From Sonoma to Lombardia

As I indicated in “About”, although Sonoma is my usual happy writing venue, a major exception is when my photog (wife) and I venture to Italy which is where we have been for the past two weeks.  Two wonderful but rapid weeks. We scored a great non-stop from San Francisco International to Frankfurt, brief layover, then on to Milan Malpensa Airport. We arrived in early afternoon, so after picking up our rental car (Avis of course) we motored north toward Lago di Como, our first stop.  I must say, this is the fifth time I have driven around Italy and the signage just seems to get better. We had a GPS but the signs for the next town were clear and with a decent map for reference that was all you needed.

The drive was short, about two hours, the second hour being 35 km around the lake from the city of Como to the lakeside town of Bellagio. We were blown away.  Lake Como is one of several glacier lakes surrounded by the Italian, and in the case of Como, the Swiss and Italian Alps. Breathtaking is not sufficient to describe the majesty and beauty of the treasure. 

Lake Como (Linda C)

Lake Como (Linda C)

We arrived in Bellagio around 4:30 pm and found our Hotel Du Lac.  We were thrilled with the location right on the lake.  We had booked all of our lodging on-line with the best research we could do using TripAdvisor, Bookings.com, Venere.com and individual websites.  Each of these sites has improved and offer reviews by previous visitors.  Those reviews are invaluable in deciding which hotel or B&B to actually book and we struck gold with Du Lac! 

Hotel Du Lac (Linda C)

Hotel Du Lac (Linda C)

The best way to describe our room at Hotel Du Lac is to say we were on the Lake. We were on the 4th floor, the top, and we had a commanding view of the lake side park and the ferry terminal, of which there are several.   We decided to wander the streets and steep alley ways and get a snack before taking a nap (it was now 26 hours since we got up to go to SFO the day before).

Bellagio Wandering (Linda C)

Bellagio Wandering (Linda C)

 We realized after about 30 minutes that the restaurants did not open for dinner until 7PM and the Pizzerias and Trattorias that might have offered pizza or snacks were limited in this small lake side town.  In any event, in 45 minutes we were back at Hotel Du Lac and settling in at a table for a light dinner before turning in after about 30 hours from arising in SF and hitting the pillow in beautiful Bellagio, Como, Italy.  

We awoke on day 2 with the sun streaming in our window over the lake.  Just a glorious beginning to a great day.  The Hotel Du Lac serves a typical breakfast (buffet style) of eggs, fruit, pastries, bacon, yogurt, granola, and my favorite, thinly sliced ham, prosciutto, salami and cheeses.  The coffee with hot milk is to die for and I could not get enough of it.  

The great and friendly Du Lac staff had arranged a water taxi tour of the most beautiful villas of Lago di Como so we decided to have lunch before setting out.  Pizza and wine were the order of the day so we found ourselves relaxing in a tree-lined Trattoria right along the water’s edge. The people watching and food were exactly what we needed after our previous 30 hour day. Yummy!

We rallied at the water taxi pier with about 14 other people who all spoke english for our “most beautiful villas tour”.  Our host and hostess were Luca, a native of Italy and the taxi driver/tour guide and his wife Jeanine, an Australian transplant who served to gather us up and assist in boarding.  For the record, this 2.5 hour tour cost 35 Euros each which by the end of the tour we deemed fair.  We watched Bellagio and Hotel Du Lac fade behind us as we began crossing the lake to Tramezzo in the distance.

Villa Tour departure (Linda C)

Villa Tour departure (Linda C)

Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy, only Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore are larger.  It rivals Lake Tahoe (1645 ft deep) at over 1320 ft deep and is one of the deepest lakes in Europe.  Unlike Tahoe where the bottom of the lake is still 4600 ft above sea level, the bottom of Lake Como is more than 656 ft below sea-level. But I digress.

Luca pointed out numerous beautiful villas that originally were only accessible via the water side but a road virtually circumnavigating the lake now makes them accessible via road.  In some cases, unfortunately, this has cut the gardens apart to accommodate the roadway.  He also pointed out a villa that is known to resemble George’s (Clooney don’t you know) villa on Lake Como and how the tourists often disturb the residents.  We wouldn’t be doing that.  We also saw a very beautiful modern villa owned by that adventurer and founder of Virgin Atlantic et al, Richard Branson.  After a quick 20 minutes underway we arrived at our only stop on this tour, Villa del Balbianello.  Balbianello is located on the tip of a small wooded peninsula.  It is known and appreciated for its historic past and its elaborate terraced gardens.

Villa Balbianello Gardens (Linda C)

Villa Balbianello Gardens (Linda C)

Built in 1787 on the site of a monastery for  Cardinal Durini and later owned by Giuseppe Arconati Visconti, many improvements were made and a Loggia were added to house Giuseppe’s library.  By the early 1900’s the buildings were rescued by American Army General Butler Ames as they had fallen into bad disrepair.  In 1974, the villa was purchased by the explorer Guido Monzino who lead the  first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest.  He filled the villa with his eclectic artifacts and collections from his numerous expeditions to the Himalayas and the Arctic.  Ultimately, in 1988,  the villa found its way into the National Trust of Italy through the vision of Monzino.  
 
 
Villa Balbianello Loggia (Linda C)
Villa Balbianello Loggia (Linda C)
We departed Villa B with a greater appreciation of both the beauty and history of this Italian National Treasure  rescued over the years by an admiring American General.
 
The boat ride back to Bellagio and Hotel Du Lac went quickly and thoughts turned to dinner and our next wine experience.  We had asked the hotel staff (again – most helpful) to make a reservation for us and by 8PM we were sitting water side at the Hotel Florence Ristorante.  We shared dishes of Tortelloni (a larger version of Tortellini) filled with meat and cheese with a very light tomato based ragu and Ricciola (also known as Amberjack) a very delicately flavored fish with firm flesh.  The hit, however, was the wine. A 2007 Barbaresco from Prunotto.  Although brought to prominence after World War II by the Prunotto family, it has been owned by the Marchesi Antinori since 1989.  Very structured and intense but with its lower % alcohol not a bad pairing with pasta and fish.  Yum!!
 
After an after dinner stroll and our first Gelato of the day we slid gently into bed savoring our 2nd day in Italy knowing that fine food, wine adventures and countryside beauty awaited us as we looked forward to tomorrow’s journey to Veneto and the Valpolicella.
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About John Compisi

John Compisi is a freelance travel, adventure and lifestyle writer focusing on California, Italy, France or where ever life takes him. He is a published member of the SF Bay Area Travel Writers and the Redwood Writers Club. John, and photographer wife Linda, reside in Sonoma County and love nothing more than getting out there and experiencing the world, no matter if it’s a destination close to home, a road trip, or a journey to romantic international destinations.
This entry was posted in Amarone, Barbaresco, Barbera d' Asti, Barbera d'Alba, Barolo, Italian Riviera, Italian Wines, Italy, Liguria, Lombardy, Modena, Parma, Piemonte, Uncategorized, Valpolicella, Veneto, Wine, Wineries and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to From Sonoma to Lombardia

  1. Susan says:

    John, love the detail of your experience at Lago di Como, I look forward to the next posts and further explorations in other parts of Italy.
    ciao,
    Susan

  2. Fratello Nino says:

    Dear John C and Photog partner Linda C. Yours is just an absolutely mahvelous dahling blahg and we have yet to begin traveling with you!! Look forward to another prosetravel cum digipics

  3. ingaaksamit says:

    The lake looks gorgeous and very inviting.

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