Bellagio and Lake Como, Italy
Bellagio, Italy – I call it heaven on earth. It’s not that easy to get to, and in fact requires a harrowing 90 minute drive around tiny, twisty roads along Lake Como to arrive here from the Malpensa airport outside of Milan. We arrived at lunch time on a freezing cold day, with mother nature throwing us a spring snow-rain storm. My reaction? Who cares, I’m at home in Italy again!The first thing we did after parking the car was to head to San Giacomo up one of the tiny alleys of Bellagio for lunch. Take note of the food you see in this post: after 10 days in meat centric Vienna, Salzburg and Prague, we were dying for fresher and lighter foods. So lunch of an arugula salad with tomatoes and fresh fettucine with a fresh tomato sauce were perfect.Our hotel for our stay was the Hotel Florence, perfectly situated overlooking the lake, run by the very hospitable Timothy (we knew it was going to be fun when he left us the bottle of limoncello on the first night by the fire and said to enjoy it!). If you’re traveling with another couple like we were, ask for the two second floor rooms overlooking the lake (right above the awnings, by those pots filled with pansies) that share a large terrace.With lunch behind us, and after checking into our rooms and unpacking, we really weren’t up for battling the cold rain, so settled into a booth in the cozy bar of the hotel. I just LOVE the way a glass of Prosecco in Italy, or any cocktail for that matter, comes accompanied by snacks.If it seems like all we did on our first day was eat and drink, I think that may have been the case. We had been up at 5am in Prague to catch the flight to Milan, I drove the tiny stick shift car all the way myself, my friend was carsick the entire ride – add all that together with the weather and it seemed like food and wine was the way to spend the day. Dinner was at Bilacus where we shared a fabulous tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, and I opted for the risotto (classic in northern Italy) with the lake perch.The next morning, I threw open the curtains and opened the shutters on the porch – and my wish had been granted. I’ve been to Lake Como before, but not our friends, and all I wanted was for one gloriously sunny day to cruise around the lake, jumping from tiny town to tiny town.If it had been warmer, we would have splurged for the private boat to take us all around the lake for the day. But it was still somewhat chilly in the wind, so instead we bought the cheap Centro di Lago (center of the lake) tickets and set off on the ferry.Varenna is right across one of the fingers of the lake, so a short ride. The ferry schedules can be confusing – there are car ferries (but people can ride without a car too), passenger only ferries, and fast ferries (hydrofoils). If you have a car you are locked into that schedule. If you’re going a long distance you want the fast boat or it’ll take you hours to get there. But just to bounce around the center of the lake it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, so just get to the ticket counter and ask when the next boat to your next stop will be there.From Varenna we crossed over the lake to Mennagio. Enticed by the now quite warm day, sunshine, and pretty piazza, we settled into a cafe right in piazza for lunch. I know better – these touristy spots generally don’t have great food, and that was the case, but soaking in the sunshine while enjoying an Aperol spritz kind of made up for it!From Mennagio we crossed back over the lake to Varenna again to do a bit of shopping we had run out of time for earlier……then got the next ferry back to Bellagio. Is this a gorgeous place or what? Our cheap ferry ticket had filled our day more or less with several hours out on the lake, a perfect way to spend the sunny day.With tulips blooming in the town park and wysteria in bloom draped over the hotel’s outdoor bar/cafe along the water, set against the snow-capped peaks, it may have been some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve seen in some time.Not knowing if our weather would hold out or not past this one glorious day, we opted to share some wine and snacks on our shared terrace instead of heading to the cute bar……and take advantage of the chance to watch the sun set over the hills. Like I said before, heaven on earth.We headed to Barchetta for dinner and enjoyed what may have been our favorite pasta of the trip, a very light basil oil – not technically pesto, but similar – over spaghetti……and a wonderful seafood pasta with fresh fettucine. We dined in an outdoor terrace that was all buttoned up with space heaters, but I can guess in the summer this is a go-to spot up on the hill.In an effort to show our friends as much as we could in a few days in the lakes region, we decided to take the car ferry across and drive the short distance – about an hour – to Lugano, Switzerland. The thinking was the Lugano would share the same beauty and charm as the Italian lake towns. Unfortunately, it didn’t, we never got out of the car, but just circled through town and came back to Italy.Since we were already across the lake from Bellagio, we decided to just head to Lenno for pizza for lunch, and had hoped to visit Villa Balbianello while we were there. As luck would have it, you could only visit the villa by ferry the day we were there, so we missed that.Instead we just walked around the pretty little town, then pulled into the car ferry line to wait to head back across to Bellagio.Usually on our trips, we have almost no pictures of the two of us – but because we were travelling with our good friends, we have tons this time. We all went to Bucknell together, so have known each other since we were 18!We went back to San Giacomo for dinner, and after waiting patiently in the cold out front until a table opened up (where they graciously let us order wine while we waited), we grabbed a cozy corner table and settled into another great meal of pasta and fish. We had the most unusual arugula salad with melon and fresh ricotta (fata a casa) that we all loved.We had saved our shopping for our last day in Bellagio, so while the sun popped in and out behind clouds and drizzle, we meandered around the town in search of silk scarves, farro, and paintings.Just for something different to do, we hopped a ferry over to Varenna again for lunch of pasta and pizza in a cute little cafe overlooking the lake. The temperature was already dropping……but my friend (college roommate and sorority sister!) was committed to getting gelato and shared the kid’s tasting cone with me.For dinner we had reservations at Salice Blu, which is actually a few minutes drive from the hotel up on the hill in Bellagio. Fortunately, Chef Luigi, a delightful young Italian guy who runs the restaurant with his mama, also volunteered to pick us up for dinner. He started the meal with a smoked salmon amuse bouche……and then we ordered both the salumi and the foie gras to share.It’s great when you’re with a group and can share, but my husband liked that lobster pasta dish so much he ordered a second one for himself for dessert!If sea bass is in season, the presentation tableside of the salt crusted fish that Luigi carefully removes, debones, and plates is both entertaining and delicious.When you travel with old friends, there is never a moment that goes by without some memory, some laughter, some fun. We had the very best time together and I know we’ll be travelling somewhere else soon!
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