Lombardy - The Lakes
Lake Como has always been a popular with the rich. From Roman times up to today, this is a place of villas that run along the lake, a limited number of roads that also provide privacy. Villa Olmo, Villa Serbelloni and Villa Carlotta are some some of the noied villas along Lake Como. Yes of course, villas owned by Madonna and George Clooney. Okay, I am no better than everyone else. As our boat took us down the lake towards the town of Como at one point I did ask one of the crew "...dove è la villa di Geoerge Clunny?" Good thing I did as we were just passing in front of it. It was not that impressive from the water, but who knows what it looks like on the inside.
The towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna are located on the shores of the lake. There is very good boat service that connects the towns and enable you to travel and visit the various villas of note.
Villa Carlotta was built in 1690 and is located in the town of Tremezzo. It includes an Italian garden, fountains and sculpturea. (Photo on right.)
In 1834 the Princess Marianne of Nassau bought the villa as a wedding gift for her daughter Carlotta and therefore its name.
We did two villas on the same day, and while we found the villa somewhat interesting the Villa del Balbianello was far more interesting. So depending on the amount of time you have, and if you can only see one, I would skip Carlotta and see Vailla del Balbianello.
The Villa del Balbianello, was used as a set for one of the Star Wars movies and is famous for its terraced gardens and very impressive villa (Photo on left.)
. It sits on a private promontory as you must arrive at the villa by boat. No problem, just take a ferry to the town of Lenno, walk a short distance along the lake and there are private boats to take you around the promontory to the main dock. The villa was built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery. The last owner was retailer and explorer Guido Monzino.
We have more information on our visit to Lake Como on the Italy 2008 page.
It was at Como that Benito Mussolini while on his way to escape to Switzerland, was taken prisoner and then short in a small town on the lake.
Given that Como is only 50 km north of Milan, it can also be visited as a day trip from Milan.
The cathedrale is very impressive. (Photo to right.) There are plenty of trendy places to eat and the shopping if top notch. The Cathedral was built from the 14th to 18th centuries
If you have the time, take the tram to the top of the hill for splendid views of the lake and down on Como.
Bellagio is at the end of the peninsula that separates the two southern arms of the lake. We hear so much about the Bellagio in Las Vegas we wanted to make sure we had visited the real thing. It is a very pleasant town with some sights but you mainly go here to relax and use it as a base for touring the lake. We actually stayed in a small town just 5 km from here.
On our 2000 trip to Italy we flew from Vancouver to Milan, picked up our car and headed to Lake Orta to stay in the very pleasant old village of Orta San Giulio. Whether this is a travel destination or if you are flying into Milan, and need a day to recoup from the jet lag this is a great place to relax. and get over your jet lag.
Orta San Giulio is the main tourist centre and also the location of the health resort on the small Lake Orta. There is a section of the old town that illustrates the previous wealth of its history. Baroque style elegant buildings make this a charming place to stay. The Palazzo della Communità dates fro 1582 and is found on the central piazza overlooking the lake.
On our 2000 tip, our hotel was clean, and right on the lake, but, we were unhappy with our treatment. Perhaps it was our error - arriving quite late in the evening due to a delayed trip, and not really asking the right questions as we checked in, but somehow we never realized we had paid for half-board and did not know it. They would wave to us each evening as we left for dinner, and you would think that after three days or never taking a meal in the hotel someone would say something! We even asked her for directions to a restaurants many evenings!
The old town is build around the small, Lake Orta. Cars are left in a car park at the end of town and you walk the narrow lanes to arrive at the village centre. The lack of cars and the continual parking crisis of most Italian towns is a pleasure.
The main Piazza Motta is a great large meeting place. There are plenty of great little hotels in the town and some very good restaurants. I don't think you can get it more relaxing than sitting in the piazza in the evening having a drink, listening to music of the italian language and just soaking in the sights.
In the middle of the lake is a small island - Isola di Giulio - with an old basilica that dates from the 11th and 12th centuries and restored later. It sites in the middle of the small island and there is a ring of old houses along the shore of the island. It makes for endless views. Inside the basilica are Romanesque sculptures and frescos from the 15th and 16th centuries. Take a boat to the island and walk the narrow walkways around the monastery.
Lake Orta makes a great base for touring the area, or taking a train for a day trip to Milan. It is a short drive to Stresa on Lake Maggiore.
Be sure to try the Albergo Ristoro Olina, via Olina 40, Orta San Giulio. In 2000, this was our second visit to this restaurant. It was just as good five years later! The Olina also offers a few rooms.