Avoid the tourist traps and overcrowding of the town of Como and head for other beautiful locations along the lake’s shore. Staying in Milan, getting to Lake Como took a mere hour by train and was scenic enough to grab our attention as we travelled alongside the lake’s meandering bank. Return tickets are around £10 per person which is to be commended. Just remember to validate your tickets at the green or yellow machines on the platform before boarding your train.
Skipping Como as we’d been advised to do, we headed for the town of Varenna, perched teetering on a steep part of the lake shore. The architecture was magnificent with buildings tall and brightly painted with blooming terracotta roofs.
The town is quieter than many others and makes for a good stroll and meal. The front though is bustling with activity from the cafes and restaurants that adorn it and is constantly peppered with more travellers from the small dock for a local ferry used by people and businesses alike, the one we caught was particularly interesting as a coach pulled onto it.
We took the ferry to Bellagio, if you look at a map of the lake it sits in the crotch of the trousers, which afford you expansive and scenic views of the lake and surrounding country. This far north in Italy meant there was a touch of alpine about the place. The ferry was around £6 each for a return and took no longer than 20 minutes to make the crossing.
Bellagio is like a place straight from a film concerned with style, class and undoubtedly wealth. The beautiful front of the town heaves with people clamouring for tables by the lake in the heat of the sun. The market stalls between cafes and restaurants thronged with people whilst ducks skilfully flapped ashore deftly taking scraps dropped before leaping back into the water.
Our hunger crept up on us with all the travel and an Aperol spritz beckoned me softly as our stomachs grumbled walking along the front. We ended up at Hotel Suisse. Ending up isn’t the right term to use, it doesn’t do it justice. But we were incredibly fortunate to have found it.
Situated by the lake’s shore with extensive views, Hotel Suisse’s restaurant on Piazza Mazzini cuts an impressive figure. What drew us was a food trolley laden with an enormous wheel of Grana Padano with pasta being tossed and turned around its inners.
This was by far one of the most exquisite meals we had in Italy, and its simplicity was astounding. Fresh fettuccine was taken and added to a flambéed wheel of Grana Padano and plated. There was then a difficult choice between black or white truffle shavings to be made (no truffle is not an option whenever it is offered as far as I’m concerned!) Opting for black and a few cranks of a black pepper mill resulted in an unassuming dish which on taste was near transcendent as the bite of the aged cheese combined with the heat of the black pepper. And all of it brought together by the unassailable pleasure found in pasta.
I easily could’ve managed more, but the Aperol spritz I had alongside was free poured and its strength made another beckon. After our late lunch we strolled through Bellagio’s towering streets, in some cases the incline was precipitous enough to warrant the term hike. The streets are filled with wine merchants and craft shops, and gelaterias fill the gaps left in between.
Making our way down the hill and back to the front we wandered to the town’s outskirts and found a set of steps leading into the lake. Sat watching the lake’s waters break against those steps and the occasional fresh water spray landing on us is one of my fondest memories of the entire trip we took and the views offered there, as is the theme with Lake Como, are incredible. In warmer months the steps serve as a means to enter the lake for a swim and I was particularly jealous that we weren’t there in such a month. After lingering on those steps for much longer than was necessary we made our way back to the ferry dock and caught one back to Varenna just as the sun was beginning its descent which offered further unparalleled vistas.
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