View of Lake Como from Varenna
“ Quel ramo del lago di Como, che volge a mezzogiorno, tra due catene non interrotte di monti, tutto a seni e golfi, a seconda dello sporgere e del rientrare di quelli, vien, quasi a un tratto, a ristringersi, e a prender corso e figura di fiume, tra un promontorio a destra, e un’ampia costiera dall’altra parte; e il ponte, che ivi congiunge le due rive, par che renda ancor più sensibile all’occhio questa trasformazione, e segni il punto in cui il lago cessa, e l’Adda rincomincia, per ripigliar poi nome di lago dove le rive, allontanandosi di nuovo, lascian l’acqua distendersi e rallentarsi in nuovi golfi e in nuovi seni… ” (Alessandro Manzoni, from I Promessi Sposi) – translation at the bottom –
How could I have forgotten how beautiful Lake Como is! Perhaps it’s because last time I was there I went to purchase seta (silk) for my wedding dress. I guess my mind was too
preoccupied occupied to pay much attention to the beauty of my surroundings. Are you wondering why I was in Lake Como to buy silk? The city of Como, sitting on the edge of the lake, began the art of silk weaving back in 1510. Como, still nowadays is regarded as the “City of silk”. An educational museum dedicated to the silk has been instituted in Como in 1985.
Lake Como is lake of glacial origin located in the region of Lombardia. It‘s the third largest lake in Italy, it’s shaped as an upside-down “Y” where the two arms are surrounded by the pre-Alps. Already a popular destination for aristocrats since Roman times, in the last twenty years it has become a very popular tourist destination. I have always been looking for spots “off the beaten path” , so I had not returned to Lake Como until this past September. Our destination on Lake Como was Bellagio, which we reached driving along the East branch of the lake from Lecco. Unlike the West branch which is dotted with many beautiful villas, palaces, and gardens, here the landscape is dominated by mountain ranges and rocks. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy that day and I could not take good pictures (and the ones I did take, I did from the moving car’s window); however, the scenery was fascinating and I was happy to have returned to Lake Como.
In Bellagio, my husband and I were guests of the Hotel Belvedere . . . just beautiful!
The Hotel Belvedere
The hotel sits up on the hill overlooking the lake, it is away from the summer crowd yet, it is at walking distance from the town center and the lake boardwalk. The Hotel Belvedere has a long history, it was established in 1880 when it was called “La Vignetta” and it was managed by the owner’s daughter Maria Gilardoni, who later took the reins of the property. Signora Maria transformed the small “locanda” into a comfortable hotel that was renamed ” Belvedere“. The Hotel has since gone through several restoration, enlargement and modernization projects and today it is a beautiful hotel with 59 rooms and 5 suites. The hotel has two restaurants, one inside and one outside on the terrace, both offer amazing views of the lake. I would have loved enjoying one of my meals outside, but unfortunately the weather had other plans for me . . . rainy and cold. The hotel also offers a pool surrounded by garden terraces, an infinity Jacuzzi pool, a SPA, and a library/media room.
Most importantly, the hotel is today at its fifth generation of beautiful and tenacious women who have been running this family business.
While the weather was gloomy and cold, my husband and I received the warmest welcome by Signora Chiara Mauri and Hotel manager Signora Laura Molinari, who were both stylish, professional, cordial, and proud of their establishment. Mrs. Molinari was sincerely apologetic about the fact that all lakefront rooms were booked and kindly invited us to be guests of the hotel restaurant for dinner. The hotel decor offers the right combination of classic and contemporary where pastel colors and bold greens and red coexist in perfect harmony. The atmosphere is relaxing and warm. Our room was comfortable and tastefully furnished and decorated, fresh cookies and a small book with a personal welcome note by Mrs. Molinari were awaiting on the desk and I could have not been happier with the side view of the lake from our balcony . . .perfect!
The views from the hotel ground were magnificent and even in the mist, rain, and wind Bellagio looked beautiful as my husband and I walked along the lake and under the “portico” dotted with nice shops, bars and café. Yes, it’s true Bellagio it’s touristy, but nonetheless charming.
And it’s true that George Clooney may be bothered by the paparazzi, but it is also true that the locals are not at all trilled with the hype either. A shop’s owner expressed her discontent to the fact that most tourists ask about Clooney’s address rather than advises on the true beautiful places to visit such as Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, Villa Melzi‘s Garden in Bellagio or Villa del Balbianello in Lenno. How many know that in Bellagio, Villa Serbelloni hosts the Rockfeller Foundation Bellagio Center, which operates a conference center and a residency program for scholars, artists, scientists, writers, musicians, and policymakers from around the world?
When our umbrella could not handle any more rain and wind, we headed back to the hotel were I treated myself to a relaxing pedicure while my husband enjoyed an aperitivo doing some work in the comfy library.
The library and media room
We were delighted to accepted Mrs. Molinari’s invitation for dinner. The experience was lovely; the atmosphere was relaxing, the service impeccable, and the food was very good and nicely presented. My beef filet was juice and flavorful while the Langhe hazelnut crème brulè was a perfect ending to the day. Our waitress was knowledgeable and suggested a regional wine – Prugnolo DOC 2006 from the Rainoldi winery based in the Valtellina area- that we were not familiar with . . . it turned out to be an excellent choice. I later learned that the wine is named after a stone fruit – native of the vineyard area – bearing blackthorn.
The next morning we were blessed with mild temperature and the sun was soon to come out. While enjoying the spectacular view, we had a plentiful breakfast from the widespread buffet which included freshly baked croissants and fruit tart along with savory options.
After breakfast, taking advantage of the weather, we enjoyed the hotel outdoor space and visited the SPA facility which was quite impressive, especially the view from the relaxation room.
The SPA relaxation room
Another stroll throughout Bellagio and some shopping (shoes, of course) were a must prior to boarding the ferry to Varenna, a small picturesque town set between the lake and the mountains.
The ferry ride to Varenna is only 15 minutes and you enjoy beautiful views of the mountains and the coastline.
Once in Varenna, a coastline walk takes you from the dock to the town center, the lake beach, and then uphill to the Church of San Giorgio.
We walked up and down narrow alleys, climbed many steps and shopped at a charming handmade pottery souvenirs shop.
Finally we had lunch at the restaurant Vecchia Varenna. The restaurant is housed into a 1400s building which was originally a laboratory of black marble of Varenna. We ate on the restaurant covered terrace right on the lake and it was amazing . . . both the setting and the food. My husband and I shared an antipasto of Marinated Agone filet (a fresh water fish), a Risotto al Prosecco and scimudin (a soft cheese from the Valtellina area), and a Zabaglione (sabayon) . . . everything was divine but I especially liked the Risotto.
Time to ride the ferry back to Bellagio, to take in some more beautiful views and to say thank you and good bye to Signora Mauri and Signora Molinari and the Hotel Belvedere for a memorable stay . . . we can’t wait to be back!
Time to head to our next destination: Civita di Bagnoregio . . . stay tuned!
° Translation: ” That branch of the lake of Como which extends southwards between two unbroken chains of mountains, and is all gulfs and bays as the mountains advance and recede, narrows down at one point, between a promontory on one side and a wide shore on the other, into the form of a river; and the bridge which links the two banks seems to emphasize this transformation even more, and to mark the point at which the lake ends and the Adda begins, only to become a lake once more where the banks draw farther apart again, letting the water broaden out and expand into new creeks and bays…” (Alessando Manzoni, from The Betrothed)