We are in the town of Tremezzo on Lake Como. Today, we did what all travelers here do – we hopped on a ferry to visit other lake towns. The first town was the jewel of Lago Como, Bellagio. The ride across the lake was awe-inspiring. This is the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen! The famous Swiss lakes are very impressive and the lakes of Barilochi are magnificent, but here, the shape of the lake is so irregular, that each point opens up views of coves, promontories, inlets, bays, etc, etc, in different angles, all against the backdrop of the Alps, whose slopes are studded with just the right number of palatial villas set among blooming gardens – all this washed over by the morning light – this was perfection itself!
Lake Como is shaped like a human torso with long legs. Bellagio is situated promptly in the crotch. This favorable location gives Bellagio the advantage of having extra views of the lake. When we arrived, it was early enough to beat the crowds and have the town almost all to ourselves. The town is very touristy. Granted, all beautiful places are touristy for a reason, and Bellagio fared better than many. The buildings here (mostly hotels) colored in juicy orange, lemon, pink grapefruit, and lime with forest-green shutters. Long steep stairs lead up into the mountains. The streets are lined with touristy shops, but none sells cheap trinkets nor designer clothes. The merchandise here is affordable, local (at least it seems to be), and appealing to the eye. Cafes abound – not the most inviting but pleasant. A lakeside promenade stretches along the length of the town and is lavishly landscaped. Palatial villas flank the town on both sides. It’s a very picturesque and civilized little place.
When crowds became unbearable, we hopped on another ferry and went to Varenna. In my tour book, Varenna was described as tiny, with no places to eat or shop, and a few narrow streets lined with stairs going up the hills, and that the whole town could be covered in an hour. The preferred town, according to the book, is Menaggio, where a discerning traveler can find beauty, food, and good shopping. Thus, we allocated 45 min to explore Varenna before heading on to the more superior Menaggio. Those 45 min. felt like 5! The town does not cater to tourists, that’s true. The shops are few and far between, so are the cafes, but the raw charm is abundant! The lake promenade is rustic, the steep stairs up the mountains are crumbling, the terracotta houses are in place, arches are hanging over narrow alleys – this is no less pretty than Bellagio, but in its own, unrefined way. A group of girls, a Russian bachelorette party, were taking photos on a stone ledge. The bride-to-be wore a vail over a kokoshnik. In fact, the entire bachelorette party wore kokoshniks of a peasant type – with red ribbons hanging down their necks. We really would have liked to stay longer, but the highly recommended Menaggio beckoned and we ran to catch the ferry. In three words, Menaggio was disappointing. Maybe, if we came there first, we would not feel that strongly, but after Bellagio and Varenna, it was a letdown. We wandered around trying to find charm, but our search was disrupted by the sky becoming ominously dark, so we had to sprint to the ferry. While in Milan, the rain was drizzling, here it was a monsoon. The sky opened and emptied a giant’s bucket of water onto our heads, We were soaked to the bones while running up the gangplank.
Back in Tremezzo, still in the rain, we went to a very local, family-run trattoria del Prato. There, we had the best meal in Italy thus far. Papa cooks, mama serves the food. Papa is one hell of a cook. My minestrone would make any Italian grandma proud, the taglioni arrived in a wild mushroom sauce, Kenny’s pasta with prosciutto and some crunchy green leaves was outstanding, and the grilled fish and salad were fresh as fresh can be. Our meal for two with wine, coffee, and dessert came up to 55 euro! After that, we went to a classical concert at an Anglican church in a nearby town and listened to 4 guys playing Haydn and Mozart to the audience of 7 dedicated souls in the otherwise empty church 😦