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Como: Two Weeks on the Lake
by

Arnie Greenberg

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 disappointed.

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 natural paradise.

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 belveder@tin.it

For more about Bellagio, visit www.traveleurope.it/bellagio

The tourist information office in Como can be contacted at 31 269712 or by dropping in at P.zza Cavour, 16.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

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.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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