If you grew up in New England, you likely fall into one of two distinct camps. Either you battled beach traffic each summer or packed the car and headed north to one of the New Hampshire or Maine lakes. I spent seemingly endless summers on Cape Cod filled with sandcastles, riding waves for hours on end, and cracking open lobstah’s with sides of corn on the cob. Therefore, when asked the rhetorical question, “ocean or lake?” my answer is always “ocean” without hesitation. Don’t get me wrong, I have “lake friends” so I understand the lure of water sports, hiking and lakeside camps. But my most distinct “lake” memory entails falling out of a bunk bed at Lake Winnipesaukee and fracturing my collarbone when I was eight. Not exactly a fond memory.
So when we decided to book a last minute trip to northern Italy starting at Lago di Como, I was really excited but my expectations were somewhat tempered due to the fact that I am unequivocally and most definitely an ocean girl. I was certain it would be nice but couldn’t possibly compare to the coastline. The highlight of our trip would be a few days later in Cinque Terre… or so I thought.
To get to the lake region from Zürich, we drove about three and half hours over the Splügen mountain pass and arrived in Gravedona in time for a late dinner.
Our BnB was a simple family owned guesthouse in a residential area a few minute drive from town. After a good night’s sleep we woke to freshly baked croissants, local cheeses and jams with a very nice view of the lake. Perfect preparation for the short hike to Refugio Menaggio we had planned. The hike started in Bresgia, a small mountain side village. It initially ascended alongside rustic stone cottages, then meandered through wooded paths and a grassy ridge.
Rifuggio Mennagio stood proudly at the top in a grassy meadow with panoramic views that were well… I’ll try not to gush, but wow. Imagine a Fjord-like vista comprised of green hills and mountainous terrain descending into glistening blue water with tiny villages dotting the coastline. Absolutely amazing. Enough to convert an east coast ocean girl to a lake girl? Getting close but would need a bit more convincing.
We ordered polenta and antipasti, soaked in the view and reluctantly made our way back down to the village. One thing I love about hiking in Italy is the reward at the end of your hike. In addition to beautiful views, you often find mountain huts serving fresh, home-cooked Italian food and local wine, a combination I can really wrap my head around.
The next stop would be Varenna, a tiny town with steep, narrow streets and a picturesque harbor. We arrived via ferry and quickly found a cafe with a view of the lake. An afternoon aperitif was in order.
That evening we hopped on the ferry again and made our way to Bellagio for dinner, the most famous of the Lake Como villages. As beautiful as it is, Bellagio is the most touristy. Its promenade and streets have been perfectly restored without the subtle imperfections or yet to be renovated buildings that give some of the other towns a more authentic appeal.
Here we wandered a bit and then finally opted to get dinner at an unpretentious restaurant on one of the side streets off the main promenade. Pasta with fresh seafood was a good choice.
The following morning, clouds were on the horizon so we decided to get an early start and head south to Cinque Terre. The question stands, have I reconsidered my position on the age-old dichotomy of ocean versus lake? Has this ocean girl been converted? With just two nights, I really only got a glimpse of Lago di Como, a little tease that certainly exceeded my expectations and left me wanting more. The ocean still has heart but I may need to do a bit more onsite research to be sure.
Where we stayed and ate:
Bed and Breakfast Lori
On the outskirts of Gravedona . Perfect if you have a car and don’t mind staying outside of the city center. The host is extremely gracious and the rooms are kept impeccably clean. Free WIFI and breakfast. Approximately 95 Euro per night.
L’Antico Pozzo Restaurant
In Bellagio, on a side street, off the main promenade. Unpretentious, family friendly restaurant with basic but fresh seafood dishes and reasonable prices.