Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

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.

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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!

 

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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!

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

 

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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!).

 

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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!

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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.

 

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Piona Abbey

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

On Board The Milano On Lake Como

The attractions of Lake Como go without saying! We used the ferries to travel round the lake stopping off at pretty towns and villas along the way. Not only practical, they are a great way to admire the stunning scenery in a leisurely fashion. One of the loveliest trips we took was aboard one of the original paddle steamers, the historic Milano. We were heading up to the less touristy northern end of the lake following a tip from Julia, our tour guide on our day trip over to St Moritz (see here for last week’s instalment). She had highly recommended a visit to the Abbazia di Piona (Piona Abbey) – both for its beautiful church and gardens and to sample the monks’ alcoholic beverages, a cure-all apparently for all manner of ailments!

 

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The Old Paddle Ship, The Milano, On Lake Como

 

I will have to save the Piona tour for next week as some gremlins have been at work on my computer and I’ve spent a frustrating couple of hours trying to fix it! The Milano, however, deserves a post in her own right. Built in 1904 as a paddle steamer, she was converted into motor and screw propulsion in 1926. Today she regularly plies the lake route – normally in low season she goes all the way from Como City to Colico in the north (just round the promontory from Piona). In the main season she turns round at Menaggio and Varenna before heading south again.

 

 

We were enchanted by her old world charm and spent a pleasant time chatting to the crew about her history. If you’re staying on Lake Como, it’s well worth trying to find out the Milano’s schedule as it was such fun to cruise up and down the lake on such a beautiful boat and feel part of the lake’s heritage.

 

 

We passed Dongo (where Mussolini was arrested by partisans towards the end of the 2nd World War) and Gravedonna before heading across to the little landing stage at Piona. After several assurances from the crew that they would be back to pick us up in a hour or so’s time we headed off up the little wooded path leading to the abbey entrance. More to follow next week!

 

 

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

The Stunning Setting Of Chiavenna On The River Mera

Our last stop on our incredible day out from Menaggio (see here, here, here and here for the previous instalments) was the charming Italian town of Chiavenna.

 

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River Mera Chiavenna

 

We were dropped off outside the rail station (a small branch line connects Chiavenna with Colico near the head of Lake Como) and headed off to explore. First stop the main piazza where we went in search of refreshments.  The temperature was milder here than the north side of the alps and we sat in the main piazza, basking in the sun and enjoying some delicious treats from Il gelato del vecio!

 

 

Chiavenna nestles high up in the pre Alps near the Italian border. The River Mera gushes through town on its way down from the Val Bregaglia and the Maloya Pass to Lake Como in the south. North of the town, the Valle Spluga also heads towards the Spluga Pass (if you thought the Maloja sounded tricky read about driving conditions on the Spluga!) and over to Chur in Switzerland. With such a strategic position near two important alpine passes, Chiavenna became an important trading post and it still retains much of its medieval charm and character. We had a pleasant stroll through the narrow streets enjoying the sunny atmosphere.

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Chiavenna Cobbled Streets

 

Many of the old buildings are now home to trendy boutiques, food and deli shops and a myriad of cafes and restaurants. Some of the cafes are housed inside old caves or crotti – they are quite a feature in Chiavenna. With churches including the ancient Church of Saint Lawrence dating back to the 5th century, museums, parks and walking trails, Chiavenna was certainly  worth visiting. We would have liked to have stayed longer but after a quick afternoon tea break it was time to head back to our coach for the relatively short ride back to Lake Como (16 kms further south).

 

 

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

Stunning Scenery Of The Val Bregaglia

After our lovely interlude in St Moritz (see here) we rejoined our coach for the return journey to Menaggio. Having arrived in the Engadine Valley via the stunning Bernina Pass, we travelled back towards the Italian border on the south west route via the Maloja Pass. We’d never been this way before and it was one of the reasons we chose to do the guided day trip from Menaggio. I was also very glad that we had the luxury of being driven as we could admire the gorgeous scenery and not have to worry about driving off the road at a hairpin bend!

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The Alps In The Upper Engadine Valley

 

We drove past pretty villages, Silvaplana and Sils/Segl Maria both nestling by shimmering alpine lakes with many attractions if you’re looking for an alternative to St Moritz. Sils is especially known as a tranquil paradise and a place in which to recharge your batteries. It has always appealed to artists and writers – Nietzsche was drawn to the area and the Nietzschse House in Sils is a popular tourist attraction. The guest list of the Waldhaus Hotel reads like a Who’s Who – David Bowie, Marc Chagall, Albert Einstein and Richard Strauss among many others have all stayed here. The artist Giovanni Segantini (his story is well worth a read) spent his final five years here and the Segantini Museum in St Moritz is dedicated to his work. It’s not too difficult to see why this area has given inspiration to so many artists and literary figures!

 

 

Leaving Sils behind we approached the head of the impressive Maloja Pass. I’m not sure whether it’s better to be driving up or down – either way even in the capable hands of our experienced coach driver, Hermes, I confess to feeling a tad apprehensive. 1815 m at its top elevation, the Maloja links the Engadine Valley with the Italian speaking Val Bregaglia (still in Switzerland though). The Maloja Pass is an essential route through the Alps and as a Swiss Post Bus route (St Moritz to Chiavenna in North Italy),  it is a priority to keep it open all year round even in midwinter.

 

 

Safely reaching the bottom of the pass, we drove on through the gorgeous Val Bregaglia (das Bergell in German) another slice of paradise! Beautiful and remote, it has numerous mountain trails and walking paths and was also known as the “Artists Valley” as so many artists, drawn by its tranquillity and beauty, came to paint and live here. Segantini spent time here and the artist Alberto Giacometti was born here. Alas the little village of Vicosoprano has, according to our guide Julia, had an unfortunate past. She pointed out the court house with a round roof, the Pretorio built in 1583, which was the setting for some infamous witch trials in the late 17th century. Fortunately she spared us the details but there was a slightly eerie feeling driving through the village. The surrounding scenery however was wonderful!

 

 

Although not on any rail links, the Bregaglia is serviced regularly by the Swiss Post Buses that ply the Maloja route. We have used them ourselves on a previous trip (via the San Bernardino Pass from Thusis to Bellinzona) and they are a fun and interesting way to travel plus like everything else in Switzerland highly reliable!

Before we knew it we’d reached the Swiss/Italian border at Castasegna just a few kilometres from Chiavenna, our last stop of the day – more about that next week!

 

 

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

 

 

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

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