Harbor Ever! Varenna
Italy, Here I Come!
a week in Paris with my dearest friend from high school, Juliet,
I was off to Italy to join my Rick Steves' Best of Italy in 17 Days tour.
After a quick flight from Paris, I was in Milan, waiting in line at the
train station. With the help of my phrase book
I practiced how to ask for a ticket while I waited for my turn. I did
it!! Soon enough I was
walking to my train with the right ticket in hand.
I met a lovely old Italian gentleman who assured me I was on
the right train and helped me identify at which station
to get off. I sat on the
train watching the lake pass before me and marveled at the little towns
clinging to the shoreline. Soon I was jumping off the train at the
tiny station of Varenna with mountains behind me
and the beautiful Lago di
Como ahead of me.
After checking into my hotel, Hotel Olivedo, I headed out to explore the little
town of Varenna. I took a lovely stroll along the
shoreline walkway. It
wraps around one harbor and onto another. The second harbor has a
shops and restaurants with patios to enjoy the view. There
are a few families of ducks here that just look so content.
I can understand
why; as soon as you get here, you slow down and breathe more deeply. It's
the perfect place to relax.
Along the walk there are little alleyways between the buildings
that seem to go straight up - all stairs of course!
Excuse me while I
catch my breath! Almost all of the stairs lead to the only street
The only road turns into the piazza where most of the shops are
found. There is a great little wine bar and internet
cafe here. You can
sit with a (very large) glass of local wine while you write home
your friends and family making them exceedingly jealous!
Roman Steps, Varenna
from the Castle! Yes, a Castle!
Joining the Tour!
I checked into our tour hotel, which is a converted villa! It looks like a mansion
and has a wonderful garden right on the lake shore.
Today I hiked up to the top of the hill above the town to see
the Castle di Vezzio. Along the
way I marvelled at how lush and green everything is
with the air smelling
of flowers. As the castle finally came into view, I heard someone shouting.
I turned and there was a woman saying something to
me in Italian. Oops, I had walked
past the ticket booth. I went back to pay and the woman kept talking in Italian.
She must have seen the blank look on my face and said "No, Italiano." I
said I spoke English. She said in English, "Really, you look so Italian!" I
thanked her, "Grazie."
Wow, I never really thought, although I hoped, that I'd blend
in. Well, if only I was more fluent I could really
fit the part!
This was my first castle. I soon learned that some castles are
just towers and walls. This one had a wall surrounding
a tower in the middle, complete
own drawbridge. You get to go across the drawbridge and climb all the way
to the top where a beautiful view of the lake awaits.
of Castle Layout
evening the members of our tour met for the first time. We mingled
a bit and had some local wine before the formal greetings. We introduced
ourselves, then our guide, Ferdi, gave us an orientation to the
tour, customs of Italy, and took us around the town before letting
us loose for dinner on our own.
Most of the tour group ended up having dinner at a restaurant
run by a friend of Ferdi's. Soon we were all seated
around a huge table in a foreign land, laughing
and joking as if we were old friends. I know this is going to be a great group!
Then we tasted the food! I was sitting next to my new travel
pals from Georgia, Anita and Don. They had been on
lots of Rick Steves tours. After tasting
the food Anita said, "Oh, this is going to be a good tour!" We were henceforth
the "foodies" of the group. The owner gave us all complimentary lemoncillo,
one of the perks of knowing Ferdi, our guide.
I knew that this would be a good group to be with; lots of
fun and laughing!
Little Town, Varenna
of Lake Como from Bellagio
View From the Garden
Group in the Courtyard
Puree, Mozzarella Drizzled with Olive Oil
Bellagio and Shopping
As would become the norm, a continental breakfast awaited us at our hotel and
Ferdi briefed us about our day. Today was a free day to explore the lake with
our own ferry pass, then a group dinner tonight.
Anita, Don, Ferdi and I all happened to be on the same ferry
heading to Bellagio. They were all wearing coats
and inquired how I could be comfortable in just a
summer dress. I explained that when I flew out of Alberta, Canada it
a blizzard, so this brisk spring morning was absolute heaven!
Soon we were approaching "the Pearl" of Lake Como, Bellagio.
The town had lots of pastel colored buildings
rising up above the water, all
the hill. If Varenna is the town to relax in, then Bellagio is the
town to shop in. It has the same little side streets that go straight up, but
shops all the way up so you can stop to catch your breath and buy a beautiful
silk scarf. The silk is produced in the town of Como at the southern end
of the lake, hence the name Como Silk.
After exploring the shops for a while, I headed back toward
the water to one of the restaurants Ferdi had recommended.
The Ristorante at Hotel Montropole is
perched over the
water making it a lovely setting for lunch. Some of my tour mates
were already enjoying a meal there. I found a table
and before I even ordered
a drink, Ferdi
showed up and joined me. I ordered a smoked duck on toast with green
apple slices. When it arrived it was beautiful, and tasted great
Duck on Toast with Green Apple Slices!
finish off a great lunch I enjoyed a gelato on my way to the gardens.
I explored the lovely manicured gardens looking for a view to paint.
The flower bushes here look like they're on steroids! I've never
seen azalea bushes so high; they almost look like fat trees!
While I was painting a little Italian girl and her father came
by. She said, "Oh
bella (beautiful), bella! Pappa, bella!" So cute! She sat next to me and
we were able to talk a little while I put the finishing touches on my painting.
of Bellagio Garden
evening, we met in the courtyard of our hotel, Villa Cipressi, and sat at two
long tables. It felt so luxurious we had the courtyard all to
The antipasti (appetizer) was mozzarella cheese surrounded by
tomato puree and drizzled with olive oil - WOW. The primo piatto
course) was a very rich cheese risotto followed by a secondo
piatto (main course) of veal stuffed with herbs and sun dried
Dolci (dessert) was a traditional creamy panna cotta topped with
aged balsamic vinegar and fresh berries. I had never had aged
balsamic vinegar and was surprised to find it so sweet! All of
it was so
food, great company and laughter under an Italian sky full of stars