Hailing from London, it's natural that family occasions, weddings and just general catch ups drag us back to Europe every year - I make "drag" sound like it's a real chore which of course it's not really, but we love travelling and exploring so we always try to add on something new and a bit different to our trips. This year, we decided to tag a few days in Lake Como onto a wedding trip to France.
France? Lake Como? They don't go together I hear you say! Well actually, they do!
You see the wedding we were invited to was in Chamonix in the French Alps, which is actually only a 20 minute drive via the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Italy, and a 2.5 hour straight shot to Milan! So France and Italy in one quick trip - oui, c'est possible! Grazie!
We landed in Milan around midday and headed straight for the Como region - just a one hour drive from Milan's Linate airport, and even less if you fly into Malpensa. We hired a car for the week but it's super easy to jump on a train if you're not going too far afield.
If you are driving though, get ready for crazy drivers, furiously fast motorways and insanely narrow, winding roads once you turn off them - do as the Italian's do and neck a quick espresso at the first service station you pass - you'll need all your wits about you!
We had 3 nights in total to explore Lake Como, 2 of which we planned to spend in the regions epicenter - Bellagio. Having meandered our way through Como (quite a big, busy city and the entryway to the rest of Lake Como, it's apparently worth stopping for the Cathedral if you have time. Sadly we didn't on this occasion but you always have to save something for next time! We sped off into the hills surrounding the emerald lake, ducking and diving around tight bends, past buses and oncoming traffic with our eyes half shut, trying to take in the views while we willed our car to be skinnier...rest stops were gratefully received - especially when they looked like this:
We continued on to Nesso - a picturesque village, literally split in half by a gorge that runs through it, which is well worth a pit stop if you want to check out it's gorgeous waterfall, charming bridge, old stone cottages and above all, a LOT of steps!
We followed our noses (the sound of the waterfall) to the Piazza Castello and the Ponte della Civera, a Romanesque bridge made of stone marking the entrance to the gorge. It's worth the 300 and something steps to get there, and if the walk gets your skin sizzling you can always cool off in the lake alongside the locals!
Or just relax and watch local traffic go by...
Having well and truly stretched our legs we continued onto Bellagio. The town centre is pedestrianised unless you're staying at one of the hotels on the waterfront - like the Hotel du Lac we'd chosen. Getting there without running any tourists over was a triumph in itself and something we celebrated as soon as we'd checked into our room on our stunning little terrace.
Although the Italian roads had definitely taken their toll on my driver!
As the evening started to set in, we headed out to explore our surroundings in search of refreshments. The whole town, like most around Lake Como, is set on a fairly steep hill, with narrow, cobbled alleyways running like rivulets from the main road at the top to the lake shore down below. All of them with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered - like our first hole in the wall wine bar, B-Style. With tables literally stuck onto the wall of the old building housing it, patrons tumble out of the tiny bar gossiping energetically as they sip on delicious wines and cocktails.
And then as night fell, we chose a rustic little restaurant called La Fontana for dinner. We literally decided to eat here because the waiter, who was outside when we walked past an hour earlier, said 'buenosera' in such a friendly fashion we felt obliged to go back and check out his menu! Not something I would usually do but every restaurant you walk past in Bellagio is busy and buzzing with customers, and they're all good, so it's difficult to make a choice! The same server spotted us approaching when he came back and welcomed us back like old friends - his restaurant was so inviting that we took the last little table and sat down hungrily. Everything we ate was fabulous - we went for traditional dishes for our first night - plates piled high with fresh bruschetta, lasagna and pesto. Highly recommended for casual, delicious dining.
The next day we woke up to rain, but we didn't let that dampen (get it) our spirits because the hotel's breakfast (included in room rate) was served in the first floor restaurant, with a gorgeous dry but open air terrace overlooking the hustle and bustle of Bellagio's ferry port directly below. The perfect place to watch the world go by with a morning coffee and Nutella pastry.
By the time we'd summoned the energy to explore, the rain had abated enough for a stroll around Bellagio's streets in the daylight, and as we boarded the ferry for Varenna and waved farewell to Bellagio, the clouds had parted and blue sky started to poke through to light the way.
Another gorgeous little waterfront town, Varenna is perfect for a day trip from Bellagio, or any of the town's opposite (Mennagio, Tremezzo or further afield) and an obvious choice for hungry travellers seeking a hearty lunch! We found a perch outside at Cafe Varenna - a gorgeous little bistro serving everything from small sandwiches and cakes to full bowls of fresh pasta, and another excellent place to watch the world literally drift by.
Keen to work off some calories and make room for desert, we headed away from the lake shore and up the hill towards the town's Piazza, home to a stunning 14th century church - Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista.
Before weaving our way back down and grabbing a cone of Gelato for the ferry over to Menaggio, a larger town on the opposite side of the lake.
A larger, and less enchanting town, we didn't spend too long in Menaggio once we'd strolled along the boardwalk which wraps around the lake front - there didn't seem to be a lot to see so we headed back to Bellagio to relax before dinner, using up the last of our energy to walk over the top of the main hill in Bellagio to Pescallo - well worth the short (but steep) stroll to the sleepy little village - a tiny old fishing port which is now home to lots of watersport during the summer months with the most beautiful little pedestrian alleyways leading to people's houses and a couple of b&b's.
We could only find one bar that was open as it was still low season so after a quick drink we headed back to the hustle and bustle of Bellagio's main drag and the bar back at the Hotel du Lac was jumping so we settled in for a few beers and snacks, reliving the days highlights as ferry's continued to take tourists and locals and back and forth across the lake late into the night.
And as our second night in Bellagio drew to a close we packed our bags ready to head to the other side of the Lake the next day!