I ALWAYS FOUND THE TIME TO VISIT ITALY. I AM UTTERLY FASCINATED BY THE COUNTRY
Calm crystal clear blue water, dramatic mountain ranges, colourful rustic shore lined villages and a beautiful sound track of bird song and friendly social chatter. Well that was how I imagined northern Italy’s Lake Como to be before I had ever personally visited, and if I am honest I was a little worried about this so called Italian gem living up to all the great hype and press it had recently received. So, did it?
I have always had a fascination for Italy, If I try to put my finger on what exactly I can’t, there are simply so many wonderful things about this country that truly fascinate me, the culture, the architecture and their obvious and open passion for life, food and fashion. So even before I was old enough to travel on my own I just knew that as soon as I could, I would.
My very first personal experience of Italy was many moons ago now, I was sweet 16 and enjoyed a romantic Christmas weekend break in beautiful Florence with my boyfriend at that time. Now although years later I am sat here writing this with some what different taste in men, my taste for the country hasn’t changed one little bit. Soon after Florence I visited Rome, then the Almafi coast, the island of Sardinia, Rome again, Pizza, Tuscany, Venice and then finally a trip to the north, almost to Switzerland for Italy’s apparently non commercialised jewel in its crown, Lake Como.
Lake Como is one of three northern Italian lakes and I was initially drawn to this particular lake as I had heard that it was a lot less commercialised than the other two, boasted bags of Jurassic scenery and sleepy rustic lake side towns which were still unspoilt from the modern needs of thousands of visiting tourists, ok and maybe also because I may get a glimpse of a relaxing Mr Clooney. So Lake Como initially looked beautiful in the glossy magazines, the reviews read nicely online, and many celebrities like to call this their second home so off I went, down shifting a gear in preparation to encounter the wonderfully relaxed and slow paced Italian life once again.
AND SO MY FIRST LAKE COMO TRAVEL EXPERIENCE BEGINS
My destination was the picturesque lakeside town of Varenna. I arrived at the towns quaint train station after traveling by rail from Milan, and as always here in Italy I arrived stress free and right on time. The rail network runs the entire eastern side of the lake and connects well to the three main airports of Malpensa, Bergamo and Linate. The journey by rail was a beautiful experience and one that I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to arrive here. Yes jumping in a private air-conditioned Mercedes at the airport would have made the journey a little more comfortable but there is something very special about traveling through Italy’s beautiful countryside by rail. The latter half of this journey in particular was definitely very special, the railway snaking its way along the lakes edge through picturesque towns, rustic villages and the spectacular northern Italian mountain range via many hand blasted tunnels.
My hotel, Villa Cipressi, was located on the far side of town so I fuelled up with my first local coffee at the train station’s cafe and set out to destroy the wheels of my case on the old cobbled streets and pathways. There are taxis available at the station but I always like to play a little game in Italy ‘what’s going to break first, a heel or a wheel’, however luckily neither failed me that time.
I arrived at my hotel, wondering as I wiped the sweat from my forehead whether or not I should have possibly taken that taxi, but although a little worn out from lugging my now slightly scuffed Mulberry case up and down the many stone steps I was rewarded with possibly the most incredible and breathtaking first impression of any destination I had ever arrived at. I instantly began to understand why this place is described by so many people as simply magical, why the rich and famous frequently visit and then strive to own properties here and why poets and writers not only retreat here to overcome the infamous writers block but then go on to produce some of their finest and recognised work. I get it, I so get it.
I spent my first evening at a lakeside restaurant watching the anchored boats calmly bobbing up and down in front of the setting sun, listening to a live jazz group whilst sitting amongst couples of old and new love, and people like myself happy to sit alone quietly reflecting on life, and trying to come up with words other than magical to explain this utterly heavenly place. No its magical I’m afraid, it just fits so perfectly.
The next morning I woke up before my alarm, obviously even my subconscious self was excited to get back out and take in more of the beautiful sites. This next bit may sound a little cliché but everyone who’s been to Italy will understand this. I yawned, stretched and pushed open the slightly worn wooden shutters with both hands and let in the early morning golden sunshine. Magical! O no, there’s that word again, and it was only 7am. I was absolutely sure that the breakfast at my hotel would have been delicious but there is something I love about Italy and that is joining the locals, early in a cafe somewhere slightly away from the hustle and bustle. The smell of freshly made coffee and brioche, the warmth of a new days sun on the face and the sound of unfamiliar chatter is definitely one of my guilty pleasures. The simple things in life eh.. One coffee, a fresh and still slightly warm chocolate brioche, and many polite smiles and bonjourno’s later I was ready to take on the world, well at least the lake, and soon found myself standing at the towns ferry port looking up at the large perspex tourist map ready to explore.
Lake Como looks like an upturned letter Y, and the mid lake area is accessible via a very efficient boat and ferry services that connect the many lakeside towns. From Varenna I could go pretty much anywhere on the map, in particular the town of Bellagio, which I was slightly concerned about as I had heard that the shopping there is amazing and unfortunately I have a very strict weight limit on my suit case. So Bellagio it was, and it wasn’t long before I had large amounts of beautiful blue water beneath me as we steamed out across the lake and out into what honestly looked like a beautiful and scenic oil painting. I can’t remember exactly how long the trip was but it felt like only a few minutes before the boats loud horn and tannoy announced that we were approaching Bellagio, everyone literally jumping from their hypnotic state and prepared themselves to disembark for the beautiful town before us.
The statement I am about to make is a bold one, but one that I honestly stand by. Lake Como is quite simply one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. If you add to this the truly magical atmosphere, the warm micro climate, mouthwateringly good food and wine and the friendly nature of the locals then this really is one of those rare places in the world that possesses literally everything you could possibly want when searching for that perfect retreat. Everywhere you turn you catch yourself staring, almost hypnotised looking out at the twinkling calm blue water or at the lush green hillsides and the dramatic steep mountains that climb steeply from it. If you manage to peel yourself away from those for a second you then have colourful rustic shore lined villages, romantic picturesque cobbled streets, and the exciting sight of a water plane either taking off or landing on the lake out in front of you. There is one thing that really stood out for me about Lake Como, and one that was confirmed by so many others that I asked here, and that is everything is geared around relaxing and appreciating the finer things in life. Whether that’s entirely switching off from the world and taking time out for yourself or spending precious quality time with close family or friends without any of the day to day distractions of modern life back home. You feel at piece like you have finally found your Shangri La, encased in a bubble of perfectness and nothing else matters. Now that to me is very special.
I HAD FALLEN IN LOVE WITH LAKE COMO AT FIRST SIGHT, AND JUST HAD TO RETURN
I stayed in Varenna for two nights and over the course of my stay I really thought I saw and experienced a lot of what the lake had to offer, however in reality I quickly realised that I had merely scratched the surface. I was so sad that my trip had come to end, but also happy in the knowledge that I would be returning home only to start planning my return trip. I can tell you that I did return to Lake Como again, for a slightly longer period of time too, and returning as more of an adventurer rather than the explorer I was previously. What I am trying to say is Lake Como quickly become a very special place in my heart indeed, becoming my beautiful future wedding destination, my incredible new home and an exciting work place.
So to conclude and answer the original question of ‘could Lake Como live up to everything that I had recently read about it’. Yes, absolutely, and very much more! However I may now be slightly biased about Lake Como so please don’t just take my word for it, come and visit for yourself, and like me I am sure will fall in love and become utterly transfixed by everything this wonderful Italian gem has to offer.
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