Week 2: 6-12 October – Firenze & Lake Como
Going to Lake Como at last….
We have talked about visiting Lake Como for ages. Whilst we went to Milan during our trip last year, we didn’t quite get as far as taking the hour or so drive further north. This time we’d be deliberating whether time and budget would allow us to fit it in, especially after spoiling ourselves with a trip to Austria! Having decided that we may never make it back here again, we bit the bullet and booked the train to Milan and a hotel on the lake at Bellagio. We’d work out how to get from Milan when we arrived there.
With the forecast having predicted more rain, we were glad to wake up to overcast skies but no rain on Monday morning. It certainly made the ½ hour walk to the train station a lot more pleasant than otherwise – even though it was in the dark as we’d booked a 07:25am train and sunrise was only minutes before. The train left as scheduled and we had a relatively uneventful trip via Bologna and Torino (Turin), reaching Milano on time – except for the 15 minute delay as we entered the city because of congestion.
Having checked timetables, we decided we’d aim for the next train to Varenna – a town on the eastern shore of the lake – and this would give us time for a macchiato and brioche. Once we were out of the smog and industry of Milan, we were captivated by the scenic mountains and lake views that surrounded us. The beginning of three days of “wow!”. From Varenna, we had to take a ferry to Bellagio, our final destination. It was a very pleasant wait sitting alongside the lake, and very soon, the car ferry was transporting us on the 15 minute trip across the lake.
Arriving in Bellagio – the Pearl of Lake Como….
Not having any idea which town was the best place to stay, we had chosen Bellagio as it was central and seemed to have more choice of affordable accommodation. As we approached the ferry wharf, we could see the yellow building of Hotel Excelsior Splendide – our lodging for the next 3 nights – standing out amongst the other colourful buildings along the shoreline of the Borgo (city centre). We certainly couldn’t have picked anything more convenient – within minutes we had walked to the reception, checked in and we were in our room on the third floor overlooking the lake.
In its day, this hotel would have been quite the place to be – as we could see from its enormous marble staircase and frescoes on the dining room ceiling. Nowadays, it felt a bit like stepping into the past, although it has been maintained to a higher standard than we have seen elsewhere. The standout for us though was most certainly the magnificent view from our room – we saw spectacular sunsets on each of our three nights there!
Exploring the hamlets of Bellagio….
As usual, we weren’t happy just to sit at the bar of the restaurant gazing over the lake, but wanted to get out and about. Walter had read about a few walks around the area and had established that we could get maps at the information centre. Armed with three walking options, we chose the longest (naturally!) and headed off to discover more about Bellagio and its environs.
After climbing up one of the steep cobbled streets of the borgo, we turned into the main street out of town and continued the climb. From the cemetery that housed some huge crypts, we enjoyed the views over the eastern side of the lake and of the olive plantations belonging to Villa Giulia. The Villa itself, a few metres down the road, was first built in 1624. The three floored, neoclassical structure is currently owned by a family from Milan – obviously must be pretty wealthy! We couldn’t determine whether they still own the huge grassy area across the road from the villa, stretching to the other side of the promontory. It is known as the Vialone and was purchased originally to enable access to the vistas and beaches on the other side.
Continuing the walk, we passed though farmlands and little hamlets with piazzas containing bars and churches. We even came across an ancient washhouse which was restored recently. This is where the local women used to go to do their washing.
After a couple of hours, we made our way down a long, steep flight of stairs, leading eventually to the main road into town. We perused some of the little shops – particularly one containing beautiful wood objects – before going back to the hotel.