There is one thing of value and two random things I knew about Como before this week. Thing of value: It’s a really big lake just inside the Italian border as you head North for Switzerland. Thing one of randomness: It was mentioned as one of the most beautiful places in the world in a story that was a childhood favourite of mine called The Secret Garden (for anyone who knows it, it’s the place that Archibald Craven travels to where he sees a vision of his dead wife telling him to go home because she is waiting for him in the garden. In other words it’s where he finally is at peace with the loss of his wife and goes home to find his son, fully recovered from illness and walking when he thought him to be an invalid). Thing two of randomness: George Clooney has a house somewhere on the lake and it’s where he and the fantastic Amal spent part of their Honeymoon.
So we went. And we stayed in a little town called Colico on the North Eastern side of this lake…and it’s a massive lake. It actually feels like the sea with snow-capped mountains behind it that are so perfect they look like they are part of an elaborately painted backdrop. Three months into The Milan Plan and Como is my favourite part of Italy.
The best way to see the lake is by bike. The hotel we stayed in (which I highly recommend – Villa Hotel Colico) offered us free use of their bikes and we cycled along the lake for about 11 kms. The scenery is beyond picturesque and I had many moments where I felt the photos I was taking just weren’t doing the natural beauty around me any justice at all. Our hotel also recommended a fantastic restaurant (delicious and affordable – Per Bacco) that was adorned in the most crazy collection of sea and ship memorabilia. It was just a very memorable eating experience…and dog friendly as a couple next to us brought in a Husky-cross puppy with one brown eye and one blue grey eye that was promptly given a water dish and was fed by its adoring human-dad from the table…I wanted to steal him (the puppy not his human dad).
On day two we took the train to the most beautiful village I have ever seen. It is called Varenna and I’m completely in love with it. If I ever run away and you don’t know where to look for me, look in Varenna. Plan B – our retirement spot even if I can only afford to live in a tent. It’s built on a mountainous series of cliffs with narrow cobbled walkways steeply leading you down to the clear lapping lake waters. Higher up in the village you catch glimpses of the lake, the snowy mountains and the piercing blue sky between yellow and pink buildings with those characteristic wooden shutters and cheerful flower boxes I love in Italy. The restaurants are all traditional and quaint and though they serve all the modern desires of a tourist trade, they don’t make a fuss about it the way Rome and Venice do. As Bevan and I were walking around we even caught sight of a Bollywood film shoot happening in the archways of a lake-facing outcrop of some obliging building that no doubt has stood there for more than a handful of decades. Bevan said, “it’s legit, they’re shooting with an Arri.”
We went on rather a long and steep (and unintended) hike to find a castle that we didn’t end up reaching. It was high in the mountains, we weren’t correctly dressed for the terrain and oh yes, we had luggage with us, but the views we enjoyed were incomparable to any others on my travels thus far.