Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

St Moritz Bad

After a memorable train ride through the Bernina Pass we were met at Diavolezza Station by our trusty tour driver, Hermes, and rejoined the coach for the run in to St Moritz (see here and here for the first couple of parts of our day trip). We could just about make out glimpses of the famous Morteratsch Glacier as we sped along the valley road towards St Moritz – a bit too tricky to photograph though!

 

St Moritz lies in the spectacularly beautiful Upper Engadine Valley (also known as Engadin). The River En/Inn has its source in the Maloya Pass south of St Moritz and from there starts its long journey towards the Danube River and ultimately the Black Sea!  We had been lucky enough to spend a couple of days in the region a few years ago (arriving by the Glacier Express from Zermatt in the Valais Canton). Whilst the name St Moritz conjures up images of luxury and opulence with the jet set going there to ski and party, if you go out of season (as we have done both times) it is far quieter and considerably cheaper! The alpine air is crisp and refreshing and there are many walks and mountain trails to enjoy. The locals are proud of their culture – you never know whether someone is going to speak German, Italian or the ancient Romansh language. Further down the valley towards Chur pretty little villages and old castles dot the steep valley slopes.

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Old Print Of St Moritz

 

We only had a couple of hours or so on this occasion so thoughts turned immediately to lunch! There are two main parts to St Moritz – St Moritz Bad down by the lake and higher up St Moritz Dorf (The Village). The latter is where you’ll find many of the restaurants and upmarket hotels taking advantage of the superb mountain and lake views (although the iconic Badrutt’s Palace Hotel can be found lakeside). We had stayed at Steffani Hotel on our first trip to St Moritz and enjoyed some hearty fayre at the excellent restaurant. However with time being of the essence this time we opted to have lunch at Hauser Restaurant. It was recommended by our tour guide, Julia, (see here for day trip details) and therefore we figured they would be used to getting food out quickly and efficiently for hungry tour parties. I should add that apart from the coach and train rides we were free to wander round as we pleased at all the stopping off points – no need to all hang out together unless you want to!

Monsieur thought we should try sitting outside to enjoy the lake views. However it was minus several degrees (at 1822 metres above sea level) and Mlle and I didn’t exactly warm to the idea!

 

 

We duly repaired inside to the warmth. Hauser is a 4th generation family run business and the food has a hearty home-made feel to it – just what we needed on an especially cold spring day after a long journey. Warming barley and vegetable soups, the local speciality “roesti” and some tasty local red wine – we tucked in. Hauser is very proud of using local produce and supporting the environment. You can find out more from their place mats!

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Paper Place Mats – Hauser Restaurant St Moritz

 

The restaurant was very busy but it was all in a day’s work for the cheerful staff who served us with admirable Swiss efficiency.

 

 

I didn’t realise at the time but Hauser also has an Australian themed bar, “The Roo” where you can enjoy an “apres-ski” drink or take advantage of the sun terrace in warmer months.

After lunch we had a pleasant wander round town. Designer label shops such as Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton mingled with smaller speciality shops and we noticed that many of them were closed. Whether this was because it was a Monday or low season in general (April) we weren’t too sure. However we weren’t too disappointed – apart from the chocolate shop!

We gradually wended our way back down the hill to the station car park  – the meeting point for our coach.

 

 

We set off again, this time on the road going south out of St Moritz Bad, passing the impressive Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains en route for Silvaplana and the Maloya Pass. The scenery as we drove along the lakes of Silvaplana and Sils was as breathtaking as that of the Bernina Pass earlier in the day – if that were possible. We made our way back towards Italy via the precipitous Maloya Pass – more about that next week!

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Ospizio Bernina The Highest Point On The Bernina Express

 

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The Bernina Express Ascending The Bernina Pass Switzerland

 

Tirano  marks the southern terminus of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Bernina Express line run by the Rhaetische Bahn Railway. We’d been on the famous railway that links the northern side of the Alps with the sunnier and warmer south a few years ago whilst staying in St Moritz and were excited to have the chance to do it again (you can read about our previous trip here). This time following on from our morning coffee pitstop in Tirano (see last week’s post here) we did the first part up to Poschiavo by coach – you follow the same route as the train so we didn’t feel we were missing out in any way. We crossed the border into Switzerland and began the steady climb up the Poschiavo Valley.

 

 

One of the fascinating features of the Alpine areas is the way local customs and languages change from one valley to the next. Once we crossed the border into Switzerland, we were in the Swiss Canton of Graubuenden, but still in an Italian speaking valley, although Poschiavo also has its own local dialect. Later on once we crossed over the alpine watershed, we came into German speaking areas and also the ancient language of Romansh, which is still spoken in the Engadine Valley (see here for the Lingua Franca).  By the time we reached the little town of Poschiavo we had climbed to 1014 m above sea level and the temperature had plummeted to minus 2 as there had been a sudden unseasonal cold snap! Here we were dropped off by our coach driver, who headed off on the mountain road to await us at the other side, whilst we waited for the train to take us on the next part of our journey.

 

 

Boarding the Bernina brought us welcome relief from the chilly winds and sub zero temperatures! We had our own carriage as part of the tour group and although not in the famous panoramic carriages (unlike our first ride on the train) we didn’t notice any difference  – it was a while before we realised we were in the ordinary carriages as we were so transfixed by the magnificent scenery! Please excuse window glare and shadows on some of the photos – it’s hard not to get reflections taking photos inside the train!

 

 

The lush green pastures of the Poschiavo Valley soon started to give way to rugged rocks and alpine vegetation. You realise how isolated Poschiavo must have been in the days before the Bernina was constructed. Even now, the train and road links over the Bernina Pass are the only transport links the valley has to the outside world.

 

 

The Bernina is the highest railway across the Alps – it is not a rack railway, which makes its construction all the more remarkable. Whilst extending all the way to Chur, the capital of the Graubuenden, it has UNESCO World Heritage Status from Thusis (in the Engadine Valley south of St Moritz) via the Val Poschiavo to Tirano. Also worth noting is that the Bernina Express is a scheduled railway with many trains going backwards and forwards throughout the day. You can reserve a seat if you like – advisable during peak season and weekends.

As the train pulled us higher and higher we reached the upper mountains covered with fresh white powder snow.

 

 

The train slowly chugged its way to the highest point on the route – the 2,253 metre Ospizio Bernina. Here we had a brief interlude and I jumped off the train to take photos in minus 7 degree cold. Needless to say I jumped back on the train pretty quickly! With the fresh snow and howling wind it was a wildly beautiful and isolated part of the world!

 

 

The bright red of the train against the pristine white snow was a very special sight!  Please excuse the sun glare again but it gives you an impression of what it’s like to ride in the Bernina over the Alps.

 

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Bernina Express At Ospizio Bernina

 

From the spectacular rugged beauty of the Ospizio Bernina, the train began its descent down the northern side of the Alps towards the ski station of Diavolezza, where Hermes, our driver was waiting to take us on the final run into St Moritz!

 

 

The ride from Poschiavo to Bernina Diavolezza took just over an hour and had taken us through some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. This was our second time on the lovely Bernina Express railway and we certainly plan on coming back again at some future point! For now we headed off to St Moritz for a late lunch!

 

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The Bernina Line Information Sheet

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Vines On The Slopes Of The Valtellina
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Tirano View Of Alps From Main Square

We don’t normally do guided tours apart from the occasional walking tour to get orientated with a new town or city. However we were keen to do a trip from Menaggio across the Swiss border to St Moritz  having fond memories of a wonderful day out on the Bernina Express a few years ago (Railway Adventures : Bernina Express Switzerland).  On that occasion we were staying in St Moritz and simply did a round trip to Tirano and back. However it isn’t as straightforward to get there by public transport from Menaggio. You have to cross the lake by ferry to Varenna and then pick up the train to Tirano, the Italian terminus of the Bernina (a scheduled service of the Rhaetian Railway). Whilst possible, it’s a very long day out on a tight schedule and you risk being stranded in Varenna if you miss the last car ferry back across the lake. Fortunately via Tripadvisor, I found a local travel agent called Il Porticciolo Viaggi who offer a range of guided day tours from Menaggio including a weekly (every Monday) trip to St Moritz. Partly by coach and partly by rail, you are taken on a magnificent tour of not only the Bernina Pass and St Moritz itself but also the equally spectacular valleys to the south of St Moritz including the jaw dropping Maloja Pass (sneak preview below!).

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Maloja Pass Switzerland – Swiss Post Bus Making Its Way Up The Vertiginous Road!

 

After an early breakfast, we were collected from the front of our hotel, the Grand Menaggio, and set off promptly at 8am. Our tour guide, Julia, was endlessly cheerful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of Lake Como and the Swiss Italian border country. Our coach, driven by the impressively named Hermes, was just over half full and so we had plenty of personal space, which made us feel more relaxed about being on a guided coach tour albeit for one day only.

 

 

The first part of our journey took us to the northern head of Lake Como where the pre Alps give way to the towering peaks of the Alps themselves. We followed the road that wends its way up the beautiful Valtellina (the valley of the River Adda).  Populated since pre historic times (stone carvings have been found near Grosio, Teglio and Chiuro) the east/ west facing valley has a wide climatic range. On one side were abundant vines taking advantage of the sun and on the other dark and dense forested slopes. In this mountain paradise you can ski, enjoy wine tastings, or indulge in a spa at one of the many mountain retreats, which take advantage of the abundance of natural spring water. Teglio is famous for its buck wheat pasta, pizzocheri, which we enjoyed at the Menaggio restaurants along with delicious Valtellina wines (see last week’s post here).

 

 

Alas we breezed through the valley all too quickly – though definitely plan to go back and explore further for ourselves one day! Our morning coffee break was at Tirano, the pretty little border town nestling at the foot of the Alps and which we had visited briefly for lunch several years ago. Once we got out of the coach and got our bearings, we were struck by the difference in climate from Lake Como (a mere couple of hours away). The air felt crisp with a distinct alpine chill and there was a wonderful aroma of wood smoke.

 

 

We were dropped off in the centre of the little town, which naturally is well geared up for tourists on the Bernina route! Julia had suggested two cafes, one on the corner, which looked packed and apparently sold British newspapers and the other, a little bar down a side street where she assured us we would find the local men enjoying their first glass of wine for the day at 10am! We chose the latter and sure enough apart from three or four elderly gentlemen getting stuck into the local vino, we were the only customers at San Michele’s. No one spoke any English and we got by on the little bit of Italian we had acquired, some German and a lot of smiles and good humour on both sides!

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Bar San Michele Tirano

 

Fortified by our teas and coffees (it was a bit too early for wine!) we set off to explore. Tirano is a small town dating back to Roman times and at 429 m it marks the lowest point in the Bernina Railway’s journey. There are still several gates remaining of the old city walls. In past times these provided an important defence given Tirano’s strategic location at one end of the Bernina Pass. Despite these efforts it was taken over by its neighbours from Graubuenden (now in Switzerland) in 1512 and they subsequently ruled the Valtellina for over two centuries.

 

The most striking landmark is the beautiful St Mary’s Church, built as a pilgrim’s shrine on the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary to Mario Omodei in 1504.  Consecrated by the Bishop of Como in 1528, the church was not completed until 1703.

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St Mary’s Church Tirano

 

The stunning Baroque interior is beautifully ornate and despite the large numbers of tourists is well worth a wander round.

 

 

Outside again the Bernina rumbles through the main street – just make sure you don’t get too close when it is coming by!

 

 

We had an hour or so in Tirano before heading back to the coach for the drive up to Poschiavo where we joined the train for the journey across the high Alps. More to follow!

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

Colourful Table Settings

Each night after an enjoyable aperitivo in the town square (see “Revisiting Menaggio” here) we headed off in search of dinner. Although small, Menaggio has a number of delightful family owned eateries. They all made use of the excellent range of local produce, lavarello the main fish from the lake, seasonal vegetables and regional specialities like pizzoccheri the buckwheat pasta from the Valtellina valley. The latter is situated  to the north of Lake Como on the border with Switzerland and is renowned for its superb wines – we sampled quite a good selection of those as well. Home made desserts were a major feature of all the menus and we made it our mission to try as many as we could! The locals each assured us that their tiramisu was the real deal. I don’t want to show any favouritism as they were all superb! One probably had the edge over the others (in our opinion) but you’ll have to go and try them all out for yourself to decide!

 

Osteria il Pozzo 

Osteria were originally places serving wine and simple food. The Osteria il Pozzo, tucked away in a little corner off the main square,  still retains a quaint, rustic and homely feel. We followed the recommendation of a young family, who were just leaving and were not disappointed. It was a Saturday night and packed but we managed to get a little table in the far corner of the courtyard.

 

Even a major downpour, as a huge storm rolled into town, didn’t dampen our spirits. In fact it added to the atmosphere and a couple more drinks helped to warm us up again!

 

 

 

Albergo Vapore Ristorante

We found out about il Vapore Ristorante from Julia, our tour guide on the day trip we took from Menaggio to St Moritz. She partly recommended it as the proprietor is very loyal to the wines of the Valtellina region. Having driven through the valley without having the time to stop and sample the produce, we felt we should make amends later in the evening. With its wisteria covered entrance and bright blue paint, il Vapore looks warm and inviting and we received an equally warm welcome from the owner once we went inside.

 

Mlle was excited to have pizzoccheri again having tried the distinctive buckwheat pasta on a trip to her friend’s family home in northern Italy the previous year. The freshly caught lake trout, the trio of desserts and the Valtellina wines – we had a veritable feast!

 

 

 

 

Ristorante Pizzeria Vecchia

We ended up at Vecchia on our final night in Menaggio a bit more by accident than design. Our hotel porter had told us about it and insisted we should go there and ask for Tato (whom we took to be a relative).  He assured us that this was where the local Italians go to eat as it is just like their home cooking and was rather dismissive of the “touristy” restaurants! We were a bit dubious and were intending to go back to one of the other restaurants on our last night when we found that the last laugh was on our porter and Tato – everywhere except il Vecchia was closed on a Wednesday night and not surprisingly Tato was doing a roaring trade! We ended up with a meal excellent in its simplicity – a deliciously light mushroom risotto for me and pizza for Monsieur. More excellent Valtellina wines and superb desserts. We even got discount vouchers to Tato’s clothing store in the town centre (maybe our reward for accepting the porter’s tip?). Alas we didn’t have time to go and look at the shop  but Vecchia is another local gem (again hidden up a side street off the main square).

 

Despite appearances to the contrary, the food we had on our north Italian trip was surprisingly fresh and light – no heavy pastas or uncomfortably rich sauces, just simple cooking using fresh produce and packed with flavour. And the Valtellina wines provide a superb accompaniment to the food – “Buon Appetito”!

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

View back to Grand Hotel Menaggio From The Harbour

The pretty lakeside town of Menaggio was our base for our few days’ stay on Lake Como. We’d been here once before, when we stopped off for a late afternoon aperitivo at the Cafe Centrale (bar of the Hotel Du Lac) and were so enchanted that we vowed to come back (see Aperitivo Hour at Hotel Du Lac)! On that occasion we were en route back to our hotel in the city of Como.  Although the latter is more lively and well worth visiting in its own right, the little towns that dot the central part of the lake are exquisitely pretty and provide wonderful bases for a lakeside holiday.

Menaggio is on the western shore, which is more accessible to Milan Malpensa Airport than the eastern side (although there is a car ferry from Menaggio across to Varenna on the other side). Taxi fares start from around 160 Euro one way though of course you can hire a rental car. We organised a private car transfer on arrival and a taxi via our hotel for the return journey. It takes about one and a quarter hours drive to get to Menaggio from the airport, though I’d allow a bit longer if you’re driving yourself as our drivers seemed to be auditioning for a Formula 1 team judging by the speed they went!

Since we were there early season in April, some of the hotels were still closed for maintenance and renovations and our original choice (a small family run hotel) was unavailable. Our home from home was therefore the imposing Grand Hotel Menaggio, situated on the lake adjacent to the ferry quay. Despite the unusually cool and sometimes rainy weather we had amazing views from our lakeside room balcony! On our first night a huge storm rolled in from the mountains but the lake still looked impressive albeit a little hazy.

 

The Grand Hotel was very comfortable and had the elegant style of a bygone era. The breakfast room took full advantage of the superb location with wonderful views across the lake. It is however (like many of the larger hotels on the western side of Lake Como) favoured by tour groups of a certain age and this is reflected in the menu choices which were rather on the “safe” side. However the staff were friendly and helpful and location wise it was hard to beat! We simply used the hotel as a bed and breakfast base, ate out during the day and went into town in the evenings to enjoy aperitivos and a meal at one of the local restaurants!

 

 

A short walk round the back of the hotel and along the street leads you to the pretty little harbour and the adjacent town square. The Hotel Du Lac, we were pleased to see, was still in business and we ate out here one night. We also discovered another “aperitivo” joint, the Cafe Del Pess on the other side of the square and this seemed to be favoured by the locals (taking nothing away from Hotel Du Lac!).

 

We soon discovered why – the sun lingered by the side of the cafe longer than the other places and in the cool evening air the little sun trap was very welcome. We managed to get an upgrade to the sun side of the cafe by the end of our visit when the waitress had got to know us!

 

Once the sun had come out we enjoyed several walks round the town. As well as the delightful stroll around the harbour and lake promenade, there are several narrow cobbled streets leading to the back part of Menaggio and we often strolled round after breakfast or before dinner.

 

Regular ferries connect Menaggio with all the other lakeside towns and there is also a fast boat up to Colico in the north and down to Como in the south. A local bus runs regularly to and from Lugano in neighbouring Switzerland, although we didn’t have enough time to do that trip on this visit. Although a relatively small town, Menaggio has several charming restaurants and we managed to visit most of them! I’ll be doing a Menaggio Eating Out Guide next week. In the meantime “Salute”!

 

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Aperitivo Hour Menaggio Overlooking Lake Como

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Fishing boats Lenno Harbour

This is a postscript to last week’s post, ” A Walk To Villa del Balbianello” as I subsequently discovered a further set of holiday photos hiding on the iPad!
As well as more photos of the stunning Villa del Balbianello, there are some of the rest of our walk round the pretty little town of Lenno. Strolling along the lake front past the Albergo Lenno (where we had a pleasant lunch), you walk past the little boats bobbing up and down in the water until you come to the Lido. Here to the right is a small town square with the Church of San Stefano in the background. The latter was founded in the 5th or 6th century but the building that stands on the site today dates from restoration works in the 16th century. We didn’t have time to pop in and look around the ancient crypt or the frescoes and artworks (with limited time en route back to the ferry, getting a gelato at La Fabbrica Del Gelato on the corner of the square took priority!). We did, however, have time to have a brief wander round the outside of the old church and admire the elegant facade.

The Lido is also the point of departure for the water taxi that will take you around the headland to the quay of Villa del Balbianello. If you prefer a slightly more strenuous route, just ahead of the Lido is the start of the pathway that leads up the hill to the villa. The views along the way are breathtaking and well worth the climb! A detailed map at the Lenno Ferry Quay will help you get your bearings and gives details of other walks around this charming lakeside town.

 

For more wonderful and inspiring walks around the world visit Restless Jo at her Monday Walks!

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

View Of Lake Como from the terraced gardens of Villa Balbianello

Sometimes I find the best days on our holidays are when we make no plans at all. We had one of those a few years back when we were staying in central Switzerland (Serendipity In Switzerland see here). Our first full day on Lake Como turned out to be serendipitous too! A wild storm the previous evening had brought strong winds funnelling down from the mountains in the north, whipping up the lake into a choppy foam. Having popped across to Varenna for morning coffee from our Menaggio base, we thought perhaps indoor activities might be the order of the day! Mlle had seen a flyer in our hotel, advertising a concert at Villa del Balbianello near Lenno so we decided to head over that way and check things out.

 

I took this video whilst we were waiting for the boat to arrive – the wind was really blowing a storm by this point!

 

 

Taking a boat around the lake is a must – both to get around and admire the gorgeous scenery. It did take us a couple of days or so to get into the rhythm of the Italian way of doing things. Organisation leaves a little to be desired, timetables are a rough guide only and no one seems to know in which direction the boat is heading until the last minute when the captain or one of the crew yells out the ports of call. However, once we accepted the laissez faire approach, we were far more philosophical and enjoyed ourselves a lot more! Price-wise the boats were good value – 14 Euros per day will get you a day pass round the central part of the lake (Mennagio, Varenna, Bellagio, Tremezzo, Lenno). It goes up to about 20 Euros per day to go to Como or Collico at either end of the lake or you can get a 6 day pass for 84 Euros (check things out at the local ticket office at each port of call or the local tourist offices can advise you).

Docking at the next calling point Bellagio proved quite a problem for the crew and they had a couple of attempts before pulling into the quay successfully.

 

 

We made it safely to Lenno on the opposite shore and headed into the restaurant of Albergo Lenno for a welcome lunch and warm drink. Lenno is a pretty little town nestling on the shores of Lake Como and would be a refreshingly peaceful spot in which to while away an afternoon, but like many other visitors we were heading for the villa on the hillside. We asked for directions and were told to allow 10 minutes (by the waitress) or up to 25 (by the waiter). The latter proved more realistic – unless you are an Olympic runner it is a good 20 minutes walk uphill most of the way but you are rewarded with the most spectacular views for your efforts! You can always take a water taxi round the point if you prefer – they leave from the Lido di Lenno at the bottom of the hill.

 

 

We managed to get seats for the concert – a musical trio, part of the Lake Como Music Festival (see here for the 2016 season of concerts). Built in 1787 on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini, Villa del Balbianello takes full advantage of its superb setting on a wooded headland overlooking the lake and the Isola Comacina nearby.

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Villa del Balbianello Lake Como

Elegant buildings in a pretty shade of honey, classical columns and cascading terraced gardens leading down to the lake – it’s not too hard to see why it has become a popular setting for weddings and sometimes for film locations too! Scenes from A Month By The Lake (1995), Casino Royale (2006) and the wedding and lake scenes in Star Wars: Episode II Attack Of The Clones (2002) were all filmed here.

 

Successive owners including Guido Monzino (leader of the first Italian expedition to Mount Everest) have added their own touches but now the villa and gardens are magnificently preserved by the National Trust Of Italy.

 

 

We would have liked a bit longer to walk around.  The fresh air and calming effects of the lake not to mention the gardens (in full bloom with spring flowers) –  it was an idyllic experience!

 

 

The only downside was the time constraint and we’ll have to save a tour around the inside of the villa and its art treasures for another day! If anyone is interested the link to the Villa  del Balbianello “Wedding Planning Page” is here! Wedding parties usually arrive by private boat and walk up from the mooring point at the bottom of the gardens (though you can drive up along the same pathway we trekked up!).

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Villa del Balbianello Gardens

 

Retracing our steps we stopped off at the little gelato shop (La Fabbrica del Gelato) near the Lido and joined the extensive queue. Well worth it – the gelato served here is worth going to Lenno for alone (and that is saying something as we sampled quite a few on our trip!). Our return boat was predictably not running on time (the Sunday service and the inclement weather that day probably didn’t help). In spite of the hour’s wait (not everyone was as reasonable about it as we were!) we all agreed that our day out had been a fabulous experience and one we probably wouldn’t have done had it not been for Mlle’s chance sighting of a flyer in the hotel foyer!

For more wonderful and inspiring walks around the world visit Restless Jo at her Monday Walks!

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Fishing port - Varenna Harbour

Apart from visiting our family in the UK , we managed a a trip across to Europe, which took in Lake Como for a few days and Berlin for a long weekend. Whilst it’s still fresh in my mind I thought I’d write up the continental part of our trip. A huge amount of photos has made editing quite a task! We had visited Lake Como once before when we stayed 3 nights in Como City itself (at the south western arm of the lake). On that trip we took the boat up the lake to the picturesque central part where pretty villages dot the lake shore against a backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in the distance (you can read my account of our lakeside “Aperitivos” here).

Having vowed to return, we based ourselves in Menaggio for this visit and it was every bit as gorgeous as I remembered. We had wonderful views across the lake to another delightful village on the eastern shore – Varenna. A few minutes boat ride across the lake from Menaggio, we passed in and out of Varenna’s little harbour many times during our stay and had a couple of extended stops there (which I’ll be writing more about in future posts).

 

There was something about the narrow and steep cobbled streets of Varenna that really drew me in.

 

 

 

Despite all the tourists, Varenna still retains the feel of the old fishing village that it is and all streets led (eventually) back to the lake!

 

Gently lapping waters on the shore of Lake Como at Varenna

Gently lapping waters on the shore of Lake Como at Varenna

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Our table complete with our floral purchases from Colombia Road!

After our expedition to Brick Lane and Colombia Road markets, Mlle and I were hanging out for a nice cup of tea. Mlle had somewhere in mind and we headed back in the direction of Shoreditch High Street. Down an unprepossessing side street, we came to our destination, 14 Bacon Street. I wouldn’t have gone down that street let alone go into the building if I hadn’t been with Mlle – it looked somewhat derelict to say the least and I really wondered where she was taking me! Above the entrance you could just about make out the name of an old business in faded writing. Most of the adjacent walls were daubed in graffiti. However there was a small sign pointing inside with “14 Bacon Street” written on it – Mlle seemed to know what she was doing so I followed along!

 

 

What a contrast from the exterior! Inside 14 Bacon Street (formerly called the Vintage Emporium) you will find a hip and trendy cafe/bar, which also doubles as a small music venue (opening hours Friday – Sunday 11.00 – 22.00). It is extremely popular and we were lucky to be able to get a table at all. Fortunately we found a small one tucked away near the stairs. The interior hasn’t been renovated as such but this adds to the character and charm. The furniture is in a cosy vintage style and with the small band playing it had a lovely convivial atmosphere. We had a welcome pot of one of their speciality teas accompanied by a large slice of berry teacake with cream cheese frosting. It was the sort of the place where we could have whiled away the whole afternoon and judging by the comings and goings a very popular meeting spot for locals.

 

 

The old vintage emporium is now housed downstairs and I had a quick browse around. There was a lot of vintage clothing with a particular emphasis on evening wear and accessories (am sure my granddaughters would have had a field day playing dress ups) and some quirky pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac. It was slightly spooky being down in the basement by myself especially when the toilet door (also housed down here) appeared to be vintage as well and for a couple of minutes I thought I’d be stuck there for posterity (yank the door hard to open if you ever go there!).

 

 

Cafe, bar and live music venue – 14 Bacon Street is definitely worth checking out if you’re visiting the Brick Lane area – it has a wonderful artistic vibe and feels like you’re stepping into a bygone era!

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Vintage Emporium Backyard Market

The East End of London is a fascinating place to explore – history abounds all over the place!  Around every street corner you’ll find decrepit looking buildings juxtaposed with upmarket modern flats and offices. The Spitalfields area has long been associated with the rag trade and there are so many shops and markets in the area it’s hard to choose which one to go to. Old Spitalfields Market on Commercial Street is open several days a week including an antique market on Thursdays (see here for further info) but we were heading off on this particular Sunday morning to explore one of our daughter, Mlle’s favourite places, the famous Brick Lane Market. En route we passed through the curiously named Frying Pan Alley, weaved our way through the street stalls of the Sunday clothing and bric-a-brac market at Petticoat Lane (actually held in Middlesex Street) and went past Toynbee Hall. The latter houses the charity of the same name set up by Church Of England curate Samuel Barnett and his wife, Henrietta, in 1884 to address the appalling poverty in London’s East End.

 

It certainly helped having Mlle’s local knowledge as by the time we arrived in Brick Lane there were so many people milling around, traders selling street food, shops advertising vinyl records, clothing, furniture etc that it was somewhat overwhelming. Monsieur Le Chic posed for a couple of photos and then headed off at high speed to White Hart Lane for his football game.

 

 

Brick Lane is actually made up of several different markets both inside and outdoors. Some are housed in the buildings of the Old Truman Brewery including Mlle’s particular favourite the Backyard Market. Stepping inside was a welcome sanctuary from the hustle and bustle in the streets! There were a myriad of stalls and although it was busy, the atmosphere was more leisurely and tranquil than outside. We were so engrossed for the next hour or so wandering round that I forgot to take many photos. The Backyard Market has an emphasis on artisanal crafts – there were stalls selling lovely jewellery, beautiful prints, clothing, accessories and hand made soaps and essential oils. In another building next door we found an emporium with all manner of china, bric-a brac and antique furniture.

 

 

Before heading off to catch some last minute bargains at the Colombia Road Flower Market (see last week’s post here), we just had time to stop off at another Mlle favourite, the Brick Lane Bookshop at 166 Brick Lane. This place is an absolute gem – we could have spent hours here browsing through their wonderful book collection! An independent book store it stocks a wide variety of books – the classics, poetry, reference books, travel, childrens’ books and the list goes on….! I immersed myself in the local history section – if I hadn’t been mindful of airline baggage allowances I could easily have come away with a dozen or more books. Mlle with no such restrictions added to her collection – she makes a point of buying a book every time she comes here. I couldn’t come away completely empty handed though – I bought a pocket guide Volume 3 of London’s Hidden Walks (just need to find Volumes 1 and 2 now!). Highly recommend popping into the Brick Lane Bookshop if you’re in the area!

 

 

Wandering round the markets was tiring work and by mid afternoon we were in need of some refreshments! Following “Mlle’s guided tour” again, we headed off to a gorgeous little spot tucked away off the beaten track – more about that next week!

 

Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

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