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.
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!).
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