After our haircuts yesterday, Mike & I rode the train into Milano to meet P&L who were seeing the Last Supper, the Duomo, etc. all places we had visited last Spring. We arrived earlier than we had to and took the opportunity to visit the Sforza Castle seen at the top of this post. This castle built by Duke Sforza in the 15th century (on 14th century foundations) was enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries to become one of Europe’s largest forts. Despite being heavily damaged during bombing in WWII it now serves as a museum and a great outdoor space. We arrived just as the exterior lighting was coming on which added to it’s impressiveness.
Our original plan had been to meet P&L and go to I navigl (Milan’s canal district) for apertivo as our supper. However, they both decided that they had “hit the wall” which given they had been going not stop (well except for a couple of hours of napping on their short flight from JFK) for 28 or more hours was not unreasonable. So we decided to pick up some salad and wine to go with the pasta and sauce Cinzia, our Airbnb host had left for us and eat dinner at home.
This morning we left the apartment about 8 and drove towards Lake Como for our circumnavigation of the lake (shown in red on the map). I had hoped we would avoid rush hour traffic but it appears that like all major cities, that’s not possible. We left the blue dot following the red line to Lecco. We made one stop quick there for the first siting of the lake and then continued on to Varenna.
After parking (easy peasy in the fall! We can only imagine what it’s like in the summer) we had coffee and hot chocolate to warm us up on this dreary and chilly day-thankfully no rain but we could see clouds and what we presumed was snow falling on the Alps in the Swiss distance. (And you know what snow becomes when it’s not in the mountains 😢 but I’m getting ahead of myself).
After our coffee we walked from the ferry station along a lakeside walkway to the real Varenna-fishing boats and restaurants and stairs of course. It is a lovely town and in our opinion just as picturesque as Bellagio and not as touristy.
From Varrena we confined north towards Switzerland but came short of it by 21 miles by road and less than 10 as a bird flies. We crossed over the River Mera which joins Lake Mezzola (off the top of the map above) and then started down the western side of Como.
We left the lake road at Gravedona and started climbing up incredible narrow and winding streets (mirrors at all the switchbacks) to reach a restaurant that I found on Trip Advisor.
On the way up Peggy said I sure hope this meal is worth you having to drive these streets. Thankfully on the way down she said it was…to which Mike replied, “wait till we get down with the car undamaged before you say that!”
We entered the restaurant as the only guests as they were decorating for their special Halloween dinner.
Halloween is relatively new in Italy and appears to mostly be about having a special dinner out or perhaps a small party. From what I can gather kids don’t Trick or Treat house to house. We did see a few shops and restaurants that had what appeared to be bags prepared and we saw a group of simply costumed kids going into one of the stores.
I had selected this restaurant because they serve Pizzocheri-the buckwheat pasta, potato, cabbage and cheese dish of this region.
Cinizia had made it for us in the Spring (she is from the mountains). Hers was better but I still enjoyed this.
In addition to this and numerous other pasta dishes, meat entrees and sides they also offered two set menus-one meat focused and the other based on fish. Peggy got tagliatelle with mushrooms (yummy!-probably the best dish of the day).
Mike and I halfed and halfed bresaola (dried beef-here served like capacio with Parmesan and arugula), insalda caprese, gnocchi with Gorgonzola and the pizzocheri pictures earlier.
Lowell ordered the set fish menu and had fried smelts, followed by trout with rice (really tasty) and then trout with butter and lemon and vegetables described as in pastry but in fact were the best fried veggies ever!
He ended up being so full after his first two courses (who knew they would all be so huge) that he took the last one home which along with Peggy’s leftover pasta became their dinner tonight-Mike and I didn’t have leftovers (no surprise there) so we had the pasta leftover from last night.
We all shared Lowell’s lemon sorbet dessert and then we were gifted with Lemoncello all around!
The views of the lake and the Alps from the restaurant in this little village were beautiful. It would be great to eat on their terrace.
After successfully making it back down to the lake (the route line changes from red to blue on the map above) we continued towards Como. The original plan had been for us to drop P&L at one of the villages and they take the ferry to a village further south where we would pick them up. This was mostly so Peggy could wave at the George, Amal and the twins. However, that Swiss snow we had seen earlier had become Italian rain and she decided she would have to live with seeing the gate on the road to Villa Oleandra rather than it’s beautiful side that faces the lake.
The drive along the lake was lovely but scary as hell. The road is waaay to narrow for opposing lanes of traffic. In several places they have stops lights to stop traffic in one direction so that the cars from the other direction can drive-sorta like a signal person on a road under construction. In some places the road is so narrow you can see scrape marks on the stone buildings on one side or the other Thank goodness for electrically retractable side mirrors! But we made it back unscathed except for our nerves.
We saw several beautiful villas and wonderful little towns-I wish the weather had of been conducive to exploring some of them. Oh well, next trip!
We had planned on apertivo in Como but without the ferry portion (nor the alternate visit to Villa Carlotta’s beautiful gardens due to the rain) we arrived there right at rush hour.
After a stressful drive around the edges of the pedestrian only historic center of Como (including the dreaded “Clay you are going up a wrong way street” from Mike) unsuccessfully looking for a place to park in the rain, we headed back towards home after Peggy said, ” I can see the Church’s dome-that’s good enough”.
The ride home wasn’t much better than the drive down towards Como. The car has onboard navigation but it apparently hasn’t been updated in a while, so it didn’t tell me to bear left so we ended up accidentally getting onto a new toll road (all electronic -no toll booths) so who knows what that is going to cost when the bill gets to Hertz (hey Gregor can you help a brother out? 😢). We realized it when suddenly on the GPS map we were driving across a field while the road was “over there”.
Anyway, after quickly exiting the toll road at the first availability, we continued on home through heavy traffic and a couple of more oops from the GPS system…”turn left back there”, go straight through the now concrete barricaded entry onto the highway, etc.
But made it back safe and sound and everyone is asleep except me (it’s 9:45 pm). Tomorrow we are headed to Modena (vinegar anyone?) via Bergamo, Lake Iseo and hopefully Gorgonzola!