15 September 2013

Lake Como, Italy

(April 2013)

I am at that point in life when I am becoming aware that the passage of time is alarmingly swift. And worse, the past fades so quickly, leaving only the tragic and the transcendent. That puts a lot of pressure on holiday decisions.

Deciding to go to Switzerland was easy. Rosie's parents were going to be there, with extended family nearby to visit. Also, we'd probably never go otherwise. After that, Eastern Europe was attractive, but opened up a paralysing range of options, and the whole of France was tantalisingly nearby too.

Fortunately, the onward flight from Milan turned out to be about twenty times cheaper than a train ride via Lyon to London, or any other option. Since we were being blown to and fro by the winds of chance anyway, nearby Lake Como became an obvious choice when I discovered that the motorcycles I own and love are made there. However, we're both scientists, and that didn't seem an entirely rational basis for decision making. Some meticulous research was in order. Twenty minutes on Google Earth taking virtual strolls through every small town via Street View failed to locate a single scene that did not include picturesque lake views, or charming centuries old buildings, or both. Sold. Plane and train tickets booked. Done. Credit cards and the internet are a wondrous combination.

We left Switzerland in a new, immaculate train. In Milan we changed to a grimy local train to Lecco, from where we had to take a bus. We crammed in with a load of teenage school kids who were not fazed by the next hour of breathtaking lake views or the frequent near head on collisions with oncoming vehicles on what should really be a single lane road. Daily disaster is apparently avoided only by judicious application of the hooter at every blind bend. We got off at Visgnola, perched on the hill above bigger and more famous lakeside town of Bellagio, and wandered two hundred metres up the road in the drizzle to our home for the next two weeks, a little apartment above the square off Vicolo dei Frati.

Visgnola turned out to be an excellent choice. Our apartment was charming, clean, offered every amenity you could want, and being a little off the beaten path and outside tourist season, ridiculously cheap. When the rain stopped we went exploring and discovered that we had lucked into a rustic paradise of quaint architecture and breathtaking views.

Several seemingly sensible travel reviews had warned us that we could not stay up on the precipitous heights of Visgnola without a car. In reality the main town of Bellagio and all it's waterfront delights, turned out to be a gentle 20 minute stroll down a delightful stone passageway.

Real Italy, of course, could not possibly live up to the avalanche of clichéd travel writing. Sure enough, down on the Bellagio waterfront, there was a line of shops selling ghastly ducks and tortoises fashioned from lake pebbles entombed in plastic. Imported silk scarves  printed with hideous patterns in lurid colours a sad reminder that once there had been a flourishing silk industry in Como. I can imagine that in peak season the flocks of tourists become unbearable, but we were there just early enough to miss the crowds. For the first few very grey days we felt like we had the town to ourselves and we wandered around in a happy daze, drinking in the misty scenery.

The inevitable touristy bits fortunately included a number of lake side restaurants with only moderately inflated prices. Once the sun was out they quickly filled with customers basking in the gentle warmth.

Public transport is easy and not too expensive. Nearby towns, like the beautiful Varenna, are a quick ferry trip from Bellagio. Bus routes run all the main roads following the lake edge, and a rail line runs down the eastern side of the lake if you want to go further afield. But for the first week, we had no desire to go further than our daily walks around town.


  1. lovely calm images to look at on a crazy Monday morning...

  2. Hello,
    I lived in Visgnola during the summer of 1981. You captured a photo of my old studio apartment on the first floor with the large door and the balconies above it. Do you remember the name of the street? I lost all of my photos in a house fire and am unable to recall the name of the street. You are correct about not having to rent a car as I walked, took the bus, and ferries everywhere. It is a magical place. I hope to travel to Bellagio and Visgnola again once the threat of COVID is over.