Lake Como, Italy
Day 3 – To Lake Como
I woke up on Day 3 of our so-far-epic European road trip still buzzing from the events of the previous day. A day we spent crisscrossing parts of the Swiss Alps. You can read about Day 2 here. The residual buzz was also mixed with some regret because we had to leave the incredible Swiss Alps and Switzerland and head for Lake Como in Italy. I would have preferred to spend another incredible day in the Swiss Alps as we’d barely scratched the surface.
This was another hammer-blow lesson for us. Next time we will allow more time in each location so that we could properly enjoy them. What we were doing was akin to eating one spoonful of the most delicious plate of jollof rice, meat and dodo (fried plantain) and leaving the rest. This only serves to whet your appetite, leaving you hungry for more.
Just after we had breakfast we checked out of the hotel and loaded up the car. We were now quite good at fitting all our luggage into the ‘RS. Top tip, you can fit a lot of clothing and luggage around the roll cage if you use soft bags. We left shortly after 11 am to begin the 228km drive to Lake Como in Italy. The original plan was for us to tackle some of the passes in the Italian Alps such as the Stelvio, but we had set a relentless pace so far and we thought it best to relax for a few days in Lake Como.
We will be back next year to explore the Italian Alps.
Hotel Villa Flori
The journey to Lake Como took just over three hours and I selected the fastest, most direct, (read: boring), route. I’d have done more of these multi-country road trips before had I known how easy it was to do so.
We arrived at our lovely, lovely hotel on the Western shores of Lake Como shortly after 2 pm. We had to have our temperature checked and sign an ‘I DO NOT HAVE COVID-19 AND I HAVE NOT HUNG OUT WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS COVID-19’ disclaimer form before we were allowed to check-in. Even though this added a few minutes to the tedium of checking-in, it was strangely reassuring. Constant temperature checks at most establishments were a feature throughout our stay in Como. I felt far more comfortable in Switzerland and Italy than I’d ever felt back in the UK.
Our base for the next few days would be the gorgeous boutique hotel, the Hotel Villa Flori, housed in a restored 19th-century villa on the western shores of Lake Como, between Como and Cernobbio. It has been restored to an incredibly high standard but still retains an ‘old world’ charm and grandeur. The best thing about this hotel is the view across the lake itself. Getting a room with a lake view is an absolute must because waking up to the view across the lake is worth it. Trust me.
The second-best thing about the hotel was the covered car park in which the RS was safely ensconced. Adequate parking facilities were a requirement for every hotel we booked. No secure car-parking facilities, no booking. Priorities eh?
I’d started taking pictures even before we checked in and I continued to take pictures after we had checked in, dropped our bags and gone to the terrace bar. We sat at a corner table on the terrace overlooking the lake for some ‘cool down’ drinks. Ah! this was the life.
We did not stay on the terrace for too long though. You do not visit Lake Como, one of the most spectacular locations on the planet and sit on a terrace admiring it. You need to explore it.
So we put on our walking shoes and headed into town. It is a 33-minute walk to the town center and this is the only real downside of staying in this particular hotel. This 2.7km walk south along the western side of Lake Como takes you past a number of interesting sights and landmarks though, so I did not really consider it a ‘downside’. Plus, it forced me to walk and heaven knows I absolutely HATE walking. The first significant landmark we walked past was the Lido Villa Olmo, a pool club with restaurants and bar services. The next one we passed was the Villa Olmo itself, a spectacular neoclassical villa, once a summer retreat for the aristocracy. It is not always open to the public, but its lush gardens are, and it is clear this was a focal point for the locals.
We kept walking along the stunning western shore of the lake, the path narrowed as we approached the town center. There were lush flower gardens on one side and the lake on the other, till we reached the Tempio Voltiano.
The Tempio Voltiano is a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta, the scientist and inventor of the electrical battery. You learn something new every day, even on holiday.
The town center itself was a hive of activity, you’d not know there was a pandemic going on. The walkway along the lake was full of people enjoying the sunshine and good weather. Most were observing the social distancing rules and were being sensible. We found a nice cafe opposite the marina where we had our temperature taken before we were shown to our table. There we had a nice light lunch with a few refreshing drinks as we watched the goings-on in the busy marina.
We had a leisurely stroll back to the hotel and I think the late afternoon sunshine made the walk back even more scenic and beautiful. Don’t ask me how that was even possible.
We had a snooze before dressing up for dinner. Dinner at this hotel though was spectacular. Tables were beautifully laid out next to the lake, with soft, warm light provided by dozens of candles on each table and all around the dining area.
Many of the diners were not even guests of the hotel and it was clear this restaurant was much in demand by the Lake Como glitterati.
I watched as fabulously-dressed couples and groups of diners were seated all around us and it dawned on me, I’d not seen any scruffily-dressed person all day. Even their pets were well-groomed and pampered. The Italians are clearly born with a sense of fashion.
The dinner was the perfect end to a perfect day. If you want to propose to your partner but you are unsure of the answer, take her to Lake Como, stay in this hotel and propose to her over a candlelit dinner by the lake,
she will definitely, definitely, definitely say yes.
Day 4 – A Most ‘Touristy’ Day
A rare, car-free day. I saw the RS only very briefly when I went to say ‘good morning’ to it in its parking bay just before breakfast. Breakfast was served on the same outside terrace we had had dinner the night before. We had breakfast as we watched the water taxis ferry passengers to and from the hotel.
We headed back into town after breakfast because we wanted to indulge in some ‘touristy’ activities, and they do not come any more ‘touristy’ than a visit to Brunate.
Brunate is a town situated 500 meters above Como and Lake Como and 720 meters above sea-level. Como and Brunate are linked by a steep, winding, narrow road and by the Como to Brunate Funicular (cable-operated railway). The inventor of the electrical battery, Alessandro Volta lived briefly in Brunate.
The Funicular railway station is in the piazza De Gasperi and you can not just turn up and buy tickets, first you present yourself to the cashier who gives you a numbered ticket and time slot. You then come back at your allocated time slot and then you can buy the required Funicular tickets.
We came back at the allocated time, bought the tickets and jumped in the Funicular (Funicular does sound more impressive than ‘cable-driven cars’) for the 7-minute, 1km, 500m climb to Brunate.
The views as the Funicular gradually ascended is well worth the visit on its own, but it probably is not for you if you do not have a head for heights.
Brunate’s baroque catholic church, Chiesa Sant’Andrea Apostolo, with its faded pink exterior and giant bell peeking out of the bell tower is one of the first interesting buildings we came across after leaving Brunate’s Funicular station.
There are quite a few walks, trails and places to visit in Brunate. The Volta Lighthouse in San Maurizio is one. You can embark on the ‘Mountain Lodge’ walk from there. It is called the ‘Mountain Lodge walk’ because there are three separate mountain lodges on this particular trail: The ‘Carla’, the ‘Bondella’ and the ‘Boletto’ mountain lodges.
We elected to visit the ‘Punto Panoramico’ or scenic point, at the end of Via Pissarottino. The Via Pissarottino is dark in some parts, narrow and quite steep. You can forget the high heels if you want to visit Brunate. We walked past some incredible mountain residences, one was a former royal residence, and you have to marvel at the herculean effort it took to build such ornate and grand houses here.
Via Pissarottino ends at the scenic point overlooking Lake Como. I think you can see the whole lake from this point, justifying Brunate’s ‘balcony of the Alps’ nickname. Wow. Just wow.
We retraced our steps back to the Brunate Funicular station, stopping briefly to take in the views from the Parco di Villa Franceschini, a park and garden on the other side of the main market and square. Cue more ‘WOWs’ and ‘ooohs’.
I wish we had more time here, indeed, I’d have loved to have spent more time at every location we had visited so far on this road trip and that is one of the most important lessons I’d learned on this trip.
We headed back to the station for the descent back to Lake Como 500m below us. We were first in the queue, so we could secure the seats in the very first carriage with its amazing views of the hills and lake as the train descended. Pity our view was blocked by a group of tourists who ignored the ‘keep clear’ safety signs and totally blocked our views.
It was all I could do to restrain myself from giving them a full-blown Nigerian tirade. Thankfully, the journey to the bottom took only 7 minutes and I managed to restrict myself to shooting the group dirty looks.
We left the station and headed to the famous Garden Bar Cecatto to sample some of its world-famous ice creams. Jeeez! The ice cream there certainly deserves its reputation. If you ever visit Lake Como, please try the ice cream there and if you do not like it, I’ll refund the cost of the ice cream. It is that good.
There was still one more ‘touristy’ activity we had planned, so from the garden bar, we made our way to the public boat service terminal, to return to the hotel across the lake by boat.
We bought our tickets and waited for the next boat to dock and we were soon ushered into the boat by the impeccably-dressed boat crew.
We headed upstairs onto the open deck for the journey across the lake and this provided us with a different, incredible view of the lake.
Today alone, we’d seen the lake from the shoreline as we walked alongside it, we’d seen it from 500m up in Brunate and we were now in the middle of it, sailing directly into the setting sun.
A perfect end to the day’s activities.