Monday, March 01, 2010

Italy Day 9 - 4th September 2009

We left our intrepid tourists (that would be me, Daphne and Stephen) in Piacenza on the evening of Day 8, recovering from the trauma of the tyre blowout on the way north to the Italian lakes.

That evening, we pulled off the A1 autostrada in our 'new' rental car and found a lovely hotel for the night which had a restaurant within it's walls so we didn't have to go out again. It also had cute covered parking areas outside each ground floor room but as you can see below, the weather was wonderful again so we, or the car, didn't actually need protection.

And please, no jokes about being in Italy without protection !!

It was (and still is, I assume) only 75 miles from Piacenza to Como but as we were taking the scenic route where possible and also having to negotiate cities like Milan and Monza, by the time we got parked in Como, it had taken us the best part of 3 hours. But 3 wonderful hours with views of green valleys, snow capped mountains and classic small Italian hill towns.

It was lunchtime when we reached Como and I have to admit that we just wanted a quick meal and then get on with exploring the yes, we went to a McDonalds ! The upside was that this was a McDonalds just a few metres from the edge of Lake Como. The downside was that it was overcast and it WAS a McDonalds !

I'd been anticipating Lake Como (and promoting it to Daphne and Stephen) ever since we started planning this trip and so I was really depressed with the weather. I wanted blue skies and bright sunshine and on arrival we found only cloudy skies and a dreary dullness. After eating, we walked around part of the town before heading for the lake itself. Once again I loved the buildings and the narrow streets and I couldn't imagine anywhere more removed from the tourist trap towns that we have in 'our' Lake District.

Given the weather, we decided to return to the car and drive up the narrow lakeside road to the town of Bellagio, another of the highlights for me ever since seeing the Vegas casino that was inspired by it. Yes I know that's a bizarre reason for wanting to visit any location but if you've ever been to The Bellagio in Vegas, you'll understand.

The SS583 from Como to Bellagio has to be the most stunning yet dangerous 20 mile stretch of road in Italy, and that's saying something. Stunning because of the continuous lake views and dangerous because of the local idiots who regard the road as their own race track. It's narrow, very narrow. Only room for 2 cars to squeeze past in most places and even then you risk a meeting of wing mirrors. You can easily spot local cars - they're the ones with broken or missing wing mirrors.

So we drove along, trying to enjoy the views while not going so slowly that we'd annoy anyone behind us. Anyone but a local that is. They'd zoom up behind us with horns blaring even if we were approaching a corner ! Didn't matter, they wanted past. Brow of a hill, they wanted past. Short tunnel or arch with room for one car, they STILL wanted past. You either put up with the continuous noise and angry gestures from the car behind or you actually have to pull over as best you can and let them past, accompanied by even more horn blaring and unique Italian hand gestures.

Heading north with the lake on our left, we stopped half way up the road at a particularly scenic spot which had steps to the right leading up to some of the many homes which are built into the mountain side. Part way up the series of steep steps, I turned around to face the lake and couldn't believe what I saw. It was as if someone had pulled the clouds away like a quilt and left behind the blue skies and bright sunshine that I'd been hoping for.

It was glorious. It was like switching to a full 3D high definition tv view and so with spirits lifted, we started looking for a hotel somewhere along the road. Minutes later we shot past a concealed hotel entrance on the left which meant the hotel might have lovely views overlooking the lake. Risking life and limb, we did a U-turn (well more like a 15 point turn) and drove back to it. The narrow driveway curved down towards the lake and we managed to park near the hotel. We couldn't see the lake !

Inside we met a very nice owner and as the rates were reasonable considering the location, we booked for the night. We went up to our adjoining rooms and upon opening the door, we entered to darkness. After dumping our cases on the beds, we went to raise the very effective full length window shutters.

OMG I don't think I've ever been so overcome by a surprise view in my life. As the shutters were raised, we were temporarily blinded by the sunlight streaming in to overwhelm the darkness. Once our eyes became accustomed, we looked out onto a long balcony beyond which was a view so unexpected and so beautiful that we stood there with mouths open.

Suddenly all my hopes for Lake Como were not only realised but surpassed and what a dramatic way to have them surpassed. A photo just doesn't do it justice. It only took us seconds to decide we wanted to stay there 2 nights and I went down to reception to book another night but was told there was a wedding party booked in the next day (it was a Saturday) and they were full up. Sighhhhhh.

Once settled and having had enough of the view for then, we set off back up the lake road to Bellagio. We parked just south of the town as I'd wanted to see the gardens of Villa Melzi, the inspiration for parts of the Bellagio Casino interior in Vegas. Sadly it was just 20 minutes from closing time so we weren't able to enter. I did take this shot from the main entrance and I guess I'll just have to return someday ! Imagine the lake being just out of view to the right, as the gardens skirt the waters edge, and you'll see why exploring these gardens would be a delight.

We then walked the short distance into Bellagio and again the classic Italian lake town was everything I'd hoped it would be and we spent the next few hours just walking around the main street which came to a point where the lake was almost all around.

It was all so beautiful on this perfect Italian evening. Ferries were arriving and departing to and from various parts of the lake but these were small, almost personal ferries so the town was never swamped with cars or people. There were several large imposing hotels at the end of the town, all vying for the best locations overlooking the lake. Just after sunset, we found a lovely restaurant which had an outdoor seating section across the narrow one way street, accessed via a pedestrian crossing which seemed more like a carpet leading to our table.

While we ate, we watched visitors enjoying early evening walks around the town and by the time dusk had removed most of the colours from view, Bellagio became even more enchanting.

I'd never eaten pizza in a more scenic and magical location and when the restaurant lamps came on, the view towards the lake from my chair will live long in my memory.

We strolled back to our car and just before I got in, I wanted a last shot of Bellagio as it looked on that September evening. I've not had much experience of taking night scenes so just picked a random time of 15 seconds and this was the result.

The drive back to the hotel was less dangerous as we could at least see the headlights of cars before they'd come flying round the corners and being late, we rarely had a car right behind wanting to overtake us. We could therefore take in the views across the lake with the mountain side homes creating a blanket of sparkling lights for our enjoyment.

What a wonderful day we'd had to help us 'recover' from the previous one. Lake Como and Bellagio were spectacular locations and I hope my long winded account of our vist to them hasn't put anyone off. If you're planning a trip to Italy, you must, I say, must, go to them both.

I know I'd like to do so again one day.


Daphne said...

I will always remember that moment when we first saw the view from the hotel. I couldn't stop laughing because it was just SO stunning - it was like - - "you want a view? Well try THIS!" What a wonderful day it was - thank you for your evocative description, and great photos, of those happy memories.

Jennyta said...

The photos are beautiful, Ian and make me desperate to go on holiday again myself. Oh for some sun and heat!

rhymeswithplague said...

I've never been to Italy, but your photographs and description make me feel as though I have.

Did your little group "do" the Amalfi coast on this trip?

Silverback said...

Yes wonderful memories, Daphne.

Thank you, Jenny and the photos make ME want to go back too.

Bob, we flew into Rome and never went further south. We didn't want to rush things and hopefully we'll be back to enjoy the Amalfi coast another time. Thanks for your kind words.

autos said...

Nice places =)
I want visit it.

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