They said there was no place like it,
and they were right. North West at the base of the mountains lays the city
of Como with the beautiful long lake stretching north into the snow-capped
mountains. It’s all one could wish for and it starts only 50 miles from
Milan. It captured me immediately. It’s a ‘can’t miss’ destination for a
peaceful holiday. It’s part of the Lombardy lake lands, filled with tiny
villages and chalets high in the hills. There are terraced gardens,
elaborately magical villages with white steeples reaching a perfect sky.
Balconies laden with blossoms greet you everywhere. The bougainvilleas hang
down to the water’s edge.
It is a dramatic change from the
farmland of the Lombardy plain. One goes from the uninspiring to the divine
and it starts in Como.
I arrived by car from Milan but you may
select to take a train, a bus or a boat from Lugano in the northwest. The
Como-Milan highway is often congested but easy enough most days. The lake
that begins in this bustling city is shaped like a body dancing on two long
legs. It is deeper than its neighbor, Lac Maggiore and much more
interesting. Here you can boat, hike on mountain paths or just sit in a café
and watch the ferryboats go by. The word paradise may be overused but on
lake Como it’s what comes to mind.
The city of Como at the south end of the
lake is modern and bustling. Yet, it has much of the old world charm one
would hope for. The horseshoe shaped bay is filled with boats and the
mountains rise from the water in dizzying speed. A funicular railway is the
best way to see the town and some of the lake from above. It is the west
side of the lake that one sees and the people around me search for the
famous Villa D’Este, a posh hotel with the traditions of early moneyed
travelers. It is certainly a place for the rich and famous.
Como is a town with a tradition. The
manufacture of silk has attracted people to this haven for years. Today it
is filled with tourists eating gelato and looking for a place to park their
Ferraris. I decide to move on. My destination is the small city of Bellagio
to the north, where the two arms of the lake meet. I wind my way up the
western side through Cernobbia on a winding road with a wonderful view.
Unfortunately, I must keep my eyes on the road. This is a place to test your
driving skills. One must pull over if a wide truck comes the other way. When
two trucks or a bus meet all traffic stops. One side must back up to a wide
point where the oncoming traffic can squeeze by. The 30 or so kilometers can
take an hour. Remember that when you return, especially if you have a plane
to catch. Traffic is one of the biggest downers at this end of the lake.
I rise and fall as the road follows the
shore. I pass through tiny villages and pass lovely villas. It is no wonder
that Como is a chosen spot for filmmakers. Maggie Smith’s Summer on the Lake
is a good example of seeing how the other half once lived.
As I enter Tremezzo, I can’t help seeing
the wonderful turn of the century Hotel Tremezzo Palace, rising from the
road. I stop to tour this gem via the outside glass elevator. The flowers,
marble pillars and décor of this sophisticated hotel overwhelm me. I sipped
a cold Limoncello. The tennis courts are occupied as is the billiard room.
People are eating on the terrace facing the lake, while in the serene
Limonaia, waiters with white gloves worked at tables fit for a Queen. And
speaking of Queens, we know that Lake Como was a favorite of Queen Victoria
who visited relatives in the Villa Carlotta next door. Today, the Villa
Carlotta is a restored masterpiece in the midst of one of the best botanical
gardens in northern Italy.
I get on the small ferry for the
eleven-minute drive to Bellagio, the Mecca of the lake. We drift over
pristine frigid waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Bellagio awaits.
It is the pearl of Lario, the crown of northern Italy. I will not be
Here I drive the two hundred yards to
the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.
The setting on the point of land between
the arms (legs) of the lake with sub-tropical palms on multi-leveled
Italianate gardens can take your breath away. It is a site that dreams are
made of. It was here that the King of the Goths made his home. Here too,
Pliny the Younger built his two famous villas “Comedy and Tragedy in the
First century AD. Even Leonardo da Vinci visited the original Villa to
attend a wedding. In more recent times, such names as Mary Pickford and her
husband Douglas Fairbanks sipped cappuccino looking out over the sparkling
water. This was a hideaway for people like Mark Twain, Flaubert, Shelly (he
thought it was the most beautiful place in the world), Stendhal, Toscanini
and Eugene de Beauharnais, the stepson of Napoleon. The composer, Franz
Liszt composed his sonata dedicated to Beatrice and Dante while in Bellagio.
When Mussolini’s henchmen ensconced
themselves in the villa, they turned it into a barracks and ripped up the
parquetry floor to feed their fireplaces. Princes, counts and tycoons
arrived with their own staff. Today it is renewed and gleaming white with
well traveled visitors arriving in fast cars from all over the world.
I join the throngs and walk along the
water’s edge under arches. The shops are upscale. I discover streets going
upwards into the mountain. They are pedestrian walkways only with stairs
rising to the upper road. Here there are leather shops, shoe stores,
ceramics, inviting jewelry stores and restaurants. I have lunch on a hotel
terrace under grape vines. The view is better than I dreamed of. It is a
place whose beauty is not exceeded by the Bay of Naples. If we can say ‘see
Naples and die’, we can say ‘see Bellagio and live’.
I continue on the upper road where the
Rockefeller Foundation has their retreat and conference center. I come
across the simpler Hotel Belvedere with its mountaintop view of the eastern
arm. Here, in more Spartan surroundings amid terraced gardens, one can while
away the time without a care in the world. Founded in 1880 as Trattoria
Alloggio Belvedere, it is owned by the Martinelli family. Hospitality is a
family tradition. With 65 rooms, pool and solarium and a panoramic
restaurant you can awaken at dawn with the sun rising directly into your
room. Pines, cypresses, walnut trees, narcissus and lily of the valley
surround me. I am in a sea of roses, azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. I
am looking over a sub alpine lake and I know I will return.
It is only 30 Km from Como and can also
be reached by bus, ferry, hydrofoil or steamboat. You can also reach the
lake from Lugano Switzerland by car via Menaggio. However you go, you will
not be disappointed.
You can go farther north if you like.
There are ferry boats that will take you to over 25 places such as Varenna
on the east side or Colico in the north. Each village tells its fascinating
story of daily life that has been going on for centuries. It is a true
I have finally discovered elegant
tranquility. I know I will return.
For more about Hotel Belevedere go to
their descriptive website at
www.belevederebellagio.com or contact them at
For more about Bellagio, visit
The tourist information office in Como
can be contacted at 31 269712 or by dropping in at P.zza Cavour, 16.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)