Lake Como

Cutest Harbor Ever! Varenna

 

Another Harbor View

 

Local Fisherman, Varenna

 

Pre Tour Day
Italy, Here I Come!

After 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 few little 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 in town. 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 to all your friends and family making them exceedingly jealous!

 

Varenna

 

Steep Roman Steps, Varenna

 

 

 

A Local!

 

Bellagio at Night

 
 

 

View from the Castle! Yes, a Castle!

 

Castle Above Varenna

 

Castle di Vezzio

 

River Walkway, Varenna

 

 

Day 1
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 with its 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.


 

Sketch of Castle Layout

 

 

That 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!

Meeting the Tour

 

 

 

Our Little Town, Varenna

 

 

 

Bellagio

 

Bellagio Garden

 

 

View of Lake Como from Bellagio

 

 

Our View From the Garden

 

Our Group in the Courtyard

 

 

Tomato Puree, Mozzarella Drizzled with Olive Oil

 

Day 2
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 was during 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 stacked up 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 here there are 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 too!

 

Smoked Duck on Toast with Green Apple Slices!

 

To 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.

 

Watercolor of Bellagio Garden

 

That 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 ourselves. The antipasti (appetizer) was mozzarella cheese surrounded by tomato puree and drizzled with olive oil - WOW. The primo piatto (first course) was a very rich cheese risotto followed by a secondo piatto (main course) of veal stuffed with herbs and sun dried tomatoes. 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 delizioso!!

 

Wonderful food, great company and laughter under an Italian sky full of stars - perfect.

 

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