Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

Lakeside Dining Bellagio

Following our stroll and shopping expedition in Bellagio (see here) we wandered down to the lake in search of lunch. The water front is as pretty as you’d expect, lined with trees and floral displays. There are so many cafes and restaurants with attractive terraces taking advantage of the stunning views.


Lake Como At Bellagio


We were waiting for the ferry to take us further north up the lake so didn’t want to venture too far from the ferry point. Hence we settled ourselves down on the terrace of Hotel du Lac right on the front. Fish was the order of the day and I had the fresh catch of the day whilst Monsieur tucked into a large bowl of mussels. It was simply cooked nothing too fancy but was delicious.


Bellagio has that dreamy timeless feel about it and really little appeared to have changed since our previous visit 7 years ago. On that occasion we ate a little further along the lake front and indulged our love of gelati and aperitivos!



The lakeside promenade beyond the cafe strip is so pretty and a good way to walk off any lunchtime excesses! We didn’t have time to walk that way on our recent visit so the photos are taken from our previous trip. At one point we came across a poignant memorial to a couple of sailors who had helped rescue people drowning in the lake (I can’t remember the exact details but it was beautifully cared for and drew our attention).



A little further along the path, you come to the entrance to Villa Melzi, another of Lake Como’s treasures. We didn’t get the chance to go round on either of our trips but if you happen to be in the area from March to October it looks well worth a visit (see here).

The old paddle steamer, the Milano, duly arrived to take us further up the lake to the Abbazia di Piona near Colico at the rugged northern end of Lago Como. However next week we’ll explore the southern end near Como City and take a short funicular trip up to a pretty village with an amazing view.



The Milano Ferry Approaching Bellagio Quay

Serbelloni Hill Bellagio

We visited so many delightful towns, villas and gardens during our Lake Como stay but I still haven’t written about one of the most famous – Bellagio known as the “Pearl Of Lake Como” for good reason!


Bellagio Lake Como


We have been here a couple of times (back in 2009 and in April this year). Situated on the promontory that separates the 2 inverted “Y” shaped arms of the lake, Bellagio enjoys a delightful situation. There are expansive views of the lake and mountains in all directions. It enjoys road access down to Lecco in the south and onto Bergamo (with its airport) in the south east. Roads also go down to Milan and its air and road links in the south west. The lake ferries shuttle you between Menaggio (our home base), Varenna and Bellagio at regular intervals and the views on approach are delightful.


Our latest visit was relatively short as we were keen to go further up the lake to the Abbazia di Piona (see here). However we still had time to wander around the pretty streets, many of them lined with shops selling a myriad of souvenirs! The staircase of Serbelloni Hill is in the heart of the town and is crammed full of boutiques and craft shops. Originally there was a moat here to protect the fortified village in medieval times. As the peninsula is gently undulating here, the streets are not quite as steep or narrow as those in Varenna (see herehere and here).



I was on a mission to find some silk scarves as the Como region is famous for its silk production. Once manufactured in the lakeside area, silk is now generally imported though I did see a recent television programme, which highlighted the silk industry and the revival of artisanal silk production in the area. The silk scarves and ties are all made in the area, even if the raw materials are imported. As you would expect, the scarves are exquisitely made with Italian flair and style. I got rather carried away in Azalea but I must add the customer service was wonderful and there was no pressure to buy. However after having got what seemed like half of the shop’s wares out on the counter, I did feel it would be rude to walk away empty handed! So I didn’t!!



Le Chic En Rose In Bellagio


Further up the hill you reach the Via Garibaldi. In medieval times there was a drawbridge at this point, which was the entrance to the fortified village. Turning right you come across the charming Romanesque Chiesa di San Giorgio, which dates back to 1120. A quiet and tranquil place, the church is a peaceful contrast to the hustle and bustle down lakeside. It has a solitary bell tower overlooking a small side street.



If you turn left at Via Garibaldi you reach the larger church of San Giacomo. This basilica dates from the 11th and 12th centuries and contains many beautiful artworks including mosaics, an altar and a piece called “A Deposition Of Christ” by the Perugino school. We walked round the exterior but time constraints meant the interior will have to wait for another time.



Basilica Of San Giacomo Bellagio


After our stroll round town we wandered back down to the lake in search of some refreshments. You are spoilt for choice with the many cafes and restaurants jostling for space and customers by the lake. There are also some beautiful walking spots and equally gorgeous gardens. It is not difficult to see what drew the composer Franz Liszt to Bellagio in the 19th century.  He stayed here with his partner, Countess d’Agoult, from 1836 to 1837 and there is a commemorative headstone to this interlude up in the village. Their daughter Cosima married the composer Richard Wagner. In a letter to a friend Liszt wrote, “When you write the story of two happy lovers, set them on the shores of Lake Como”. More of Bellagio’s charms to follow next week. Ciao for now!



Water’s Edge – Lake Como At Bellagio


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

Villa Carlotta Tremezzo

We were lucky enough to visit the exquisite gardens of Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo at arguably their most spectacular during the glorious displays of spring (see here for last week’s “Taster”). In April the azaleas and rhododendrons are a profusion of wonderful pinks, reds and soft creamy whites.



We had a lazy lunch overlooking Lake Como first and were pleasantly surprised to get straight into the gardens without a queue. Our ticket was for both house and gardens and we set off to explore. We had no idea from the lakeside how extensive the gardens are. Laid out over 70,000 square metres with pathways, stairs and woods it is like a walk through an enchanted garden and forest.



Villa Carlotta is named after the daughter of Albert I of Prussia. Her mother, Princess Marianne of Nassau, had purchased the villa in 1843 and gave it to her daughter, Carlotta, as a wedding present (as one does!). Originally built for a Milanese marquis, Giorgio Clerici, at the end of the 17th century it has a superb setting overlooking the lake and across to the Grignas mountains and the Bellagio Peninsula.



View Across Lake Como To Bellagio


In 1801, Gian Battista Sommariva, a politician, businessman and patron of the arts had purchased the villa and he oversaw the acquisition of some outstanding 19th century artworks, which form the basis of the collection in the house today. Not surprisingly Villa Carlotta became one of the essential stopping points on the aristocrats’ Grand Tours during the 19th century.


Aside from the spectacular floral displays we also walked through the Valley of the Ferns and the Bamboo Gardens. Although not a particularly sunny day the gardens still looked divine and the brief rain showers were actually rather refreshing. Set along a hillside, the paths were often steep – I can imagine the ladies with their crinolines and bustles trying to get up and down them! The panoramic viewing areas were particularly stunning, designed to take full advantage of the prime lakeside setting.



Villa Carlotta Tremezzo


At one point you come across a small garden shed now turned into a museum of some old fashioned gardening and farming implements.


No photos allowed in the main house! I found this out the hard way and had the embarrassment of being yelled at in Italian in front of some bemused looking tourists. Downstairs is given over to the neo-classical artworks and is decorated in the elegant style of Italianate villas of the 18th and 19th centuries. Upstairs was more simply decorated and the pretty soft lemon walls were currently home to an exhibition of an Italian Swiss artist entitled “As Clouds”. There didn’t appear to be any photographic restrictions here!


The views from the windows down to the entrance and across the lake were charming.


View From Villa Carlotta Interior


We wandered through an arbor lined with citrus trees and enjoyed an extended browse in the well-stocked gift shop before heading towards the cafe, where we enjoyed some gelati and a cup of tea. Villa Carlotta has its own ferry stop just a little further north from the quay at Tremezzo so we were able to time our exit to perfection and took the late afternoon ferry back to our Menaggio base in time for “Aperitivo Hour”.



Villa Carlotta Tremezzo


During the summer months and holiday seasons I am sure Villa Carlotta would get very crowded, especially with all the coach parties, but if you happen to be there on a quiet midweek day as we were then it is a different story. We were able to enjoy the beautiful gardens at leisure and it was a wonderfully relaxing and peaceful experience!


Villa Carlotta Tremezzo Entrance


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

Lake Como Viewed From The Terraces Of Villa Carlotta Tremezzo

Post flu lethargy and a busy weekend have not been conducive to blog writing! With another wild and wet weekend we are beginning to think spring has got lost en route to Perth this year! C’est pas normale! So on this chilly Sunday evening, it’s nice to be able to carry on sorting though the photos of our Italian trip in April where the gardens were a riot of spring colour. Here are a few photos from our visit to the stunning Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. The gardens were a never ending treasure trove – they spread out in a series of walkways and paths from the steep terraces. Full post to follow this week!




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

Lunch With A View Varenna

After last week’s brief preview here is an account of our wanderings round Varenna – one of our favourite towns amongst many delightful places around Lake Como. Originally a fishing village, it dates from the 11th century and still retains the character of its humble beginnings despite its evident charms as a tourist attraction.


Lake Como Glimpses From Varenna Street


On first arrival at the ferry quay, the easiest course is just to follow the crowds along the lake front until you start coming across the little cafes and bars nestling by the lake. We decided to come back to those later and explore the little town first. The rabbit warren of narrow streets and old buildings leaves you wondering which way to go?!


The steep little streets lead tantalisingly uphill and we were never too sure where we’d come out. However we  learnt that it was a case of all steps leading to Rome – going up you inevitably end up in the bustling main piazza and going down you reach the lake sooner or later!



Varenna Main Piazza


The pretty cobbled town square is dominated by the Parish Church of San Giorgio. Consecrated in 1313 and restored in 1957, the facade contains a large fresco portraying St Christopher. Inside there are more artworks though we had to leave exploring the interior for another visit. Just down a side street from the piazza is an excellent tourist office – they helped us out with a query about our ferry tickets far more efficiently and patiently than the staff at the ferry terminals!



An alternative route is to turn left as you leave the ferry quay, which takes you  away from the tourist traffic and wander up the hillside towards the little railway station tucked into the cliff. I’m never any good with directions but Monsieur was convinced that by following the street upwards and right we would end up in the main piazza again – he was right and we had lovely views down to Lake Como below as we walked along!




There are many delightful walking trails in the pre alpine hills surrounding Varenna but we decided to go back down to the lake and enjoy a leisurely lunch instead!


Nilus Bar Varenna Lakeside Terrace

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

Lakeside Varenna

Last week we had a lovely lunch overlooking Lake Como in Varenna Jewel By The Lake Part 1 (see here). Part 2 will be delayed by one week because of a few family crises that have occurred this week. All nearly well now, so here is a taster photo.



Varenna Main Piazza


Hoping for a more tranquil week ahead! Ciao for now!


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

Lake Como Varenna

Heading back to Italy this week to finish off the posts about our Italian trip! I wrote about Varenna a few weeks back (see Streets Of Varenna here) but one short post doesn’t do this delightful place justice!



Gently lapping waters on the shore of Lake Como at Varenna


Varenna is a gorgeous old fishing village built into the side of a cliff on the eastern edge of Lake Como. It was, in our opinion,  an absolute gem!  Its location means that it isn’t as easy to access from Milan’s Malpensa airport as the lake’s western side – you have to drive right round the lake to get there or else take the car ferry across from Menaggio. However it is well linked by public transport being on the train line that runs from Tirano in the north down to Lecco. Maybe this attracts more independent tourists and locals rather than package tours. Whilst there were some pretty little artisan craft shops, Varenna didn’t have the same number of souvenir shops as Bellagio on the opposite promontory and this gave it a less “touristy” feel.  Whatever the reason Varenna had a certain “je ne sais quoi” that we found irresistible.




We discovered a little cafe/bar/restaurant down by the lake front on the first day of our trip and liked it so much we went back for lunch later. Nilus Bar isn’t pretentious and the casual lakeside vibe adds to its charm. We got there just in time to get a good spot by the lake in the outdoor terrace area although the unseasonably chilly winds meant we still needed the cafe blinds down. Still, it was hardly anything to complain about (which didn’t stop the couple at the adjacent table who were nonplussed at this very slight disruption to their lakeside view despite the waitress’ explanations about plates potentially going flying and drinks being blown over). We sat back and enjoyed the gently lapping waters and the still excellent view!




Nilus serves the sort of simple food that the Italians seem to take for granted but seems so hard to get back home where pasta dishes are usually far heavier. Fresh local ingredients, simply cooked, superb flavours and all served in a stunning lakeside setting. The special of the day was penne cooked with saffron, prawn and zucchini – it was unbelievably light for a pasta dish and tasted divine! Desserts of delicious tiramisu, a chocolate and caramel gelato concoction, pinot grigio wines and coffees (and tea for me!) were the icing on the cake.




Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities for exercise to walk off any lunchtime excesses. We set off to explore more of Varenna’s hillside alleys, narrow cobbled streets and lakeside paths – more next week!




Cobbled Hillside Street In Varenna


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

Carilley Estate Winery Swan Valley WA

A busy week of “Grandmum Le Chic ” duties has left little time for blogging (our daughter, La Chic Maman, has also been away at a wedding this weekend!). However there has been just a hint of spring although it’s still cool for the time of year. Following on with my #justanotherdayinwa theme (see here for last week’s post), I’d like to share some photos from a lovely day out at Carilley Estate for Monsieur Le Chic’s birthday the other weekend.



The beautiful Swan Valley is only half an hour or so’s drive from the centre of Perth and our home on the coast, yet you feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside. Nestling at the foot of the Darling Escarpment, the valley’s fertile soil is especially conducive to wine growing. The happy consequence of this setting is that there is an abundance of wineries, cafes and restaurants. We visited Carilley Estate (just outside Herne Hill) at the suggestion of La Chic Maman, who is vegetarian and always likes to check out her options first! It proved an inspired choice not just for her but the rest of us – pork, lamb and fish dishes all featured with wonderful vegetable accompaniments. We started off with a superb tasting platter of local cheeses, home-made pate and chutneys. There was also a good choice of dishes on the kids’ menu for the two little “Petites”. Plus the grown ups sampled some of the estate’s excellent wines!



With a lovely terrace and grounds sloping gently down to a pretty little brook, Carilley is a popular wedding venue. It is quite small and intimate and you definitely need to book a table in advance. After lunch “les Petites” played happily in the garden and on the equipment in the children’s play area. It wasn’t quite warm enough for us to sit outside for lunch but, by mid afternoon, a few people were enjoying drinks and platters out on the terrace. It is the sort of place where for just a couple of hours or so time stands still and you feel truly relaxed. The Swan Valley has a lovely country feel and it’s always a treat to drive out there for a lazy lunch!



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

Hotham Valley Tourist Train

Am just taking a quick detour from our European travels to post a bit closer to home this week. A couple of months ago Tourism WA launched a new advertising campaign with the catchphrase “# Just another day in WA”! The idea being that people could share their own personal experiences on social media using the phrase as a tag. I thought I’d do my bit this week by sharing some photos of our recent trip on the delightful Hotham Valley Tourist Railway. 



Based in Dwellingup a couple of hours or so south from Perth, the railway was set up in 1974 to keep alive the heritage of the area. Originally a logging town, the railway was a vital means of getting the logs transported up to the coast and towards Perth but fell into disuse. Now manned by dedicated volunteers the trains trundle off into the nearby forest at weekends and school holidays. From June to October you can enjoy the charms of the old steam engines (it’s too risky with the bushfire threat in the summer months).


We had booked to go on the afternoon “Steam Ranger” with our daughter, son in law and 2 very excited little granddaughters!  We had lunch first at Dwellingup Hotel, which is WA’s only remaining community hotel. It has been open since the early 1900s (historic by our standards!) and is also one of the few buildings to have survived the devastating Dwellingup bushfires of 1961. They serve good hearty pub food as you’d expect and must do a roaring trade when the trains are running!



Finally after much anticipation the eagerly awaited departure time came – off we went! The 2 hour ride takes you along the Darling Escarpment through scenic jarrah forests, across streams and several level crossings (with much waving and cheering!).



Hotham Valley Steam Ranger


After a pleasant ride you come to Isandra Siding where there is a 30 minute turn around. You can stretch your legs and wander round but there isn’t much else to do as you are out in the middle of the forest. Train and engine buffs will enjoy watching the engine being uncoupled and recoupled though. Rest assured there are toilets and cafe facilities back on the train! Once the engine is all set up again it’s all aboard for the return journey! Our little granddaughters (3 and 15 months) were beyond excited and loved having the window open so they could see out. You can purchase goggles if you like to protect your eyes from the steam but we didn’t find it a problem though our clothes did smell vaguely sooty when we got off again (all part of the fun!).


The “Forest Train”,  which takes you in the opposite direction out of Dwellingup to the Etmilyn Forest operates all year round (Saturdays and Sundays from November to April and Saturdays only the rest of the year). It is pulled either by a diesel or steam engine depending on the time of year. At Etmilyn you can enjoy a 20 to 25 minute stroll through the jarrah forest before the return journey to Dwellingup. We did this route a few years back (just the two of us on that occasion) and I can highly recommend it too. Also very popular is the Restaurant Train where you can enjoy a fine dining experience  whilst riding into the forest and back.

Personally I don’t think you can beat the charms of an old steam train and the Hotham Valley Tourist Railway is a wonderful testament to Western Australia’s heritage!


Hotham Valley Tourist Train

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

Piona Abbey

After our lovely cruise on board the gorgeous old Milano (see here) we set off to explore the ancient Abbazia di Piona. Highly recommended by our tour guide, Julia, (from our day out in St Moritz), it is not as well known as other places on Lake Como and on this particular April afternoon we more or less had the place to ourselves. In fact as we wandered up the thick wooded path in the direction of the abbey we did begin to wonder if we were coming to the right place. It was so quiet and still you could hear a pin drop – a lovely mild spring day though still brisk enough for winter clothes with the wind chill.


Not a soul was around when we got to the gates and we were a little unsure whether to go inside. There was a notice with signs about appropriate dress – common sense such as covering your shoulders out of respect in the warmer months (scarves always come in handy when travelling!). Apart from observing the appropriate dress decorum, there were no other restrictions and entrance was free. Irrespective of anyone’s religious views, Piona is a gorgeous spot – so tranquil and peaceful by the lake with beautifully maintained gardens, a lovely old church and ancient cloisters.


Piona Abbey is set on the Olgiasca Hill at the foot of Mount Legnone near the northern tip of Lake Como. Sources say that that a monastic community first lived there in the 7th century. Some of  the ruins behind today’s church of the Blessed Virgin and San Nicola belong to the original buildings. Towards the end of the 11th century the abbey was involved in the Cluniac Reformation when monks from the mother abbey in Cluny (Eastern France) moved to help restore monastic life in failing communities elsewhere.  Eventually from the beginning of the 19th century, the abbey passed into the ownership of a series of local families before being bequeathed by the Rocca family along with the Piona Estate to the monks of the Cistercian Congregation of Casamari.


Today you can stroll through the beautiful grounds with stunning vistas of Lake Como in the background, explore the old cloisters and visit the abbey church. The orchards were starting to blossom and the scents and perfumes were lovely.



The monks’ shop is only open a couple of times a day (from memory once in the morning and once in the afternoon) and well worth a visit if you have time. There are a myriad of beverages distilled from the abundance of flowers and herbs growing in the mountains – we came away with the San Bernardo Elixir (27 %  proof – I bargained Monsieur down from 40%!) and guaranteed to blow more than a few cobwebs away. It tastes a bit like schnapps mixed with licorice and has come in very useful this past few months with Perth’s especially (by our standards) cold winter! The shop also sells a good selection of other items such as books, hand-made soaps and herbal sachets – would have loved to have brought some of the toiletries back with me as well as the liquor and books but probably wouldn’t have got them through Australian customs.


We were mindful of getting back down to the lake to catch the last ferry of the day. The Milano came round the corner as promised having been up to Colico (the northern lake terminus) and back! We were the only passengers getting on and off at Piona and the quay was manned by an elderly gentleman who waited in his car between ferries.



Although we only spent about an hour looking round Piona it was a wonderful interlude and well worth making the trip up from our base in the central part of the lake.



Piona Abbey

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

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