May 27, 2011: Varenna, Lake Como, Italy
Wedding March could be heard a bit later, so I thought the first piece might also be Mendelssohn. Now that I'm home and fiddling, I know it was Bach's Air on the G String, at a point past that distinctive harpsichord.]
I am so happy to be here. So happy the ash cloud moved along. We had some rough weather coming into Malpensa airport, but the torrents didn't even last our whole bus ride to Milan.
Now... Well, now, it's just gorgeous.
|Our train, in Varenna|
We met a lovely older lady on the train to Varenna. She was very curious about two Canadians traveling there, but unfortunately my Italian wasn't up to the explanation.
This is the best view I've ever had from a hotel room or apartment. Ever. (And we booked it at the last minute at a little more than €200 per night.)
|San Giorgio, Varenna|
The sun is filtering through the slowly dissipating clouds, down on the heavily forested mountain face; stunning. We came through so many tunnels on the train journey here. (Jules, Dev would love this place! Mountains in the foreground, snowcapped Alps at the horizon. Sigh.)
The hotel stocks Menabrea 150° Anniversario, "the flagship" of Forst (according to one of my beer books), in the mini-bar; nice touch. There's also a little grocery store across the street. Loving the Royal Victoria so far.
Parts of Milan reminded us both of Naples. Getting Severgnini's perspective on the same route, from Malpensa to Milan, was a treat, particularly when informed by Solly's take on Italians: I finished his book, The Xenophobe's Guide to the Italians, on the flight over.
|After the storm|
* * *
May 29, 2011
|The view from our balcony|
I was just saying to Tea that, in idle moments, I'm still trying to categorize this place. And failing. The view outside our window, off our balcony, convinces me we're cruising the Mediterranean each morning. This outdoor space reminds me of a resort, if only in my desire to stay on the property and relax -- no resort I've stayed at could hope to replicate these sights and this solace.
Yesterday, we took a slower ferry down to Como; it was about a two-hour journey. (You can take a faster one that will get you there in less than half the time, by paying a supplement.) It was so relaxing. Almost too much so: I nodded off in my seat, a cat in a sunbeam, and burned my thighs and forearms. (I'm writing this in the shade. Tenderly.)
|On the ferry to Como|
We heard a lady behind us comment on the water being too rough for her boat, so she and her husband decided to take the ferry to Cernobbio (two stops before Como) to meet friends for lunch instead. I cannot imagine living here, or how calm the water must typically be if that is considered rough.
We then wandered the streets -- very much like Florence, I found, particularly around the Duomo -- and open-air markets, before taking the fast ferry back as far as Bellagio. It was so fast, compared with the morning. I dozed again, below deck this time, thankfully. The biggest surprise was that Tea didn't need to take any motion sickness medication, as it was a rough ride at times, as we crossed others' wakes.
|The Duomo, in Como|
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we missed the last passenger ferry to Varenna. No matter. We caught a car ferry back shortly thereafter. And what a view, pulling in as the last of the day's light hit our beautiful town. (Ours for the weekend, anyway.)
We stopped for supper shortly after docking, as we figured we wouldn't leave our room again if we went straight back: the local wine we bought in Bellagio, Sant'Andrea Valtellina Superiore, from the north, and a special harvest of grapes on the thirtieth of November each year -- for a mere €17 -- was calling our names.
|Waiting for the ferry in Bellagio|
Vecchi Varenna caught our eye with its inspired, confident menu, and then rewarded us with such good, beautifully-presented food and friendly wait staff. Add to this their passion for serving locally sourced food from a menu they change monthly, and I absolutely cannot recommend this place enough. The prices are even reasonable. I defy anyone to correctly guess their bill based on Vecchi Varenna's fantastic location, down by the water, and the calibre of their food -- both its taste and presentation. Honestly, it felt like a glimpse of the life of the rich and famous -- as I imagine it, anyway -- all for €85 (which included excellent wine, starters and dessert).
|Pulling into Varenna|
We weren't out and about for long before we settled on a lakeside cafe for another break. Over rosé, bruschetta, prosciutto and melon, and pizza (topped with the most exquisite mushrooms), we watched the world pass by.
At this point, Tea decides she wants to hike up the quarter mile to Castillo di Vezio. An Aussie couple we met partway up let me know how it could be worse: their hiking epiphany came after three bottles of rosé.
Such a view! Probably the most spectacular we've been treated to to date. It recalls memories of our drive through the Alps last year, but then add the lake beside them, train tunnels between the two, brightly-coloured roofs all 'round, and the quaint -- particularly from this height -- Varenna, with its belfry, below us. And the cherry on top was the sun setting on another gorgeous day.
After quickly freshening up at the hotel, it was back out to the attached restaurant for yet more pizza -- Tea concluded it was the best so far -- wine, and, to finish, our first taste of grappa.
* * *
May 30, 2011
[Subsequent discussions, and a flip through Collins Bird Guide, suggest that they were a species of swift, because they never seemed to land in that roof nest and their voice matches the description to a T. Thanks, Katy!]
Speaking of amusement, I think the cleaning staff got a good chuckle from us. Tea heard them laughing and whispering outside our door this morning when they found our homemade sign. (We didn't have a "Do not disturb" sign when we checked in, and kept having the Italian, non-English-speaking maids come in on us in the mornings.) I'm pretty sure the translation of our sign would be closer to "No trouble, please," like we feared being held up by gunslingers each morn.
At least they replaced it with a proper one.
|In the gardens of the Villa Monastero|
What a way to spend the day. Before this, we wandered the gardens of the Hotel Villa Cipressi, and dipped our toes in the lake from a (very secluded) public access.
|The beach outside our hotel|
So cool. "Like swimming in a glass of water," is how I put it; no chlorine to speak of, and unheated. Sipping our Sant'Andrea poolside now, dozing off. There's talk of seeing the boardwalk in Menaggio later, or maybe tomorrow.
* * *
May 31, 2011
Definitely a muted feel to the morning. Like we've had a four-day party and this is the morning after, is how Tea put it. Strikes close to the mark, I'd say.
* * *
Hard to believe this is a travel day. Started walking by the lakeside, watching swans and ducks pick at yesterday's bread, discarded in the water from nearby restaurants. Then we got the ferry to Menaggio and walked its lovely boardwalk for a bit. When we got hungry, we stopped for a fantastic lunch on the lakeside patio of the Hotel Bellavista.
We even caught the ferry back to Varenna in time to enjoy a glass of wine on the waterfront. Such a relaxing day -- in spite of the prospect of driving from Gatwick looming ahead of us.
* * *
* * *
|Antipasti at the Bellavista|
Malpensa airport is alive.
Speaking of wine, to sit down in a restaurant, and enjoy a delicious red -- oh, the wine we've had on this trip! -- and al dente pasta sounds about as far from the airport experience as one could get. And yet, here it is; able to support the number of travelers around me and then some.
These Italians are on to something: why deprive yourself, even if you have somewhere to be? There's always time.
* * *
[We've been home a few days now. Time enough to realize what an amazing trip we had; honestly, probably my favourite one to date.
The drive back was tiring and a bit stressful -- largely thanks to the closure of the A417 near Cirencester and subsequent detour to the M5 -- but, oh, the sights we saw. To have the Alps, but also the feeling that you're by the sea -- it doesn't feel like a lake -- checks two of my top-five boxes. Then to have that food, that wine and that weather... Paradise.
As usual, we have a Picasa album with more pictures from the trip. Tea has an album on Facebook as well.]