This summer we didn’t really take a formal vacation. And by that I mean getting on a plane and going somewhere far away. Instead we took several long weekends which I have to say is way less stressful. And I do realize that by living in Italy I am totally spoiled by the fact that I could take long weekends to new places my entire life and never get bored.
One June weekend we headed up to see Christo’s Floating Piers. After staying the night in Bergamo, and spending the next day litterally walking on water, we headed west, to Lake Como. Although it was pure vacation time for me, Domenico was actually there to meet with clients. One of the most exciting projects he is currently working on is the restoration of part of a villa on Lake Como. Since I had never seen it, it seemed like the perfect excuse for a short break.
Also? It had been a while since I was last on Lake Como. I actually spent quite a bit of time in this part of Italy while working on my book Villas on the Italian Lakes. (Long out of print, sadly. But you can still find copies online, including the French edition which seems to cost less).
Beyond booking a hotel for our three nights in Como I made almost no plans before arriving. These days, when I’m not working, the most luxurious thing I can think of is to play it by ear. I know this sometimes means I miss out on things, or don’t get into the ‘best’ restaurant. But there is a lot to be said for not over planning.
And in this case, it worked out just fine. And since it did, I thought I’d share where we ended up, so you don’t have to do so much planning if you end up on Lake Como too.
On Thursday we got up at the crack of dawn to see the Floating Piers. So we were finished and done by 11am. We decided to head directly west, to Lake Como, and figure out where to eat lunch once we got to the lake. Rather than taking the autostrada all the way to Cernobbio, which is on the south west tip of the lake, (and would have been the quickest) we decided to drive up the east side of the lake, and take the car ferry across from Varenna, and then drive down the west side of the lake to Cernobbio. Why? I thought it was to enjoy even more of the amazing scenery of the lake. And while that was certainly true, it turns out Domenico had an ulterior motive.
Surprise, surprise: the Moto Guzzi Museum is located halfway up the Eastern shore of Lake Como, in Madello del Lario. Domenico pretended like it was a fortuitous coincidence, but….really? Anyway, the museum was pretty cool, but I was most certainly the only girl for miles.
I was hoping to find the perfect lakeside restaurant before we tackled the museum, and we did. We stumbled upon Il Giardinetto, and had persico from the lake, and a crisp cold glass of white wine with a lake view. Perfect.
We then headed up to Varenna, which looked darling, and which I’d love to come back to one day. But we were there to catch the ferry and so hopped right on . It’s really a great way to see the lake, because you can look north, towards the mountains, and south, towards the two fingers of the lake.
Once we debarked we headed down the coast to our hotel in Cernobbio. The Hotel Regina Olga is definitely old school, and maybe a bit worn at the edges, but our room was big, comfortable, affordable, clean and had a great view of the lake.
Our first dinner was the only one I had planned. The Market Place is one of the newest restaurants in Como, opened by chef Davide Maci. It’s part of the trend in Italy of high end creative cuisine, in a relaxed setting. It’s located in a nondescript area of Como, but that’s ok. The food is the thing here. What I loved best? The cocktail that was served in an antique teacup. One of the best I’ve had in s long time: cognac, pineapple reduction, lime, green tea and franciacorta. I also loved the Baccala stuffed ravioli and the perfectly cooked orata on top of humus with pickled kumquats.
The next day while Domenico was at the site, meeting with clients, I discovered a magical garden: Giardino della Valle. It meanders down a hill, and even though I got caught in a summer shower, I was completely seduced by it’s abandoned charm.
I met up with Domenico and his clients for lunch at Villa D’Este. Which, if you haven’t heard of it, is one of the great hotels of the world. Really. Believe me. I’ve stayed there in the past (oh the days of expense accounts!) Anyway, if you can’t afford to stay there, eating lunch and having a walk around the gardens is the next best thing.
We had lunch in the garden, by the pool. I had fried fish with tartar sauce. It was kind of like country club food but in a very good way Even though we had WAY too much wine, we decided to take a long walk up a big hill. Villa d’Este has one of the most beautiful gardens on the lake and if you see only one garden while you are there, make this the one. We walked all through the formal part, and even made it up to the faux towers at the top. The string of towers were built by a previous owner, so that her husband could play war games. Kind of like an old fashioned Xbox. We enjoyed well deserved drinks on the hotel terrace after our walk
That night we met up with Domenico’s clients again, this time for dinner at boat club full of locals. Ristorante La Baia Di Moltrasio is hard to get to (we had to park way up the hill and walk down) and only has a few tables. But since the tables are on a narrow terrace hanging out over the water, it’s worth the effort.
Our final day was spent on the water. As it should be. If you really want to get a sense of the lake, make sure you get yourself on a boat. There are organized trips on the lake that depart from Como and Cernobbio and other towns, but if you can book a private boat that is the way to go. We were lucky enough to be taken out by the electrician from Domenico’s project who picked us up at the Villa D’este docks for a 6-hour, whirlwind tour.
Because I know you will ask. No I did not see George. But I did see his house . We passed by so many beautiful towns and villas that it was difficult to take it all in. We also saw villa’s belonging to people like Versace and Richard Branson.
For lunch we docked at Crotto dei Plantani and sat on their vine covered terrace, looking out at the lake, sipping prosecco and nibbling on truffle covered fish tartare.
Which, I must say, was a pretty perfect way to wrap up a weekend that left almost everything to chance.
Hotel Regina Olga
Via Regina 18, Cerobbio
Via Regina 40, Cernobbio
Museo Moto Guzzi
Open Monday-Friday, 3pm-4pm.
Giardino della Valle
Via Monte Santo 5, Cernobbio
The Market Place
Via Gerolamo Borsieri 21, Como
Ristorante Il Giardinetto
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi 10, Mandello del Lario
Ristorante La Baia Di Moltrasio
Via Bellini 4, Moltrasio
Crotto dei Plantani
Via Regina 73, Brienno
Do you have your own villa that needs restoring? Or maybe you’re looking for one? Just ask Domenico, and he’ll be happy to help you out.
For more information on dining in Florence and Italy download my app, EAT ITALY. EAT ITALY is a free app, and contains guides to Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence, Torino and Umbria (and an ever expanding list of regions and cities) available as in-app purchases for both iPhone and iPad.