardens of Villa Monastero. The Villas date back to the 1200’s when it was a monastery owned by the church and was then privately owned until the Provence of Lecco purchased it in 1918. It consists of a House Museum and a Conference Centre.
The Villa is surrounded by a pretty and picturesque botanical Garden which extends for two kilometres from Varenna to Fiumelatte along the lakefront. The Garden, is set up in terraces, and has been structured in different patterns making it a beautiful spectacle.
After a good night’s sleep and substantial breakfast we set off to find the ferry port in Varenna so that we could spend the day doing some village hopping around the vast lake. We managed to jump aboard a ferry that runs regularly between Varenna, Menaggio, Bellagio and Tremezzo, the route forming a square shape.
Cruising on the lake is without a doubt the most common thing for tourists to do when visiting the area. It is the perfect way to observe the area from a unique point of view, admiring the charming villas and towns that populate its shores.
There are plenty of options for cruising the lake with a choice of motorships, ferries, hydrofoils or water taxis. The cheapest option is the ferry service that costs around 15 euro for an all day ticket. You can check the Lake Como boat timetable on the official website of Navigazione Lago di Como, where you will find the best way of getting around the lake by boat.
Our first port of call was Menaggio, a picturesque town of ancient origins, located at the foot of Val Menaggio, the valley that connects Menaggio to Porlezza. We strolled along the elegant lake promenade called Viale Benedetto Castelli, admiring the pretty plantings of flowers at intervals and Wisteria laden trellises.
As we continued along the footpath we reached the hamlet of Loveno di Menaggio. Loveno is known mainly for being home of the beautiful Villa Mylius Vigoni, definitely one of the best things to see in Menaggio.
On the return trip we stopped for a hot frothy cappuccino at one of the cafes in Piazza Garibaldi and then set off through the narrow streets checking out some of the shops, who mainly sell local products such as shoes, clothing, and home accessories.
As far as churches go, Menaggio has three lovely little churches: San Stefano (17th century), San Giusto and San Carlo accompanied by a beautiful bell tower and the ruins of a medieval castle above the town is also worth a visit.
Possibly one of the most renowned towns on Lake Como, Bellagio is know as the “pearl of the lake”. I discovered it did have a certain romantic feel about it with its world class hotels and restaurants providing the perfect place to devour the lake’s famous panorama.
With its location at the tip of a long hilly promontory between the two southern branches of Lake Como, its streets and and narrow laneways are set high up into the hill. Walking around was an exercise in negotiating many stairs and steep inclines – very hard on the calves and knees.
We strolled along the promenade past all the fancy restaurants and bars serving up apertifs until we reached the historic Hotel Grand Bretagne, which is currently abandoned and falling into disrepair. A few minutes further on, we came to one of the two gardens open to the public in Bellagio, Villa Melzi. The second public gardens are located at Villa Serbelloni that is set on the slopes of the Bellagio promontory.
We explored the maze of cobbled streets and laneways and Bellagio’s main town square, Piazza San Giacomo. The square is dominated by a church and bell tower, the Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo, which is worth a visit for its frescoes and statues.
But mainly we came to Bellagio to soak up the resorty and laid back ambience of this elegant lakeside town and maybe pretend for a few hours that were rich and famous. Plus we womenfolk wanted to browse the many upmarket boutiques and shops, even if it was to look only!
After we boarded the ferry it was only a very short trip, directly opposite Bellagio, to Tremezzina. This small town is actually the merger of the communes of Lenno, Mezzegra, Ossuccio, and Tremezzo.
Tremezzo is home to one of the most famous villas on Lake Como: Villa Carlotta. The villa shows some neoclassical features and is surrounded by a vast terraced garden, where you could spend most of your day without the risk of getting bored.
We took a walk along the lakefront passing a number of historic hotels, such as the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. This luxury hotel features a private beach area and a floating swimming pool on the lake and at about 2,200 euros per night it may just be a pipedream for some!
My husband spent a the good part of an entire day undertaking a bike ride on the former railway line between Menaggio and Porlezza. The railway line built in 1884 connected Lake Como with Lake Lugano and is 12.5 kilometres in length.
The route runs through the Val Menaggio and touches the Val Sanagra and the Lago di Piano Nature Reserve. It is rated as an easy ride or walk with little hills to negotiate. This is a great way to explore some of the stunning terrain surrounding the lake.
I would absolutely advise prior to embarking on any overseas holiday to purchase your prepaid travel sim cards, as it makes life easy being able to keep in communication with your partner and fellow travel friends by mobile phone.
After spending four idyllic days at Lake Como I can see why it’s rated as one of Italy’s top holiday destinations and also where George Clooney now calls home. We did spend a lot of time trying to find George but alas he was incognito! I felt very much like an intruder mixing with the rich and famous cruising around this classy Italian holiday resort spot. However if you look underneath the expensive label you will find a place that is affordable for the everyday tourist. Perfetto!
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Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 4 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now 60. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland. She enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, movies, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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merry christmas 2017