A Painter's Paradise: Lake Como – Borrowing Britain

Ciao ciao!

This weekend I visited the Italian province of Lombardy and boy was it bellisima! On the map, Lake Como is surrounded by thin strips of mountainous land mass that mimic a stick figure’s legs. Charming towns with pastel homes and cypress trees dot the lakefronts, and water ferries seem to be the preferred method of transportation between each.

Based on my experiences this weekend, I could write an entire bog post about what not to do when traveling. And perhaps I will In due time. Spoiler alert: it rained A LOT. Day 1 I arrived in Mandello del Lario where my Airbnb was located. Y’all, I don’t have enough words to express my positive experience at this Tower of Barbossa B&B. Gabriele picked me up from the train station and immediately prepared a welcome lunch for me after letting me settle in.. (They own the finest osteria in town!) All he asked was my favorite kind of pasta – um bolognese please! What I got was a remarkable primi of pasta, a plate of their local prosciutto and cheese, a warm vegetable medley, ice cream with coffee poured on top AND an entire bottle of chianti that he split with me over a conversation half Italian and half English. Mom and dad, take notes for my next welcome home reception!

Meanwhile a local couple, and Gabriele’s close friends, joined our table (helping themselves to a fresh bottle of wine too!) Claudio and Anna didn’t speak a lick of English, but I was able to find out Claudio is a big fan of American music – especially Johnny Cash. They were heading to the neighboring town of Lecco, so I threw caution to the wind and hitched a ride! With Johnny Cash’ Greatest Hits blasting, and a magnificent lake view to my right, it was a moment I’ll never forget.

Lecco itself had a nice shopping center, but I didn’t stay long because my body was a bit put off from the 2 flights, 3 trains and shuttle bus I had taken in my travels that day. I will say that Lecco is home to an abundance of dogs though. And they seem to rule the city. You’ll see them slipping through boutiques and restaurants and taking quick rinses in the lake. After practicing my fair share of posso accarazarlo (“Can I pet your dog?”), I guessed my way back to Mandello. One big plate of tagliatelle later, I turned in. The next morning, my heart was set on exploring the mid-lake towns!

Popularly known as the cultured pearl of the lake, Bellagio is filled with cobblestoned alleyways and shops that have been around since 1855. Villas abound here, and history does too. Hey, if it’s good enough for George clooney, it’s good enough for me! I let myself get lost and found some gorgeous hand-painted wooden trays along the way. For lunch, I dined at the Pizzeria la Grotta and ate carbonara until my heart’s content.

After lunch, I set off on a car ferry to visit one of the definite must-do’s in Lake Como. Villa del Balbianello is famous for its use in movies like James Bond and Star Wars, but I’ve been aching to see this place as it’s a common site for styled wedding editorials! You have 2 options to get to the entrance: water taxi (approx 6 min) or a brief hike (25 min). It had started raining on my journey over, and the dock looked deserted so I mistakenly thought the boats were on hold for inclement weather. I opted for the hike and regretted it immediately. I imagine it offers stunning views with a bit of sun and warmth, so I’d definitely recommend it to those who aren’t afraid of a little climb! The villa was built in the late 1700’s but eventually passed into the possession of one Guido Monzino, a Milanese businessman who was more of a collector than anything. The rooms of this palace were filled to the brim with trophies from his expeditions around the world – he even had some secret passageways too! The views from this villa were undoubtedly my favorite in all of Lake Como.

Your best “home base” when navigating the mid-lake region of Como, Varenna is chock of narrow alleyways with charming restaurants and local finds. I didn’t get to explore this town much, but they make a mean prosciutto pizza. Take some time to stroll by the lake, breathing in the fresh air with no destination in particular. You’ll have some quality views and you might get to know some of the locals!

Aside from the Grand Hotel Tremezzo that stands proudly on the lakefront, Villa Carlotta is this towns claim to fame. With gardens that quite literally take your breath away, allot at least 3 hours to see it all. As you climb the grand stone staircase, you imagine how nice it would be to arrive for a black tie dinner party here in this villa’s prime. Gowns in deep hues and men puffing cigars, it’s not hard to envision this scene. The mosaic tiles, ornate handpainted ceilings and picture perfect balconies are the holy trinity of this pretty white icon. I could have stayed forever, and could you blame me?

Allora, my time in Lake Como was every bit a fairytale as I imagined it. And though I’ve gotten my Italian pasta fix for now, I can’t imagine it’ll be long before my next trip to Italy!