The secrets of Italy’s Magnificent Lake District are out: snowcapped mountains, trees dripping with blossoms, cerulean water and sweet jasmine breezes. From our little balcony, we saw the peaks of the Swiss Alps rising in the north and the grand villas and tiny chalets peppering the sloping hillsides. Their facades are every imaginable color: crimsons; burnt oranges; buttery yellows and violet – so different than typical suburban houses in the States. They certainly provide a fairy-tale ambience to this region of Italy. As if the area needed any help though! I think I may have heard Fräulein Maria singing atop the mountain.
Ahhhh….after a few days in the congested, visually overwhelming city of Venice, it was wonderful to experience the laidback lifestyle and easy pace of the lake’s district. My mom and I took a train from Venice to Milan and then hopped on another commuter train toward Lake Como. The train hugged the steep-stepped hillsides all the way north to Bellagio, just teetering along the rocky cliff aside the lake. It would have been a beautiful journey, however, it was pouring for most of the ride, and then it started raining harder (if possible) when we were dropped off on Bellagio’s station platform. We got a wee bit wet and grumpy. Luckily, our AirBnB host was waiting for us at her shop and led us to our apartment through streets gushing with newly formed rivers. Our little apartment was quite cute, especially given the view we had of the mountains from our balcony.Two days in the Lake District: We had two full days to explore Lake Como from our base in Bellagio, though I could have certainly spent more time exploring and relaxing. The air actually did smell sweeter up here! Not kidding.
After the rains on the first evening, the rain cleared and the following morning greeted us with startlingly blue skies and warm sunshine. After fueling up on coffee, we began exploring the sleepy village of Bellagio. It certainly didn’t stay sleepy for long as the tourists began arriving via ferry and private boat around mid-morning. Many people come to Lake Como during tours and day trips, and by lunchtime, Bellagio’s cobblestones, winding streets and staircases were packed with tourists.
And the stairs! I had flashbacks to the Amalfi Coast. Since Bellagio is built on a hillside, Bellagio has staircases that lead to everything; up to the garden, down to the church, up to the café, down to the store. But since we were eating pastries for breakfast, cheese-packed paninis for lunch and meals like this for dinner, we certainly burned off the calories!
Simply basking in Bellagio’s sunshine was enough, but we moved our lazy behinds and moved on to roam. The lanes of the village are full of cafes, cute restaurants, boutiques, gelato shops, and souvenir stalls. There were some excellent art stores – a bit out of our price range, of course – however, there were some very talented local artisans.
We ventured out of the tourist path and visited the nearby Villa Meizi. For EUR 6, we entered the gates of this aristocratic home and explored the extensive grounds. The gardens rambled beside the lake and featured Neoclassical sculptures and many little beds of exotic plants.
Though the hillsides surrounding Lake Come (as other Italian Lakes) are bursting with villas and expansive properties, many of these “elite” families, or descendants of these once prosperous families, can no longer afford the upkeep and taxes for maintaining their grounds. Therefore, many of the villas have opened their homes to tourists and the general public. We took full advantage of impersonating Europe’s rich and famous for a few afternoons!
Exploring Varenna: Flush with tiny lanes, little fisherman’s cottages and a beautiful harbor, Varenna, located on Lake Como’s eastern shores, provided a lovely afternoon for sightseeing. The ferry ride dropped us at Varenna’s jetty and we followed the footpath along the harborfront. Varenna was a typical lakeside village with plenty of waterfront cafes, wooden shutters, colorful doorways and a lovely city square with a farmer’s market where everyone seemed to know everyone else. There was also a beautiful 13th-century church outside of the main piazza.Just outside of town were the villas of Cipressi and Monastero. It was a “free” day so we ambled through the majestic gardens with fountains, statues and elegant. I’ve never seen so many rosebushes!
Later that day, we found a happy hour, complete with free munchies. Mom enjoyed her long island ice tea and I tried the region’s white wine. A piano player serenaded us for a few hours while we watched the sun sink, casting stunning reflections on the water in front of us.
Though it was a quick trip, we were able to simply take the slow road for a few days and appreciate the lake’s atmosphere and natural perfection. A ferry carried us through the idyllic waterscape to Como town on the southern side of Lake Como, and from there we headed back to Milan for a few nights. One of my new goals is to re-create the gardens of Italy, especially the one we admired in the lake’s district. Some day!