Half the fun of traveling is actually the planning stages. This particular trip had some major planning that involved several variables, a few constants and some educated guesses. With all falling into place, March 2017th, we land in Milan Italy, take a train ride to Varenna in the Lake Como region and start a quick vacation get-away.
I’ve heard great thinks about this region and how the mountain sites are breathtaking. I’ve also read that George Clooney has a home in the area and continuously speaks highly of the region. Peacefulness, tranquility, and calmness are the words synonymously associated with villages along the perimeter of the lake. We had to find out for ourselves!
After a smooth flight from JFK airport to Milan and a scenic 2 hour train ride, we arrive in Varenna. A small town nestled in the heart of Lake Como. As March is low season, many hotels, coffee shops and restaurants were closed.
We check into our hotel Montecodeno and notice quickly that this small family run hotel had character. The hotel was perfectly located within walking distance from the train station, the ferry and the city center. Navigating around the area was a breeze and with hardly any cars, the peacefulness accentuated the sound of wind and crackling leaves. Nature sounds were amplified and the smooth waves along the harbour made our walk therapeutic.
We enter a restaurant called Trattoria Cavallino and order some fresh pasta with tomato sauce. Nothing like a true authentic dish made with passion. A simple pasta dish becomes gourmet cuisine.
We continue our walk along the water front and occasionally zigzag the inner cobble roads which looked like a maze contoured with beautifully aged thick stone walls. Massive doors with rusty hinges showing their time in history. Every inch of the village seemed to be a picture spot.
With the sun setting, we head back to our hotel and have supper. The same lady that checked us in earlier and escorted us to the room, was the same one taking our order and serving our table. I’ve always said that languages is one of the most important attributes to have when travelling and thankfully speaking Italian with the locals made for great dialogues. She truly made us feel at home and noticed that we weren’t simply her guests; we were invited family members. We take one last evening stroll around the village to digest another great meal and our first day comes to an end.
With roosters making their morning call, we head down for breakfast and without skipping a beat, the same lady pours our coffee. Breakfast was tasty and enough to store energy for the long day ahead. We visit Piazza San Giorgia, Chiesa di San Giorgia and continue to Villa Monastero. This Villa was breathtaking. The stone arches gave way to a mountainous backdrop that left one mesmerized. One would get the true colours of all flowers in May, but our March visit was still worth it.
It seems that time stands still when becoming part of nature, and with no worries of any pressing schedule, we find ourselves on a ferry towards Bellagio.
Another beautiful village overlooking Lake Como. This time, with the sun beating down, we have lunch outside overlooking the lake and mountains. With just a handful of tourists, our only contact was with the ducks and birds longing for crumbs.
Midday we head back to Varenna to visit Castello Di Vezio. Perched at the highest part of Varenna, the view below was spectacular. It seemed as if the mountains, the blue skies, the partial clouds and the sunrays reflecting on the water were simply painted.
The most adventurous part of this trip was in fact the decent along the steep mountain back to Varenna city center. They mentioned that the 30 minute hike was commonly done by tourists and locals. Either they are used to the 80 degree slopes or we ventured along the wrong path. Nevertheless, Anna became Jane and I was Tarzan. We start our decent along the 20 inch wide walk path along the mountain side. No barrier, no fence and wet leaves on smooth slippery rocks placed Anna out of her element. Fear was plastered all over her face but with only one way to go, we continue our trail. With the path getting narrower, trees and lush greenery becoming more dense we brace ourselves and hope for the best. The fluffy white sheep that appeared in our path was the first sign of company and not too far after, we exit the forest onto a small secondary road. Mission accomplished. It’s all part of the experience.
At supper time, being informed that the train service for the following morning will be going on strike as of 9am, we had to alter our plans and take the earlier one. Aware of this inconvenience, the hotel owner packs us a breakfast-on-the-go and our last night in Lake Como was had. Early next morning, board the train towards Milan and the second phase of our vacation starts.
From Milano central, we walk to Piazza Duomo and visit the Galleria. High end shopping district with great architectural arches and marble pathways. The adjacent Piazza was filled with tourist leading to the impressive Cathedral. Palazzo Marino, Opera House, and the Sforza Castle were visited before a quick local pizza was had for lunch.
We taxi to Milano Central station, bus to the airport, taxi to our hotel and after supper prepare for our journey back home. A great 3 day escapade in Lake Como for us…..not just for George Clooney.