LAGO DI COMO, ITALY — Water and stone and sky. Standing on the green cliffs above Lake Como, you’d think this is the one place on earth that these three elements forge into one.
Last summer, we took the opportunity of a long weekend to head south a few hours to the Italian lake district. Even in July, the snow was thick as winter as we sliced our way through the Swiss alpine pass, dropping out on the other side of the continental divide and into balmy, near tropical sunshine.
The lake district is made up of five major and numerous smaller glacial lakes, some of which are cut directly into the deep valleys between the granite mountains lining the Swiss-Italian border. We booked an elegant pension in the steamy town of Varese, smack in the middle of two of the most picturesque lakes–Lago Maggiore and Lago Como.
Hot, sticky and road-weary, we headed straight for the water. First, Lago Maggiore, the western-most lake. The elegant, but dated towns along Maggiore have a dusty charm. Their heyday came in the middle of the last century, when famous visitors (including Ernest Hemingway) vacationed in towns like the golden Stresa. Today’s celebrities head for Como, leaving Maggiore with a more historic, quiet and contemplative feel. We explored Stresa, dining in its wide central square, and watching the sun set against the misty foothills.
The next day it was off to the crown jewel of the region: Lago Como. On the south end of the lake, in the town of Como proper, the buzz of tourists is drowned out every few minutes by the drone of seaplanes taking off or landing on the peaceful lake.
We wandered around town and had Aperol cocktails on the shore. In true Italian fashion, every drink you order comes with an aperitivo–a salty little treat to go with your drink.
You simply don’t go hungry in Italy.
From Como, we headed up the western finger of the lake. Lago di Como is shaped like an upside-down Y, with two fingers spreading out to the southeast and southwest and the wide center stem reaching up towards the Swiss border.
On the narrow peninsula that connects the two fingers sits the legendary town of Bellagio–a little village of winding stucco houses climbing up the foothills from the sparkling lake on three sides below.
Halfway there, we had our own amazing views as we hugged the lake highway, some couple hundred meters above the lake. The combination of views and heavy heat forced us to pull over and find a secret pathway down to the lake. Snuggled between two summer cottages, we found a tiny harbor and jumped in.
Addie was of course the first to splash into the refreshing water and together we paddled out into the middle of the lake, green lush mountains rising up on all sides.
For dinner, we headed over the ridge and down to the quieter, more residential shoreline of Bellagio on the southeast arm of the lake. On a peaceful little harbor, with troops of ducks and wooden motorboats chugging across the lake and the sun slipping behind the mountain tops, we relaxed in a lakeside trattoria–a nice bottle of wine, pickled fish straight from the lake and some of the freshest pasta ever.
Underneath a lattice of grape vines, with a crisp pinot grigio and the mist floating over the lake, there was no better place to be in the world.
On the way over the pass, we tried a different route, this time taking us through the tiny principality of Liechtenstein–if for no other reason than to check another country off the list. What we failed to expect was how beautiful and tranquil this little corner of the world might be–with rolling hills and pastures that seemed to float in the crystal blue sky–the only thing higher was the white Swiss peaks, only a few miles away.
From the endless winter of Switzerland to the palmy heat of the Italian lake district and the green plains of Liechtenstein–water, stone and sky combined to give us a completely new perspective of one of the most beautiful little corners of Europe.