Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

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

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!



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.



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.


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!


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.


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!


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



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.



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!



The Bernina Line Information Sheet


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

Vines On The Slopes Of The Valtellina

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!).


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!


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.


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”!



Aperitivo Hour Menaggio Overlooking Lake Como




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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 296 other followers

%d bloggers like this: