Daylight Come and We Want to Como

Varenna

The weather cleared as we reached Lake Como and provided us with three days of warm temperatures and bright sunshine as we toured the lake by boat, hiked to a nearby old fort, strolled between sleepy towns and sipped wine to spectacular sunsets.  As is our preference we rented an apartment, this time from a woman named Marlena, a slightly hyper active, but very nice local from the town of Varenna.

Varenna 2

While the towns of Bellagio and Menaggio are better known and receive more praise (or hype depending on how you look at it) we both fell in love with Varenna and thought it was a far better choice for us than the other two.  Varenna is smaller and more quaint which we like as it allows us to feel less like tourists and more like locals (especially living in an apartment).

Speaking of tourists, several friends advised us to opt for nearby Lake Maggiore or even a bit further to Lake Garda because Como was too touristy.  But what we found was that come late October the vast majority of tourists are gone and we shared the streets only with a small number of international backpackers and a handful of Italians from Milan or other nearby cities who came for a weekend escape.

While I’m sure Lake Como in the summer is quite a sight filled with motor boats, sail boats, windsurfers and people swimming, there is definitely something to be said for a shot of the lake with absolutely nothing on it save the intermittent ferries shuttling people and cars to the various lakeside towns.

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On our last afternoon we did jealously spy a couple kayaking in the lake.

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We also had the best meal we’ve had since we’ve been in Italy at a restaurant in Bellagio called Bilacus.  We started with a hearty vegetable soup and salmon (oh so smooth and delicious) with capers and onions…..

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…and then for the main course I had my favorite pasta dish Penne al Arrabiata with slices of spicy sausage mixed in while Francesca had a cod fish risotto.  Soooo good!

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We also had a couple bottles of wine and were feeling a quite buzzed and blissfully contented as we took a stroll from the hillside restaurant down to the port.  Along the way we discovered a playground and our childish sides got the better of us (induced, no doubt, by the red wine).

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Here is a little video that Francesca shot of some of our antics…..I think you’ll agree that there is something decidedly pathetic about a 40 year old man on a child’s spring coil horse.

We intended to take the ferry from Bellagio to Menaggio, but the next one that came was going to Cadenabbia, the next town over, so we decided to take it and then walk to Mengaggio.  Often times impromptu decisions make for the best adventures.

Cadenabria is a small, sleepy town compared to its neighbors, plus it was mid afternoon when all the shops are closed for siesta, but we managed to find a small bar/restaurant that sold gelato which was just what we needed after our delicious meal.  Turns out this little hole in the wall bar (called Vecchia Maiolica) served THE BEST gelato that we had tasted in our entire time in Croatia and Italy.  It had a rich, thick, creamy consistency that none of the others that we have tasted have had.  It was oh so good.

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The old man who ran the place was very friendly and spoke excellent English. When we told him we were from New York City his eyes lit up as he told us he had been there 20 or 30 times and really liked it.  We were incredulous that this small bar owner had traveled that much, but as it turns out he was a bartender on a cruise ship for 25 years as a young man and had seen the entire world that way.  His eyes sparkled (perhaps with a bit of nostalgic mist) as he told us about all of his ports of call around the world.  He was originally from the Lake Como region and had come back several years ago to “retire”.  His traveling days are over and he is content with his current business, but he has many fond memories of his world travels.

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We bid him good day and resumed our walk to Menaggio.

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Menaggio was our second favorite Lake Como town after Varenna.  It is a bit bigger and has more tourist shops and restaurants, but it comes off less flashy than Bellagio and has a warmer feel to it.

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We strolled around Menaggio until the ferry came and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset as we made our way back to Varenna.

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The next day, before getting in the car for the drive to Venice we climbed to the top of the mountain behind Varenna for the stunning views from Castello di Vezio.

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Castle di Vezio

On the castle grounds there is a falconry center with some gorgeous falcons. Sadly they are bound by a short leash and it was painful to watch them try to fly away only to be yanked back down to the ground when the tether around their foot snapped taught.  That being said without that tether the winged beasts would probably have plucked out my eyes…..so there’s that.

Falconry montage

There was also an amazing WWII bunker with pillboxes that looked down on the lake.  I was imaging the Italian army using these pillboxes to fend off the Germans, but then I remembered my history and that the Italians were on the same side as the Germans, at least initially.  Then I imagined the Italian Fascists firing down on our US Marines in their boats.  But then I remembered that it is a lake so how or why would the Allies have put military ships in a lake?  I’ll have to do more research to find out who was using that bunker and against whom, but nevertheless it was pretty darn cool.

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We then had lunch at Villa Cipressi and wandered their amazing lakeside gardens.  By the way we were the only people there so it seemed as if we had rented the entire restaurant out for just the two of us – which is, incidentally what I told Francesca, but she wasn’t buying it.

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Then we got back in our car and left Varenna behind us and headed for Venice.

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By the way, I have added a short video of Vyukosava, the lovely old woman from Montenegro who’s apartment we rented in Kotor.   Go back to that post or just check it out via this link.

 

In Retrospect (November 9, 2010):

I feel like I say this about many stops on our trip, but Lake Como was truly one of the stand out places we visited.  And I’m not sure it would have been if we hadn’t lucked out with the pleasant fall weather or if there had been more tourists.  But as it was, it was very close to paradise.

We definitely want to come back to Lake Como.  In fact, we almost bought a house there.  Well, not exactly.  But we did come across an abandoned house and attempted to track down the sellers, but as we had no money for a down payment (nor could we afford a mortgage for that matter at that point) we reluctantly abandoned our quest.

Maybe next time…..

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