The Italian Alps

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Flag of Italy  , Lombardy,
Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Italian regional train system went on strike the day that we were to depart to Milan and Lake Como. Our tour guides, ever resourceful, got us out of Moneglia via cabs, and we hopped onto an intercity train. By avoiding the regional system, we avoided the strike! Thank goodness for our guides.

Varenna is a small town near the central part of Lake Como. There are dozens of towns around the lake. The area really is like the Alps, with snow-capped mountains that slope into the blue lake. It looks like Switzerland, and indeed, Switzerland is only a bus-ride away from Lake Como.

On our first afternoon in Como, our tour guide led us up dozens of stone stairs to the Castello Vecchio, the Old Castle. It was a stone turret on the top of Varenna, an actual tower complete with a drawbridge and crenellated walls. Towers, turrets, drawbridges! I felt like I was inside a game of King's Quest! I really enjoyed being up at the tower. The views of Varenna, amazing as usual, were made even more interesting by framing them with the tower’s stone turrets. I also enjoyed the walk down from the tower, winding our way through the tiny neighbourhood. We stopped by a very old church with a family’s cemetery outside, and made our way back to our hotel. The back lanes and paths are covered with small daisies, honeysuckle, jasmine, and old European roses, which made our walk very pleasant.

Our dinner that evening was the hotel’s specialty, Milanese saffron risotto and slow-cooked lamb with the marrow bone. The dinner was made even more special by the attentions of the cook, who came of the kitchen to make sure we were happy with the food. She explained what she was going to cook tomorrow, and brought out the special flour that she was going to use to make the pasta by hand. What a nice person!

The next day, on the advice of the hotel proprietor and our tour guides, three of us in the tour group went to the Villa Carlotta, an Italian-style 17th century villa that was a ferry ride away from Varenna. On the ferry ride, we really got a good view of the beauty of Lake Como – it’s a deep, clear lake surrounded by snow-topped mountains, quite amazing.

When we landed at the town of Villa Carlotta (named after the villa itself), we learned that an Italian duchess bought the villa as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta, who married a German or Austrian prince. Over time, the prince enlarged and enhanced the gardens at the villa, and now it is a delightful wonder of azaleas, roses, orange and lemon trees, and even tropical orchids.

I loved the view from the villa’s front steps. I looked down into a lilypond with a fountain, and in the distance were the mountains. It felt very peaceful in the villa, and I envy the gardeners who tend such a beautiful place.

We stopped by Bellagio, a more touristy town, and admired the boutiques selling scarves, clothing, and jewellery. We then took the express ferry to the city of Como, the largest city on Lake Como. This region is known for its silk production. Como is lined with boutiques, so after a pleasant afternoon of wandering around the city, admiring the cathedral and stores, I bought two silk scarves made in Como, Italy! If I had more time, I would have shopped for Italian dresses and shirts, but our ferry left for Varenna at 5pm.

I was tasked with reading the ferry schedule and making sure our little group got back on time, so catching the express ferry was a relief. On our way back, I saw three swans taking flight on Lake Como, just outside the town of Bellagio.

Dinner was the homemade pasta and breaded pork. Our last night in Varenna, we wandered around at night. Italians seem to be out quite late, so even though it was 10 o’clock, people were still walking around, enjoying the jasmine-scented night. The ferry in Varenna looked beautiful at night.

I hope to come back to Varenna! The proprietor at the hotel was very hospitable, and the town of Varenna itself feels less touristy and more peaceful than the other towns, making it a perfect place to rest.
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Chris on

Wow, Varenna is definitely my kind of town! To be in a King's Quest setting is like a dream come true! Beautiful photos and description as always.

lynnloparo on

@Chris: You know, it's really a peaceful little town, not super-touristy! And it feels like you're in the Alps! A cool place to visit!

dad on nice...your guide is indeed resourceful and it was good that you went with them and thus can get around the hoopla baloo....enjoy ...and take extra for

ritawritatravel on

sounds like an amazing place =) next time you'll be our guide there then? too bad about the strike, the Italian train system...but glad you were able to get to where you needed to easily

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