Destination: Italy: Lake Como
In some way, I am almost glad that it was drizzly when I arrived at Lake Como. It was still beautiful, certainly—the mountains bathed in pearl gray, the fog hovering on the lake surface, the silence. But after spending a full day longing for the fabled view, dreaming of it, pining for it, I felt an almost electric charge when I awoke the next morning, skittered open the black-out curtain of my bedroom at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and found myself assaulted by sunshine and the full force of the landscape. Massive mountains, silhouetted in soft blue, melted into an endless silver lake that shimmered and sparkled in the morning light. Quite literally dazzled, I realized I had found my idea of heaven: the grand Alpine scenery of Switzerland coupled with the cuisine and glamour of Italy.
One of the things I love about Lake Como is how it embraces so many dichotomies with grace: it’s somehow both natural and civilized, decadent and low-key, enormous and intimate. The lake, the third biggest in Italy, is surrounded by the pre-Alps, which plunge from five thousand feet into the water. The lake is so deep (1300 feet), it has an air of the unknowable; locals murmur rumors of giant mysterious creatures that reside in its depths. The cliffs are so steep that the vast majority of development is in the form of small towns that wind along the foothills close to the shore. Above, the mountains are wild, unspoiled and thickly forested. When exploring the lake by boat, every once in a while you will spot a lone house or church on an impossibly high hillside perch so precarious that it appears the only way to reach the front door is by parachute. Footpaths connect the towns, including a long stretch called the Greenway, which runs from Colonno to Cadenabbia.
While you are out on the lake, civilization seems to be a footnote on the scenery, barely noticeable, little more than a string of rooftops along the banks. But pull close to the shore and you find magnificent villas with fanciful and vibrant interiors—a legacy, no doubt, of the lavish silks the area has been producing for 500 years. At the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, for example, colors pop: apple green armchairs, salmon couches, ochre walls and gilt mirrors. There’s an exuberance to it all, a flair for living that is quintessentially Italian.
I spent four days on Lake Como and it was the perfect long weekend – just enough time for plenty of lake excursions and fantastic meals. I particularly loved the delicious breakfast at Tremezzo’s La Terrazza, which has a wall of windows overlooking the lake; lunch at Crotto Dei Platani of trout caught that morning and homemade pasta with a generous heaping of shaved truffles; and dinner at hot spot Il Gatto Nero (George Clooney’s favorite), set on a hilltop. A highlight of the trip was our excursion to the historic Villa Balbianello, reachable only by boat. Built in 1797 for a cardinal, it was bought in the 1970s by Guido Monzino, an explorer, mountain climber and bon vivant, and everything has been wonderfully preserved. The library is still stocked with his book collection; the study centers on the actual sledge (piled with furs) he used on his trip to the North Pole. This was a man so serious about food that his kitchen has a handmade knife rack with a dozen specialty knives, each with a precise label and function: this one for slicing prosciutto, that one for trout, this one for soft cheese. Balbianello is a place of secret passageways, terraces spilling over with geraniums, and impeccably landscaped gardens: the work of an unfettered imagination, just like so much of Lake Como.
Posting soon: hotel reviews.
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