The morning and afternoon with the children - priceless; however, not to shabby spending a Mother's Day eve aboard a jet headed to Milano, Italy! Cosmopolitan centro and spring board to Lake Como, Modena, Tuscany and Rome! Molto bene!
High speed train travel in first class luxury to our destinations, with a little help from a regional train when absolutely necessary, was the way to go. We are to meet our travel partners the following evening where the imposing Italian and Swiss Alps touch reflecting into the waters known as Lago di Como.
Lake Como of Lombardy is the third largest glacial lake in Italy and one of the deepest in Europe - the bottom is 660 feet below sea level. Shaped like a "Y" with Colico on the northern branch where the river Adda feeds the lake down to the towns of Como and Lecco, which occupy the ends of the southwestern and southeastern branches. The small town of Bellagio is situated at the intersection - the view from our balcony at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo.
Photo: Grand Hotel Tremezzo by night.
After an effortless touch down in Milan and luggage collecting, we made our way to Milano Centrale for just 5 euros each. It was magnifico - a transportation paradise with architecture that amazes.
We flopped into our reserved seats; brown bag with rustico panini and waters, we ate like there was no tomorrow. We arrive in Como 38 minutes later, attributable to the 300 kmh (186 mph!) we were traveling on the Italian bullet.
A taxicab with an open boot beckoned our bags, a slam of the door and we were in. Dave proclaims "Grand Hotel Tremezzo." The driver repeats and shifts into gear.
Inquiring how long it will take to reach, our driver informs an hour. And 85 euros. Shocked, Dave and I ask simultaneously "Is there another way?"
"Si, by boat," says the driver.
Allora, the driver brought us to the ferry launch at the bottom of the hill - a five minute, 10 euro ride and tipped us off to the good gelato across the street while we wait for the 14:20 to Tremezzo.
Once on board, the memory of planes, buses, trains, automobiles and now ferry had faded. This was jaw-dropping beauty; floating by magnificent ancient palazzos and then the first view of the snow capped Alps had water popping from my eyes in an uncontrollable way! Our last leg complete, our actual legs would take us the next 500 meters to the hotel.
Opulence! Over 100 years of gracious service, this five-star gem is timeless, boasting terraced gardens, infinity pools, clay courts, more gardens and fountains. Situated directly on the lake with humbling views, there are terraces for aperitifs, for late night dinners, a terrace for breakfast and for early morning coffee.
Photo: Bell tower with Swiss Alps as backdrop.
The street interrupts but once across, a beach with a full restaurant and bar compete with floating pool (in the lake!). Tied up poolside, the Ruy, captained by Diego, is a 30-something foot antique Italian mahogany lake runabout that we will come back to later in the story.
The entrance reminds one of a cool grotto - a heavily vined semi-circle of stone. A bronze and glass elevator waits as if the valet had spotted us coming down the lane. "Buena Sera! Welcome to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo!" As we step into the cool air, the attendant inquires as to our name and picks up the elevator phone to inform the desk of our arrival.
Doors open atop the first set of terraces, the late afternoon reflections astounding! Turning toward the interior we are welcomed by soaring ceilings, frescoes, grand chandeliers, overstuffed and oversized brightly colored Chesterfield sofas. The aroma of the fiore di rosa is a sensory override. The perfection at every turn mirrors the pride of this elegant, stately hotel. Everyone is smiling. How could you not?
While Dave is busy texting our crew that the last eagles have landed, our personal hostess checks us in and we are escorted to our room.
Now weighted down by the enormous key with tassel, Dave and I look at each other, turn to the balcony and step out into the afternoon sun. Absolutely breathtaking. I almost feel as if someone is going to roll up the green screen and all of this beauty will disappear and reveal some back lot. But no! This is God's wonderment for all to delight in!
Meeting Lynn, Gary, Connie and Bill on the aperitif terrace for cocktails likened another sort of mirage. Here we all were, toasting to the beauty of Como, good friends and the adventure awaiting! Cheers!
Famished, we saddled up and started out on the first of many adventures. Along the lakeside then up a significantly steep stone hill through a quiet residential district, which became unquiet upon our arrival. Slightly confused on left or right, we finally arrived at Contina Folie Di J & D, a tiny room with wine barrels for tables. Alarmed by the size of our posse, the host quickly ushered us up more flights through stone walled paths with very little headroom. Poor Dave.
The passage opened to a beautiful balcony with long farmhouse tables and a grapevine arbor hung overhead. Here we were introduced to a fine 2010 Barolo of Fontanafredda - delectable - accompanied by two large olive wood cutting boards overflowing with meats and cheeses.
Photo: Palazzo di Fiore
The glasses were then replaced and prepared for a fine Brunello di Montalcino of Piancornello also the same year. This was amazing! The candlelight would take center stage bouncing into our empty glasses. It was time to find our way back down the hillside to the comfort of cool linens and fluffy pillows for a much needed, travel-weary sleep.
Gary had made us all promise we would be up and out for a lake hike by 9:00 am. It had felt as if we had only slept for an hour, but after strong coffee on the balcony and some fruit and pastry, we all gathered donned in the appropriate walking shoes and sunscreen.
Small bronze dials placed within the sidewalk, cobblestone and streets marked our six-mile trek. We followed the edge of Lago di Como, the morning mist still burning off the surface, only to be quietly sliced by the occasional classic lake ferry, the main source of transportation for working folks and tourists alike.
The photo opportunities were endless lending to a slow moving hike. The trail took us off the lake and up into the mountainside cresting at a 15th century church. Here, a very talkative, self-proclaimed missionary and expert on the history of Como imbibed his knowledge upon us.
Right: Dave at market day.
The downhill pleasantly placed us directly in the middle of market day for the locals. The lakeside was abuzz, from butchers and farmers, to fedoras and parakeets! Weaving our way through, senses peaked, we completely lost track of time. It was hunger that reminded us, but not before we walked on to the magnificent Villa del Balbianello, featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale. Incredible that someone could have actually lived in such an enchanted place as this!
Left: Villa del Balbianello where scenes from Casino Royale were filmed.
Wearily we opted for the ferry trip back to the hotel were we would have a delightful lunch at the beach cafe accompanied by some well deserved Perroni's followed by a riposo.
In the evening we dined at the hotel's L'Escale Fondues & Wine Bar. Choosing to feast in the candle lit cantina, carved into rock with wine casks for tables and over 400 fine labels selected from every region in Italy adorning the bare brick walls. The simple pleasure of an informal meal of meat and fish fondues accompanied by a grilling center table was fun for all. Not to mention the 2012 Bricco de Uccell'one Barbera d'Asti that made it all taste so very, very good!
The next morning Dave and I made the lago trek solo after having consumed too many fondue calories the previous eve. However, we reunited at the ferry landing and boarded the boat to Bellagio for lunch with the requisite silk scarfs and Dave's infamous fedora - elegante.
Lynn's cocktail of choice won the award, a martini glass to the brim with lemon sorbet afloat by vodka wearing a silver streamer. Bill, looking out across the lake would sincerely ask for the umpteenth time, "I wonder if that's George Clooney's house?" Laughing, we assure him we would find it!
Right: Lynn with her award winning cocktail.
Pizzeria Balognett, atop another vista after a calorie-burning walk would suit all this evening. We sat on the patio of Franco and Carmelo under another grapevine arbor overlooking the herb and tomato garden.
The posted warning of children only welcome between 1pm and 4pm was a bit unusual as dogs sitting quietly with their masters were welcome anytime. A round of cold Birra Moretti, salads and three different varieties of brick oven pizza were an absolute delight!
Reserved for the finale, the following afternoon was spent on Ruy, the aforementioned mahogany lake boat. Gary had a little surprise for all as the parade of waiters approached with platters of fruit, cheese, meats, fresh breads, pastries and a large chilled basket of Prosecco. Oh my!
Left: RUY, Grand Hotel Tremezzo's mahogany water limo.
This three-hour tour should not be missed; palaces line the shores decked in flowers, roses and crazy Italian trees. We cruised by Villa Carlotta, Villa Melzi d'Eril, and even George Clooney's humble palace, Villa Oleandra. Bill would need not ask "Where?" any more.
The next segment of our journey will carry us to Modena with a tour of Maserati and Ferrari then on to Milan for a visit to Expo and Leonardo Da Vinci's collections of 1452-1519 gathered from the four corners of the world.
Right: George Clooney's 22-room Villa Oleandra.