2 Days by the Lake

If you are a cinema lover, like I am, you’d know that the name is a reference to the James Irvin’s movie A Month by the Lake with Vanessa Redgrave and young Uma Thurman.

The movie takes place at lake Como, Italy.

I saw this movie when I was a child, and going to Como this time evoked some nice memories. This time I could compare the real views with the cinematic ones and I have to admit, the movie totally gives the credit to the incredible landscapes of this Italian Lombardy region.

Lake Como is located only 40 minutes ride from Milan and about the same time from the Bergamo airport, where the low-cost Ryanair flights from Berlin fly. The end of February is an off-season, so we booked our tickets for 26-euros round trip only!

The lake is easily reachable by the train, but we preferred booking a small Fiat 500, to move around easily and not depend on the train or ferry schedules.

Lake Como gets really busy starting the beginning of April - this is the time when the most villas on its shores open and the wedding season starts - the destination is really popular with marrying couples.

For me though, visiting in the end of February was a perfect choice - it was much warmer than Berlin (13-15C during the day) and sunny. We managed to avoid the crowds of tourists too, which are especially big in summer, especially in such touristic towns as Bellagio and Varenna.

Talking about Bellagio - to my shame I wasn’t aware that it is the original town, from which the famous Las Vegas luxury hotel takes its name and inspiration.

The lake is big enough to have a variety of activities around, but small enough to reach all the important destinations in 1 to 2 days.

It is worth mentioning that ferries are a popular transportation as they connect the main spots on the lake. The summer schedule is very busy and you can always catch onto the next ferry, while in winter you have to wait for an hour or so for the next boat.

The first day we decided to go directly to Varenna, where the train from Milan also stops.
We wandered around the beautiful little town, had a snack at the main square (nothing fancy, but sometimes a small panini and an espresso is just what you need) and caught a ferry to Bellagio.

 Varenna from the ferry

Varenna from the ferry

While Varenna is situated on the Eastern side, Bellagio is right in the middle of the lake - on the peninsula, which divides the lake into two of its arms.

We walked by the beautiful (but closed) Villa Serbelloni, which is a luxurious hotel, situated in the 15th century building, currently owned by the Rockefeller foundation. We wandered for a while and reached the Gardens of Villa Melzi, before heading back to the ferry.

If you want a great view, you have to go to the Punta Spartivento to find yourself just in the middle of Como just between its two branches.

 Lakeside in Bellagio

Lakeside in Bellagio

After having a coffee in the port, we had back to Varenna, only to get the most amazing bloody sunset over the lake and the still-snowy mountains in the background.

The next day we woke up quite early to discover the Western part of the Lake. We quickly drove through the town of Como (it is a big touristic destination, thus the decision to skip it) and did our first stop in Chernobbio - a very lovely little town, with not a single tourist in sight.

The places to visit in Chernobbio in summer are the Renaissance Villa d'Este and Villa Erba from the 19th century, which belonged to the mother of the famous Italian director Luchino Visconti. Interesting fact - the Hollywood movie Ocean’s Twelve was filmed on the grounds of Villa Erba.

Talking about Ocean’s Twelve - George Clooney is one of the hundreds of celebrities who own property on the picturesque lake. His Villa Oleandra is some 10 minutes away from Chernobbio in the small village of Laglio. If you check the villa reviews on Google, you’ll find some witty comments from several people about George’s loud slippers in the morning or his lousy toast-making skills.

The next stop was Argegno, with its cable car, reaching over 800m and offering the most breathtaking view. While at Argegno we had lunch at a nice bistro Argegno, which was also obviously the local retirement card-game headquarters.

I really wanted to visit the famous Villa Balbianello, situated on a small wooded peninsula overlooking the lake. It served as the filming location for A Month by the Lake, as well as Casino Royal and even Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. Unfortunately, it was closed for the winter as well.
Nevertheless we took some beautiful shots of the Isola Comacina nearby.

The feeling of tranquility I felt on the lake washed away all the stress and all the troubles of the busy city life I’ve had in Berlin. I can imagine staying on the lake much longer would soon become boring for such a city girl like me, but this short retreat really did me well.

The evening light was perfect, as we approached the commune of Tremezzina. The sun was setting and the mountains was bathing in the golden mist. Few speed boats were zigzagging through the shimmering lake surface and I felt really really happy for just no reason.
Tremezzina has couple of famous villas as well. The most beautiful is probably the Villa Carlotta, with its neoclassical look and vast terraced gardens.

If you are a history lover, you would probably like to stop by the Villa Belmonte in the neighborhood of Mezzegra - by its gate the infamous fascist dictator “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini was shot together with his lover Carla Pettacci in 1945. Apparently there is a mark on Google maps, saying “Benito Mussolini shot dead here”.

The last stop on our road trip was the town of Menaggio, which is situated just across Varenna.
We had a nice dinner at a simple but authentic restaurant called Trattoria la Vecchia Magnolia on the top of the hill before heading back to our hotel in Malgrate near Lecco - about 1 hour ride, in the bottom of the right branch of the lake.

When picking up a hotel round the lake, one has plenty of options - from the lavish villas, with pools, gardens and original paintings on the walls to the smaller boutique hotels.

We picked up a nice and cozy Casa sull’Albero, which offers contemporary architecture with huge panoramic windows, facing a nice garden and lake. I woke up really early each day to capture the mist above the lake. Hotel offers a nice breakfast in a dining room facing the garden as well as the dinner option for those who are too tired to go out. The small pool is a great option for the summer, but unfortunately, February was still to cold to go swimming.

I was very pleasantly surprised how friendly everybody was during our 2-days stay at the Lake and its surroundings. People would smile at us, let me pet their dogs and not once somebody acted grumpy or non-welcoming. Old people were going for a stroll along the promenade, dogs were barking and spooking the birds, waiters in the few opened cafes were busy serving everyone espressi.
I had the most marvelous time by the lake and I will go there again - this time probably in October, when the season ends and the trees turn red and yellow.

Photographer's note: I’ve had an opportunity to test a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on this trip and I have to say, I was really happy to have it with me— long shots across the lake, beautiful depth of field, layering of the mountains. Well, you can see for yourself - this lens is a keeper, even though my hand almost fell off carrying it=)