The Lake District spans three regions of Italy, from the eastern border of Piedmont (in the middle of Lake Maggiori), all of Lombardy, to the western border of the Veneto (in the middle of Lake Garda). Thanks to their origination in the Alps, the lakes are rugged on their northern end, but flatten out to the south, as the terrain reaches the Po River plain. (See the map below. Enlarge to focus on Como.)
We’re focusing today on Lake Como, which is in Lombardy and not far from Lugano, Switzerland. Considered to be a playground of the rich and famous (think George Clooney, Richard Branson, Donatella Versace, Madonna), the area combines idyllic charm, Alpine scenery, and ancient Roman history.
The lake is Europe’s deepest and the third largest on the continent. To help protect trade routes from Rome to Switzerland, Julius Caesar sent 5,000 Romans to settle in what is now the town of Como. The rich and famous who lived their then included the Roman authors Pliny the Elder and Younger.
As the silk capital of Italy, Como produces 85% of all Italian, and 70% of European, silk. (Silk has been produced in Como for over 4,000 years, when silkworms were first smuggled out of China.) Big designer names relying on Como’s silk houses include Yves St Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, Armani, Hermes, Valentino, Versace and Ungaro.
Bob and I began our honeymoon in Como. After getting a ticket for parking on the wrong side of the street after stopping for coffee, we drove to the Villa D’Este in nearby Cernobbio. The palace (now a five star hotel) and garden are one of the most remarkable illustrations of refined Renaissance culture. The villa’s design, along with the architectural components in the garden, make this a unique example of an Italian 16th-century palazzo — and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Besides touring the grounds, we walked across the street and climbed to some ancient Roman ruins from which we had a spectacular view of the lake. We’d never before seen, or actually walked around in, over 2000 years of culture and history.
That was 2000. We returned on a business trip in 2007, bringing my Mom and Noah, who was only about a year old. We loved our last trip so much that we wanted to share it with them.
So, we once again drove up the coast a bit to stop and view another spectacular garden in Tremezzo, at the Villa Carlotta. Built from 1690-1745, the villa includes 17 acres of gardens, which owe their reputation to over 150 varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas. Both the garden and the villa’s art museum are open to the public.
Leaving the Carlotta and walking up the street a bit, we stopped at an outdoor trattoria to eat an excellent pizza, shop for beautiful silk scarves, and grab a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel. (By the way, that’s me on the right with my Mom and Noah. I’m wearing the scarf Bob bought me on our honeymoon when we were last here.)
Don’t see a scarf you like? Don’t worry. There are plenty more to choose from at our next stop, which is Menaggio. After parking, having a coffee and doing a bit more shopping, we take the ferry across the lake to Bellagio (yes, the real Bellagio, not the one in Vegas).
Bob caught this amazing sunset photo from the ferry. Mom was right!
So, we got off the ferry, took the car back to Como, put Noah to bed, and opened the bottle of wine we bought in Tremezzo. Benessimo!
Masthead photo: Sunset on Lake Como (Bob)
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