It is with bittersweet feelings that we venture into our last August trip as ex-pats here in Europe. I’m sure it would be hard to draw up much sympathy when I say that knowing it is our last big trip, we have felt a bit sad thinking about all the “lasts” for now. But, there is a generous portion of contentment mixed into this sadness, reminded yet again of how lucky we’ve been to have this opportunity. Working in France means having most of August off and it is for that that we are fully taking advantage of this month to see parts of Europe we’ve not yet visited.
Our first August we headed to Italy and we left that August feeling that we had to come back. We loved everything about Italy. Chuck and I had been to Tuscany several years back and had also been to Rome as college students, but we had never been to the northern part of Italy, and more specifically, the lake region.
We decided to spend the first night in Turin, since it was several hours between Clermont and Lake Como, and besides, we had something really really important to take care of. More on that later, but suffice it to say that we tacked on an extra 2 hours to our trip to go on a very special mission….the extra time was well worth it as we were able to take in views of the Swiss,French and Italian alps…
….so overall, the first day was 7 hours in the car and when we arrived just over the Italian border into Turin, we were thrilled to pull up to the Novotel and stretch our legs. Wells had been sick with strep throat and was still a bit feverish when we left Clermont; he was such a trooper in the car all day.
It was a quiet evening at our hotel, with a simple Italian meal at the hotel restaurant. Other than running out of pizza (what?) and having my wine served in a soapy glass, the meal was actually delicious and was a nice ending to a day full of snacks and fast food.
They even had this outdoor playground and parcours area that was a great change of scenery towards the end of the meal when the kids were ready to swim in the pool (which was closed) and Chuck was sent back and forth between the bar and the front desk several times in order to pay our bill.
We had a 2 hour drive ahead of us the next day to get to Lake Como, but it was easy and the views were breathtaking.
The lake itself is shaped like an upside down “Y”…
Coming up from the southwest corner, we quickly passed through Como itself and headed up along the lake towards Menaggio where we would be staying for the next few days..
We stopped in Laglio to take a few pics of the lake views as we drove along and later on, realized that this is where George lives!
Charlie was quick to get to work capturing the breathtaking scenery..
We stopped in Artegno for lunch and more views.
When we got to Menaggio, we got to our Air B&B and it was the quickest meeting with our hostess we’ve had yet. She didn’t speak any English and we obviously speak no Italian, so she walked us up the 5 flights of stairs, unlocked the doors and said, “Bon Giorno!” and was gone.
The view from our apartment was great! It was right above a small marina with beautiful views of the lake and Alps all around us.
And of course it didn’t take us long to get around to these… worth leaving full suitcases and bags in order to sit out and enjoy this view! And after all, it was Italy where I had my first spritz! The birthplace of Aperol Spritzes 🙂
We found dinner at a restaurant on a tiny street at a table off by ourselves..
We’d been so ready for Italian food. Never wanting to complain about French food, but Italian is more what we prefer. But dang it if I didn’t make the same mistake I made 2 yrs ago in Venice when I ordered fish off the menu. Roasted sea bass sounded incredible. But I forgot that usually, that means the whole fish….
Despite a bit of work, it was worth it. And we discovered a new type of Italian wine that might be worth learning more about. We are really clueless when it comes to Italian wines, but loved this Dolcetto…
Our first full day, we took the ferry across the lake to Bellagio, probably the most well-known town of all those on Lake Como, and most visited by tourists like us.
The ferryboat was huge and carried cars, motorcycles, bikes and tons of people across the lake from Menaggio to first Verenna, and then Bellagio. All in all, it was a 45 minute ride and the views were unbelievable.
To be honest, from all the reading we did, I expected Bellagio to be much ritzier than it was, but we found it to be a mostly charming hilly little town with cobblestone streets that stretched up, up and up with restaurants, silk stores and pottery stores along the side streets.
We ate lunch at AnticoPasta, a restaurant that was actually on a list of recommendations from Chuck’s parents’ visit 10 years ago to Lake Como. It was funny because we were sitting at lunch looking at the map with their recommendations, I looked out the window at the sign hanging above our restaurant, and it was the same one!
Afterwards, we wandered around a bit and into this beautiful church…
and then we came across these little faces sculpted above an old wooden door and couldn’t get over how much this looked like Wells and his brother-cousin Auggie!!!
After ice cream and before hopping back on the ferry, we stopped into a silk store to buy some ties for Chuck and a scarf for me… silk made right here in Bellagio. There were so many beautiful hand-painted designs that are then imprinted onto the silk, some of the patterns were so unbelievably intricate! Some of them cost several hundred euros but I since I don’t wear a lot of silk, I stuck with something basic.
Late in the afternoon we headed back to our apartment, the ferry ride back was so crowded and no seats left, so we stood on the bottom deck and though the sun was so strong, the breeze off the lake helped us to cool off a bit…
and after making it back to shore…our daily spritz (and chips! but only in Italy:)
The next day we woke up to a rainy forecast and since the Swiss border was only a 20 minute drive, we headed to Lugano, a town right on the border that sits on Lake Lugano.
The drive was just as beautiful, driving along the top of Lake Lugano, but as soon as we got there and walked into town, the sky opened up. Poured for 3 hours!
So…we spent some of the afternoon at a restaurant where we were given this giant table, all to ourselves!
We looked in a few shops, but we never even made it to the lakeside or to take the funicular up to Mont Bré.
I had read about Gabbani, this famous shop that sells all kinds of Italian charcuterie… A salumeria. Literally a salami shop!
There was meat hanging everywhere! Wells got a bit freaked, and decided he would wait outside rather than risk meat falling on top of him…
Oh well. We can’t expect to have nice weather every day. But next time, we’ll grab our umbrellas no matter what…
And besides, the next 2 days were absolutely beautiful.
Speaking of breakfast, Chuck found the most amazing café, called Cassera Moretti, where we visited each morning. They had the most amazing brioches and croissants covered in chocolate and vanilla glaze, some stuffed with marmalade, nutella, pistachio creme, strawberry jam, lemon creme, etc. The options were endless!
but their specialty was this one. The locals were eating these almost as fast as they were coming out of the oven, soft and warm….
……the hot chocolate was as thick as pudding…
The first morning that Charlie and Owen missed the fact that we were heading out to grab breakfast was their last. Getting up for these was worth it…
On Saturday, we rented a boat so that we could spend some time out on the water.
One thing we noticed as soon as we got to Lake Como is that there were almost no swimmers in the water. People are on boats, a few rafts, a few paddle boards near the shore, but only a handful of people wading in the water from the shore.
From what I could figure out by reading, the lake is typically very cold and that if anyone swims at all, it’s usually in July or August.
We were up for the challenge. Chuck first.
Wells is part polar bear and he was in faster than he could get down the ladder and out into the freezing water.
And at some point, we were up on the boat eating chips and Wells thought it would be funny if we threw some chips out to him. Before we knew it, he was surrounded by a ring of soggy chips…
In our family, everyone knows that I am by far the wimpiest when it comes to being cold. And especially being in cold water. I had decided early on there was no way I was getting in. But, in the end, I refused to miss out on swimming in what will probably be the most beautiful lake we ever visit…
The views from shore are breathtaking, but being out on this crystal clear glacier lake and having a 360 degree view of the Alps was entirely different.
….seeing all the beautiful villages nestled into the mountains, the churches perched up on cliffs, and the most amazing villas ever.
Including George Clooney’s!
We got as far as Laglio before we had to turn back towards Menaggio. On our way, we passed the coolest looking town tucked into the side of the mountain with a huge gorge and waterfall running through the middle of it. I didn’t get the best pic of it, but someday, I hope to visit this little village of Nesso.
The ride back was a bit rough, there were lots of boats on the lake by then and those of us sitting up front had to hang on for dear life! Owen got pretty beat up. But he survived. We had so much fun on the boat- It was a great morning!
That afternoon, we wanted to visit Varenna, the little town across the lake from us and the first stop that the ferry makes on its way to Bellagio.
When we got there, we were taken by just how charming and quaint this little town was! We hadn’t heard that much about it and it hadn’t popped up so much in my reading.
This little fishing village was established in 769 by fishermen.
We got there late afternoon, so we just climbed up and down some tiny cobblestone streets, then sat in a cute little square in front of the church to grab something cold to drink. It was a hot day!
Later, the boys got ice cream and the views from this side of the lake in my opinion were even more beautiful!
I couldn’t resist this pic, for some reason, it just struck C and I so funny. We saw so many couples like this… we were trying to imagine Lake Como as a romantic getaway rather than a family vacation spot. It’s been a very long time since we’ve travelled as just the 2 of us. When you move overseas and away from family/grandparents that have always been more than generous with keeping the boys from time to time, traveling has a different feel to it. Of course it does!
But we would never change not even one moment. And besides, lately, we’ve been able more and more to sneak out for an hour or two to grab a quick meal around the corner now that the boys are getting older, so we’ve been very lucky.
A quick and quiet meal that night for C and I at this cute spot, Osteria il Pozzo. The raviolis were memorable 🙂
After dinner, it was time to get down to business and really search for my very favorite flavor of gelato, Nutella. Surprisingly, it is really hard to find but so worth it when I finally do. Charlie had noticed some at a nearby gelato shop that looked like Nutella but was called “Cremini”. I asked the guy behind the counter and to my excitement, Nutella it was. Oh man. I should’ve ordered 3 scoops.
The next day was our last and we wanted to get back into the water one last time.
Of course, we had to have one last round of gelato before leaving Italy the next day. We all agreed that the Italians do gelato the best. Knowing that made every last bite even more special.
It was time to say goodbye to Italy. We loved spending time in this beautiful lake region, near the Alps, which we have come to love so much.
Things we would do if we returned to Lake Como:
Varenna- stay there, explore olive grove and castle (Castello di Vezio), waterski
try Vitello di Tono, visit Vanini Osvaldo olive oil press in Lenno
visit Como and take funicular to Brunate
Lugano-funicular to Mont Bré
eat even more gelato and pizza!