Aaah - Lake Como!May 1,2008, Thursday
With all our brochures, CDs, and DVDs from the Buy Emilia Romagna conference in our luggage (it’s a lot heavier now!) we walk just a few blocks to the Bologna train station for a couple of days by the lake. The train is just late enough getting to Milan that we miss the train to Varenna, on Lake Como, and have about an hour and a half to wait. The big white granite park in front of the train station is dotted with people waiting with their luggage with their pants legs pulled up for some exposure to the bright sun. We sit on a bench close to McDonalds hoping to mooch off their free WiFi but there was no coverage in the park. We end up waiting the whole time at a little bistro eating a ham and cheese piadina (sandwich with tortilla thin bread).
Varenna is approximately on the eastern backside of the western facing running-man shaped Lake Como. The train to Varenna from Milan goes through the Lecco leg, not the leg that ends at the town of Como (and the nearby village of Laglio where George Clooney has a lakeside palazzo.) We were drawn to Varenna for our days off because of two things: the lovely wisteria-lined, cantilevered and verrry romantic promenade from the ferry stop to the village and the memory of an October 1997 festival featuring roasted chestnuts and hot wine. There were no grandfathers and grandsons lighting little lakeside fires for roasting chestnuts today but on the promenade we had to stop in our tracks more than once to hug - we were so happy being there together. Anne says that just SEEING Lake Como makes her breath more deeply and slowly – the perfect place to relax!
The train station is high above the village and our hotel’s directions were to go downhill from the station to the lake, and you can’t miss it. They were right; we just followed our noses downhill and there is Hotel Olivedo. The owner took us two doors down to a separate villa, Villa Torretta, renovated to function like a bed and breakfast.
A lovely place, with flowering gardens, super views over the lake and classically furnished common areas, it was beautiful enough to just stay and relax, but we wanted to be outside on this glorious sunny day.
The village of Varenna is much the same after the 11 years since our last visit, although the Alps surrounding the lake are snowcapped at this time of year - breathtakingly beautiful!
After a stop for gelato by the lake, we strolled around and checked posted menus for dinner tonight and made a reservation at a grand old hotel named Villa Ciprese and the desk clerk invited us to take a free tour of the hotel’s terraced gardens.
The views over the widest part of the lake are framed by hundreds of meters of 30 foot tall wisteria, palms, irises, and hundreds of other well marked specimens. Each switchback in the path takes us closer to the lake level.
We found a bench near a railing and literally put our feet up; soaking up the sun, happy to have nothing to do after such a full week.
Varenna's internet spot is a couple of computers in the back of a bar up by the church.
They had a little spread on the bar of crunchy toasts with tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes soaking in olive oil that went just perfect with a glass of local red wine – what a way to catch up on email!
We took a new nearly vertical path down to the lake level then back to our hotel to change for dinner, then climbed back up another similar stairway to the Villa Ciprese for dinner.
The palazzo atmosphere is nice but the food was bland.
An exception was my fresh branzino (fish) that came wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow. This tactic blends the moisture and fragrance of the fish, tomatoes, and herbs for a taste wallop.
The wine saved the dinner; it was a unique Pinot Nero vinified white that came in an Alsatian style bottle.
Back down the steep steps to the lakeside promenade in the moonlight.
This is where I want to go next time I need a break, the beauty is indescribable.