Since joining the houseswap site www.homeforexchange.com we’ve had a lot of offers for homeswaps, and we are now owed three in Europe. As most of the people stayed at our place nearly two years ago, we decided it is now time to do a trip combining these three destinations – Lucca in Italy, and Colmar and Paris in France. Debbie and Mike will meet us in Stresa on Lake Maggiore, Italy, and we’ll explore the Italian lakes and Milan together, then travel to Lucca, where they’ve booked an apartment for a week (our homeswap is only one bedroom). They’ll go to Rome for a week while we stay another week in Lucca, then we’ll meet up again in Positano, go to Isle of Capri and Naples, then all fly to Basel to share the homeswap place in Colmar. After two weeks we’ll head for two weeks in Paris, and they’ll head off on their own.
This was a big travel year for us, as we were also planning a 6-week holiday in Indonesia (also with Debbie and Mike) before this trip, which included a couple of 10-day boat trips. The eventual result of trying to co-ordinate the boat trip dates, as well as the later three homeswap dates, was that we only had a month between when we got home from Indonesia, and when we left for Europe. This would have been OK if Dianne hadn’t fallen down stairs on the first boat trip, and badly hurt her ankle, which turned out to be broken, with two ligaments with full thickness tears.
Instead of a month to organize for our trip, she spent two weeks in plaster, using crutches, with no weight-bearing. Rest of time was taken up with visits to doctor, getting x-rays and scans, emergency, fracture clinic, osteoporosis clinic and physio. After the plaster came off, she had a fracture boot which came just below the knee. During the next two weeks she used it less and less, and by the time we left she could walk (slowly) half a kilometer or so. We bought an ankle brace which was much less bulky, organized to get a wheelchair for the airports, and were ready to go, working on the assumption that we’d have to do less than we planned at the beginning of the trip, but by the end of the nine weeks we should be able to do most of the walking we’d planned.
Tuesday 20th June 2017 Sydney to Incheon, Republic South Korea
We are flying Korean Air, a new airline for us. Friends have used it, and given good reports. As well as a competitive price (A$1,349 for Sydney/Seoul/Milan – Paris/Sydney) they provide a free night’s accommodation at Incheon airport (which we later found included vouchers for three meals!).
We have a 7.45am flight, and are up before the alarm as usual with early flights. Have plenty of time to get everything ready, including putting on compression stockings and the new boot for Dianne, a two-man job carried out with considerable difficulty.
We’ve only used Uber once before, quite a while ago, but friends have convinced us it’s the way to go, so we’ve decided to give it a go again. Information indicates a wait time of less than 9 minutes in Balmain, but the internet site is not particularly user friendly, particularly for Dianne, whose old I-phone has a touch screen which isn’t particularly sensitive. We have several near misses getting a start, but time out before a contract is completed. Time is passing, so Murray has to find a phone number for Combined Taxis, and rings up for one. They are unable to get an ETA for the taxi, so we just have to get ourselves downstairs and wait, in the rain which has been heavy, but is now easing off. Not a particularly auspicious start for our trip, but the taxi is there in about three minutes, and we were on our slightly tense way to the airport, around the long but quick way to the airport. Traffic was pretty light, and we made it in good time, arriving later than we ( or Murray) normally prefers, but still well within the limits.
At the airport, they have removed the signs which show where the check-in counters are because waiting for a place in the right spot was causing congestion, so the driver drops us in the middle of the concourse. Korean isn’t the last card in the pack, but is close, so Dianne had a long hobble to the end of the queue, which was extending beyond the start of the race, but not too bad. Initial appeals for clemency due to disability fell on deaf ears, but later we managed to get to the front of the queue in the upper class area, and had a smooth transition to sitting on the seats in the main passage with our wheelchair beside us.
Apart from the pain and medical expense, wheelchair class is pretty flash, getting both of us a quick passage through immigration and security. Murray’s passport required a second scan, but at least we didn’t need to go to the supervisor for a closer scan. The gate for Korean was relatively close to the security, but still a long way through duty free, so Dianne was very pleased she had booked the wheelchair.
At the gate, we were parked close to the desk, with another woman in a wheelchair, and were first on board once boarding was started. Dianne asked if there were spare seats available, but, as usual, these days, the plane was full. We took up our current two aisle configuration, but later Dianne, after some pleading, was allowed to use the spare crew seats until they were needed, so she could put her leg up. The plane was an Airbus 330, four engine, 2-4-2 configuration. We would normally have booked two seats side-by-side if we’d known that was available. We couldn’t fault the Korean service with food service pretty good, and often, a fair supply of watchable movies, and cabin temperature kept to survivable levels. A window to look out of and take photos on an all-daylight flight would have been nice, but, these days with everyone watching movies continuously, it is hard to open the window shades for a look without upsetting someone.
On arrival, we were last out of the plane, and Dianne was wheeled at least a kilometre down the departure hall, with Murray trotting behind with the day packs on a cart. At the transit hotel, just upstairs from the main hall, we did a credit card deposit, received six 10,000 Won meal vouchers (a pleasant surprise) and were in our room with the wheelchair and the baggage cart, in under ten minutes. They promised to pick us up at 2PM the next day. At no additional cost, this is pretty luxurious service.
The hotel room was small, and modern, with a queen double bed, bathroom, TV, wifi from the airport, and enough room in the passage for our wheelchair and baggage cart. Being at the end of the corridor, we had a view out above the check-in area of the domestic airport, but no outside view. The air was pretty grey, so it was no great loss not having a view over the airport.
We had been pretty well overfed on the flight, so rested before venturing out to see what we could get for 10,000 Won at the participating food outlets. We have a look at the possibilities of a free tour to tourist attractions in Incheon tomorrow, and settle for good nachos and Pepsi at a Taco Bell restaurant. Ethnic cooking, just not from Korea. It was a few hundred metres to do the rounds of the possible food outlets and back to the room, so we decided not to overdo it, and call it a night after having the meal.
Back at the room, Murray manages to find some English language TV, Dianne watches some downloaded Mad Men on the computer and we call it a night, planning to be up early enough to get a tour which will get us back to the room comfortably before our 2PM collection.
Wednesday 21st June Incheon, South Korea to Milan and on to Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy
When we check out the possible free tours from the airport, there is only the short, one-hour tour which is possible, and it involves signing up at the booth, then going through immigration and customs (which they tell us could take an hour) to find a desk in the arrivals area to pick up the tour, then passing through immigration on the way back, which is a bit fraught with problems if there are delays, so we decide to give it a miss, have breakfast combos at a burger outlet, bringing the total cost for two up to 19,900 Won.
We return to the room, take it almost too easy as we have to hurry to get to Taco Bell’s for lunch and back to the room to finalise our packing and be booked out and ready to go by 2PM. Our pickup is right on time, and we take a shorter walk, we think, to our gate, which is off to the left about halfway down the main concourse, but is at the end of another long corridor.
Once again, we are asked to wait right next to the boarding desk, and are first cab off the rank to get our seats almost at the back of the plane, this time in D seats with Dianne right behind Murray. This turned out to be less than ideal, as Dianne had to put her right foot on the left side armrest of Murray’s seat, leaving it sticking out a fair way into the aisle. There were no spare crew seats this leg, so Dianne had to make the best of it, leg up on the armrest, leg upon the top of Murray’s headrest (to the considerable alarm of the young Chinese woman sitting next to him) or standing up in the rear of the cabin. One way or another, she made it through, with a fair bit of swelling in the right foot, and occasional sharp twinges of pain.
With the same movie programme, Murray was able to watch the second half of Moana, Beauty and the Beast, Hidden Figures and a fair bit of Logan, but neither of us got a lot of sleep (Dianne none). On arrival at Milan’s Malpensa International we were a quarter of an hour behind schedule for our one and a half hour connection time for our Alibus to Stresa (the last of the day) – not too bad, depending on the efficiency of our exit. Even with being at the back of the plane and having to wait till last, our trusty wheelchair pusher got us straight to the head of the queue at immigration, which was remarkably perfunctory, and to baggage before most of the other passengers. Our bags were out quite quickly, and we passed through Customs without even seeing a Customs officer. Considering all the refugee troubles Europe is having, we couldn’t believe how casual the whole entry to Europe, not just Italy, was.
We had specific instructions on where to get the bus, and even though it was right at the far end of the large airport, we were there with nearly an hour to spare. We thanked our helpful pusher man and settled down to wait.
While we were waiting, Murray went to get 600€ out of the cash machine, counted eight 50€ notes, and only ten of the blue notes which are exactly the same colour as Australian 10 dollar notes. After complaining to the counter behind the ATM, and being told the count was right, he looked harder, saw that the blue notes were 20’s – red faces all round.
With about ten minutes to go, we walked out to the bus rank to wait for our Alibus. There was no sign for it, and people we asked had no idea what Alibus was, but it turned up on time in the form of a 12 to 15 seater van, with two English tourists, staying at one of the more upmarket hotels, and us the only passengers to Stresa. We pay our 12€ a head fare for the one-hour trip, and settle into the second row of seats from the front. We were able to follow our route on maps.me, even though we hadn’t downloaded the first half of the map, but were able to follow along the lake to Stresa without problems. We were hoping for delivery right to the door, but were dropped on the main road, more-or-less in line with the pin on the map for our Hotel Elena. The hotel was on a square only a hundred metres of flat pedestrian-only alley in from the main road. We understood why we weren’t dropped at the door, as the hotel was right on the main square which was full of outdoor restaurants and tourists.
At Hotel Elena (86 euros per night for three nights), we were expected, so booked in, wrote a note to leave at the door of Mike and Debbie’s room, and straight up to our room to settle in for a shower and sleep as now after 10pm local time and 6am in morning, Australian time. The night was really hot, as they’ve been having an unusually early heatwave in Europe for the last week, so we left our room’s French doors open, half closed the shutter, turned the ceiling fan on full, and managed to get a good night’s sleep.
Thursday 22nd June Hotel Elena, Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy
We have a fair night’s sleep, but are wide awake by 6AM. Murray takes some photos from our balcony, and we head downstairs, too early for the 7.30 breakfast, so take a short walk down to the waterfront to check out possible ferry excursions for later in the day. Dianne heads back for breakfast, while Murray takes early morning photos of the lake and the Borromean Islands, and the mountain behind the town.
We start breakfast, well pleased by the spread of quiche, ham and salami, bread rolls and croissants, fresh fruit, packaged yoghurt, butter and Philly cheese, blood orange juice, grapefruit juice, corn flakes and muesli, and a pot of freshly brewed espresso coffee for Murray. We are pretty hungry, as the food excess from the plane has worn off, and we had no supper last night.
We are joined by Mike and Debbie, and make plans for the day, deciding on taking the 10am ferry to Isla Bella then on to Isla Pescatori, two of the Borromean Islands. Murray and Dianne are over 65, and have proof with them, but don’t seem to need it, maybe because they look about 100 after two days on a plane. The fare with discount is €7.90 each (instead of €9.60 ea), pretty reasonable for two outward legs and one return trip. While we are waiting we see a pair of red crested grebes with about a dozen large young. They move pretty fast across the water when disturbed by passing boats, using their wings as paddles.
The weather is fine, the lake smooth and blue, with only a slight breeze, the mountains across the lake layered in pale blue in smoke haze, possibly from the Portugal bushfires, or maybe just because it hasn’t rained for a while to clear the air. Already at 10am it is starting to get quite warm, so looks like an excellent day for a lake excursion. Onshore, west of the town centre are the major hotels, including the classic Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, home to Hemingway while he was convalescing and writing Farewell to Arms, and the even larger, Grand Hotel Bristol. Further west we can see the towers of the cable car up to the ski fields of Mottarone. We call into the ferry port at CarcianoLido, beside the cable car station, then cut across to disembark on Isola Bella. The major attractions of the island are the Palace, with its attached multiple terraced gardens, shopping, restaurants and bars. We walk past the entrance to the palace, where there is a large crowd of tourists and guides, which is a bit of a worry. Walk on to the west end of the island to a pleasant park with views toward Isla Pescatori and the northern arm of the lake. Right at the end of the island are some interesting trees with buttressed trunks growing right in the water, with what look like the root systems of mangroves. To the west we get a closer look at a massive scar on the mountainside, probably a limestone or marble quarry, but not a good look for a major tourist area.
We decide to bite the bullet and pay our €16 each admission to the palace and gardens, as this is supposedly one of the highlights of Lake Maggiore. We manage to beat the crowd at the entrance, but soon run into other large tour groups with loud guides. The palace, started in 1632, is large, with some very imposing rooms and high ceilinged halls, but lacks the finesse of other palaces and galleries we have been in. There is an extraordinary amount of artwork on the walls, but a lot of it is overwhelmed by the frames, which are very heavy and ornate and gilded, and far too many frames are tightly packed on the gallery walls. There is nothing wrong with the paintings, but the sheer number of them discourages interest in individual artworks. The ladies find themselves in trouble for being pushy, but they are just trying to get through the tightly packed groups listening to their guides and blocking any sort of route through the crowd. The final exhibit in a high ceilinged circular room with views out over the lake is the wooden model, about three metres long, of the island, palaces, buildings and terraced gardens
Having cleared the major artwork exhibits, we descend to the lower rooms which are all decorated in a style that mimics natural limestone grottoes. A little bit of this style is interesting, but repeating it in a score of rooms and galleries is too much. To get back up, we climb a large spiral staircase made up of stone slabs cantilevered out from the circular stone walls. There is some support for the step above by the step below, but the design requires absolute confidence in the quality of stone used. When we start up the stairway, it looks like we might have to do fifty to a hundred steps, but we only go to the level above, which is a relief for Dianne, who has only just tentatively started coming down steps, in a slow, painful way.
At this level, the rooms and long gallery are flooded with light and quite pleasant. The long gallery has a series of tapestries with African jungle scenes, all major pieces of work, but suffering from a lack of draftsmanship and familiarity with animals, but do show nature at its most savage and strange. The gallery leads out through an automatic door to the gardens, which ascend past a large green lawn to terraces with statues and tall decorative pyramids. Most of the terraces are fenced off from the general public, except for the very top one, which gives good views over the main terrace on the east side, with a decorative pond and formal gardens. The terraces are built in the same imitation grotto style as the basement level, but it looks less kitsch here.
Dianne has handled the ascent ok with her crook ankle, but needs handrails to get down. Unfortunately these are in short supply, and she needs support. At one stage an elderly French woman insists on supporting her on a steep section. We get back to the bottom level and the ferry ticket booth without incident, and are thinking of buying a drink when we realise the sign we read for the ticket booth was not the sign for where the ferry actually stops, and we run for it, but are too late, so stop for a drink at a cafe while we wait for the next ferry to Isla Superiore (Isla Pescatori).
The main feature of this island is the number of restaurants specialising in fish, but it is a bit early, and very touristy, so we attempt to circle the island by walking along the lakeside, but find the path ends on a rocky foreshore with the wall of a restaurant dropping into the water. We take a path inland, but before long Murray investigates a very narrow path to the water, which turns and opens out to a wide gravel path around the rest of the island. We decide against eating on the island, get the next ferry back to Stresa, and rest up in the room before eating lunch in the Hosteria dei Amici (18 of 98 on Trip Advisor) off the smaller square further inland. The tables were outdoors, under a grape vine, with a retractable awning over the top. At this time of day it was shaded and reasonably cool. Prices for mains were pretty savage, so we settled for a lot more pizza than we could handle for lunch, and ended up taking two half-pizzas back for later. The bill, with two pizzas, a salad and two drinks still came to €34, but it was pretty good food.
In the late afternoon we took a walk west along the shoreline, which is mostly gardens and parks with walking paths and occasional bars and kiosks and a swimming pool belonging to the major hotel the other side of the main road. There is almost no breeze on the lake, and it is still quite warm at 7PM. We take photos of the major hotels, the lake and islands. Have to walk inland around the rather neglected grounds of a securely enclosed estate, returning to the shore line just before the Lido ferry wharf and cable car terminal. We think of catching a ferry back to Stresa, but the last ferry has long gone, so walk inland past a large derelict house on a strange road with pebble cobblestones and concrete strip pavement beside the stone-lined course of a dry river, to meet the main road just short of the railway station.
Walking down the main road we pass a veritable jungle of palm trees, blackberry and raspberry bushes, almost impenetrable, protected by a high fence of spike topped steel bars. At the end of the block, there is a derelict hotel and restaurant, overgrown with vines, with a collapsed roof. Strangely enough, the lawn at the end of the triangular block is freshly mowed as far as the wall of the hotel, and the steel gates with a heavy chain and padlock are ajar. Very strange!
Back on the foreshore, we stop for a rest on a bench, and get talking to an English couple from Yorkshire. They are staying at a hotel up this end of town, and we suspect they are finding it pretty quiet, so are walking down to the town centre. We walk with them, talk on the usual wide range of subjects – travel, retirement, grandchildren, rugby league, depression in retired sportsmen and celebrities, how Europe has changed since we were first here in 1976, the hot summer of 1976 in England, the current sorry state of the Middle East and repercussions in Europe.
Back at the main square, we sit with them at a table in the outdoor area attached to our Hotel Elena, have drinks, beer for the gents, lemon sodas for the ladies, solve the problems of the world and decide to have a second drink. By the time we are finished, the whole square has packed up and a lot of the lights have been turned off. It is still only about 10.30 – we sure aren’t in Spain! Looking around, we probably lower the average age (and we’re 66 and 74!) The only person of disco age we saw was a 20’ish hoon in an American muscle car roaring up and down the main road.
By the time we got back to the room, we realised we had forgotten to have any evening meal, but we’re too tired to worry, so showered and went to bed.
Friday 23rd June Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Italy
We are up about six, do housekeeping and are down to breakfast by 7.30. Mike and Debbie are already there. Breakfast is still pretty good, but the bread rolls are missing and we just have cut slices of brown bread, still adequate, but not delicious. There is a market on today, so we go to have a look directly after breakfast, arranging to meet at 10am to go down and sort out ferry tickets for Switzerland tomorrow. The market is a typical European market with itinerant traders turning up with their vans and marquees to take over the main parking area behind the town. If we were self-catering, we certainly would have made some purchases, but in actual fact, the offerings at Carrefour were probably cheaper and fresher.
We met at 10, and went down to sort out the ferry. It appears there is actually only one Maggiore Express, which stops at Stresa at 11.15 AM and ends up at Locarno, which is in Switzerland, at 14.30. It zig-zags across the lake, stopping at eight places, so should be pretty interesting.
We decide to forego lunch and retire to the room to veg, catch up on jet lag and eat in the room. In the late evening Dianne goes to Carrefour for some supplies for a bread, tomato and Speck cured meat evening meal.
About 8PM we take a walk down to the lake and east along the main road (the opposite direction to last night), past the old boat harbour, the new one still under construction, and the end of the town proper. On the inland side of the road, the ground rises steeply, with gardens and large mansions perched on the slope. A surprising proportion of these buildings are derelict, or shuttered and unoccupied. Further to the east we pass what has to be a botanical garden, with a large variety of mature trees, steel gates and fences and driveways leading up the hill. Some of the large mansions have private facilities on the lake across the road, but most of these seem to be derelict or badly in need of maintenance. Further along the road on the lake side we come to a mini-golf course and then a parking area for the zoo which has extensive grounds, no sign of animals or enclosures, and locked gates. We run out of footpath and have to walk on the road, which is pretty scary, as there are a lot of cars which don’t give us much room. We get some good photos of the Monastery of Santa Caterina across the lake and call a halt when we get to what we hope is a lookout, but is the fenced-off roof of a private boat shed. By now, Dianne has exceeded her quota of walking for the day, so we turn for home, getting some photos of sunset over the mountains.
Dianne has researched gelato on Trip Advisor, and we seek out Riva Est Snc DI Bieron Daniele Gelato on Via Principessa Margherita for some excellent peach and strawberry gelato, surprisingly large serves on small cones. We think for about two seconds on whether we should have a drink, but head back to the room for the night.
Saturday 24th June Stresa, Italy to Locarno, Switzerland
We have already booked tickets on the 11.15 ferry to Locarno (19.70 euros each) so can have a leisurely morning with a big breakfast. Murray takes a shopping expedition to buy a 19 € set of adventure sandals in one of the local shops, as his have expired. The better looking sandals with a deep tread on the soles only come in women’s shoes, and he is unable to get across that even women have shoes in the larger sizes. Must be an Italian fashion thing.
We are at the wharf in plenty of time, even find seats in the shade, but the crowd grows, making it difficult for Dianne and the baggage. Some of the crowd gets on an earlier ferry going to the Borromean Islands, but there is a big queue and a crush to get onto our ferry when it arrives.
The first level of deck is set out with dining tables, just like a regular restaurant, so we carry on upstairs where we are able to get seats and tables, and a reasonably safe spot to store our gear. The top deck is crowded, but there is the odd plastic chair available. Murray divides his time between standing on the top deck taking photos and admiring the scenery, which is pretty spectacular, with colourful villages perched on the slopes of towering mountains, mansions with extensive grounds and boat harbours or shelters right on the bank. The main road runs mostly at lake level, a lot of it supported by multiple arched stone bridges rising from the water.
The villages and towns we stop at are fairly similar, with the ferry wharf right at a main plaza, with a high-towered church nearby. Notable just north of Pallanza is a large modern building, probably a theatre looking like a very large collection of grey granite rocks. Possibly it is titanium, like the Bilbao gallery. At Intra, where the car ferries cross to the eastern side, there is a very large port facility and boat harbour with six-metre high stone protective walls. They must get some pretty strong winds and waves here.
The sky is blue, with some high cloud, and it is hot, with only a slight breeze on the lake. There is still a lot of blue haze in the air, making it difficult to pick out detail on the shoreline or at the villages and individual churches and monasteries perched high on the mountains. Just before Cannobio there is a fort which is on a rocky island, with sheer walls rising from the water. The fort is in disrepair, but there is a large construction crane towering over the fort. Offshore is a fleet of what could be Fireball dinghies, milling around waiting for a race to start in what is a freshening breeze.
We pass from Italy to Switzerland, where the first stop is at Brissago, then shortly after at the National Park on the Isole de Brissago, which is notable for the large trees, possibly cypress growing with their buttress roots right in the water, and mangrove-like roots spreading out. Our second-last stop is Ascona, and our destination, Locarno, is in a sheltered bay on the west coast, in fairly shallow water, probably a delta formation from the numerous rivers which run into the end of the lake. Landing and clearing Immigration/customs is pretty straightforward, as there is none. In spite of Switzerland not being in the EEC, they are one of the Schengen countries with no border barriers. Pretty scary, as we have had almost no scrutiny all the way from Australia.
Mike and Debbie have to change US dollars, so head for the railway station, and a subsequent taxi to our hotel. We get change from a nearby ATM, check out maps.me and decide we can handle the walk, even though it includes a fair bit of uphill. Our route is blocked by a funicular railway which goes up to a monastery and viewpoint, and this takes us out of our way, but we manage, with Murray dragging both bags up cobbled streets, and using maps.me , to find our Hotel Giacometti (140 Swiss francs per night for two nights) OK. Our host is IN, and we drag the bags up to the first floor to reception. Our host takes our particulars, and tells us he must fill in a special form for us. This turns out to be a visitor registration with a tear-off Ticino ticket (Ticino is the name of the southern-most canton in Switzerland). We’re told this gives us free public transport, plus discounts on private transport such as funiculars, cable cars in the canton. We take this with a pinch of salt, but later are very impressed just how far the tickets can take us for free, which really helps as even the cheap hotels we’re staying in, and the food, are very expensive.
In the late afternoon, the four of us go looking for a meal, travelling south for a while, finding little, then doubling back to the Piazza Grande, where there are a lot of restaurants on a long arcade, with seating out on the Piazza. The Piazza is a strange shape, sort a long triangle with the point toward the CBD and ferry wharf, and is cobbled with water worn stones with grass and weeds growing between the stones, and has an abandoned tram line running up the centre of it. Not particularly pretty as town squares go, but we find a restaurant, and decide on large main courses of veal cordon Bleu. It fills us up, and there is some left for Dianne to take back for later, but it is an expensive exercise, at about $A140, including the very generous tip of 25 Swiss francs given by Mike, for what was an ordinary late lunch. We knew it was too touristy to be reasonable, but we were all too hot and weary to worry (it is still in the mid-thirties each day). We took photos of the diners, and the Piazza, then walked back to the hotel for an early night.
Sunday 25th June Locarno, Switzerland
We’ve been told it is lovely up in the mountains, not to mention cooler, and you can get up to the meadows and lakes by taking two buses (free on our pass) then a cablecar (30% off). We aren’t given any information about timetables, but we don’t see a problem (WRONG!!!) . The 315 bus for Cavergno leaves from the castle, which is near where we walked south last night, so use paper maps and maps.me to get us there. Find we have missed the 9.46 bus by four minutes, and will have to wait an hour for the next one, which is no big problem (WRONG AGAIN!!!). We kill time by looking at the castle and surrounding streets, then walk all the way to the port and back, to get the 10.46 bus. The one-hour bus trip is quite pleasant, takes us up the valley of the Maggia River, mainly at low level, with some climbs. There is agriculture on the flat land and lower slopes of the valley, and some industry, particularly stone quarrying, and timber milling. The villages we pass are a combination of modern, sometimes colourful houses and traditional stone cottages with thick slate roofs. The mountains on either side of the valley are steep, generally wooded, but with some large sheer rock faces. There are numerous waterfalls, some quite large. The river we follow is wide and shallow, with a rocky bed, and very clear water. There are a lot of weekend visitors, with umbrellas and picnic rugs, and a lot of them are in the water, which is probably pretty chilly in spite of the unseasonably warm weather.
When we got to the end of the bus route in Cavergno, we looked at bus timetables, and see that there was a connecting 333 bus to San Carlo to get the cablecar to Robiei for the 9.46 bus we missed, but there is no connecting bus now, and in fact the next bus is at 15.07, in three hours, which would be too late anyway. We decide to take our bus, which is about to leave, back to Bignasco about a kilometer away, which looked like a nice village, and regroup. Dianne was keen to start hitchhiking, as it was only 11kms away and there were plenty of cars, and they were all tourists or locals, and the road was a dead-end, so the tourists had to be going to the cablecar, but the others weren’t so sure. Debbie and Mike stopped at a pub for a drink while we walked around the village, which was quite pretty, being at the junction of two valleys, with stone bridges, old stone houses, and agricultural land where the land flattens out below the village. Murray kept walking after Dianne turned back, and found a walking track, the Via dell’Acqua which traces the path of drains and aqueducts which bring fresh water down from the mountain. The track is pretty steep, so after climbing high enough for views, he returns to find the rest of the party. At this stage everyone decides to give hitchhiking a go. Mike and Debbie get the first go at the passing traffic, and Murray and Dianne find a suitable stopping place further down the road. However it is now about 12.30, and there is very little traffic as a lot of tourists have stopped for lunch. We also didn’t know at this stage that the cablecar stopped for lunch for a couple of hours, so this was another reason why the traffic was now so light. We didn’t see Mike and Debbie go past, so assumed they had gone back, but there are two routes through the village, and we must have missed them, but we find out later they did get a lift, though they had to walk the last two kms uphill as their lift was running late, and didn’t want to go on the cablecar. We waited about an hour with no luck. After giving up on the Bavona valley, we walked back to the intersection and tried, without luck, on the road up the other valley, Lavzzora. Had to hurry back to get the 1.30pm return bus to Locano.
We took the 315 bus all the way into town, thought of a Maccas, but decided there was bound to be one at Ascona, where the Jazz Festival was on, so jumped in a #3 bus to Ascona. At the bus terminus, we followed road signs to the beach, rather than maps.me or the flow of pedestrians, so took a long time to get to the waterfront, which has a row of restaurants, but nothing much happening on the jazz front, which doesn’t start till later in the day. We walked the length of the waterfront, then cut in through what turned out to be the old town, pretty pleasant compared with the newer centre of the town. Back at the bus terminus we arrived just in time for the bus, took it into town and Maccas, for a large Mac meal, before walking home via the Piazza Maggiore, a much better route than our first one.
Later in the evening (it doesn’t get dark till about 10pm) we walked back into town on the high route, then down past the railway station. In the square in front of the station, there was a lot of activity, with police stopping traffic, cars at funny angles, and a tow truck. Watched as a 60’ish man drove his damaged Corvette sports car up onto the tray of the tow truck. On the side of the road was a people mover, damaged at the front driver’s corner. The Corvette was damaged on the rear driver’s side. Hard to work out who was at fault, but balance of probability indicated the sports car driver.
After a more fancy, but less tasty, Mac meal we walked home as far as the Piazza Maggiore, then cut upwards to the high level. We were starting to get the hang of this place, pity we are leaving tomorrow, but we suspect we have seen much of what Locarno has to offer.
Back at the hotel, we find that Mike and Debbie caught a lift almost straight away with a young couple in a flash Mercedes, and were dropped 2 kilometres short and a long way downhill of the cable car, but managed the climb, and caught the cable car to find the lakes and alpine scenery worth the effort and expense. They managed to catch a bus at the cable car, and make the connection at the village.
Monday 26th June Locarno, Switzerland to Bellinzona, Switzerland
We all managed the walk with baggage to the train, and were on board by 9.30. In a mixup involving first and second class, we lost Mike at the station, and after Murray checked what he thought was the full length of the train, we weren’t sure what had happened to him. It was only when we got out at Bellinzona we saw that there were two trains joined together with no passage between them, and Mike was in the second train.
The trip was very short (27 minutes) and cheap (free), travelling through dead flat agricultural land with a lot of industry closer to Bellinzona, which is the capital of Ticino canton Our hotel, Osteria Leon d’Or (A$142) was just across the road from the station and we were able to book in straight away although it was only 10am, and get our second free Ticino transport pass.
We found that we could go on the bus as far as San Bernardino for free, so Debbie & Mike decided to wait and try and get on the 11.40am bus which the tourist office told us was probably full (it wasn’t, and in fact was almost empty), while we decided to have a look at one of the three UNESCO-listed castles we’d missed when we visited in 1976, before getting the later bus. We walked down to the Castlegrande, right in the centre of town. At the entrance, which was infested with noisy school children, we were surprised to find that there was a free lift up to the main castle level. We found that we could see all we needed of the castle at this level, including views out over the city, out the gate to look down the valley, down to the lower castle, and up to the higher castle on the mountain to the east.
We saw no real need to pay to look at the museum, so found our way down a ramp and steps to the narrow streets below the castle and into the commercial area of the town, which has some remarkable historic decorated town houses, almost palaces, a church with a typical high square tower, and the historic wall and bastions of the lower castle which extends from the main castle to the steep side of the mountain, all the way up to the middle castle. It is unclear whether this part of the castle is accessible, as there is no obvious entrance or ticket booth.
We find our way back to the railway station to catch the 12.40 bus to San Bernardino Posta. Can’t see Mike and Debbie, so guess they managed to get on the 11.40. Our bus turned out to be the double-decker we’d been told about, and was virtually empty. We managed to get the two front seats upstairs on the left, with a German/Swiss older couple on the right. They were able to fill us in on the possibilities of getting a linking bus from the village of San Bernardino Posta (as distinct from the Village of Saint Bernadette, Ave Maria and all that), all the way up to San Bernardino Ospizio at the top of the pass to wait for a bus coming the other way.
At first the bus passed through the outskirts of Bellinzona, with a commercial area, plain modern housing, and industry. Further out, the road became a divided four-lane highway along the flat bottom of the valley, with heavily wooded mountains towering either side. We pass farms, small villages and industrial sites, with higher bare, rocky mountains nearer the pass looming ahead. By the time we are twenty five minutes up the valley, we are seeing pine trees on the higher slopes, and steep rocky ravines with active waterfalls. We pass an isolated church perched on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the valley, with a relatively new village nearby, then approach a historic fort or castle on a ledge over a deep ravine on the right. There are the remains of crenelated perimeter walls, high, damaged interior walls, a five storey tower and a bastion right on the edge of the ravine. This is a substantial historic ruin, but we see no signs or information for it.
After the fort, we start to climb towards the pass, with pines and high meadows on the mountains, villages in the valley below. We enter a series of mild switchbacks with graceful high arched concrete bridges over the river, and a very unstable looking slope of loose rocks with a waterfall cascading through it on the right. Above the pine trees, the bare rock mountains are getting very rugged and jagged, but with only small patches of residual snow. As we climb towards San Bernardino Posta, deciduous forest gives way to pines and alpine meadows. At the top of the main climb, there is a dam and lake in the valley, with pine trees coming down to the water on the far side. There is a breeze on the lake, and cloud shadows make it look not particularly inviting. Shortly after we arrive at the modern village of Saint Bernardino Posta, an alpine resort placed in a fairly level valley just below the tree line.
At the bus terminus, we get out to take stock of our situation. We know we can go back to Bellinzona on the next bus, in about an hour, but are less sure about taking the local bus up to San Bernardino Ospizio, where we will have to wait for 45 minutes for the return bus. We had been a bit hasty jumping on the 12.40 bus, and had only the summer clothes we were wearing down in the valley, so are reluctant to go higher with the thunder storms predicted, and the wind pretty chilly at this level. We run into Mike and Debbie, who made the 11.40 bus OK, and have had something to eat while they waited for the next bus to San Bernardino Ospizio, which was 5 Swiss francs each, one way. They had intended to keep going through the San Bernardino Pass to Chur, but quickly changed their mind when they were told it would cost something like 150 Swiss francs ( about A$200!) Gives you an idea about just how great the free Ticino pass is. They decided to go to the top, but we (or Murray), are reluctant to take a weather risk without warm gear. As well, we are keen to see the other two UNESCO-listed castles in the town, and we only have this afternoon to do it.
The bus to the top, and the bus back to Bellinzona turn up at the same time, so we have to make a quick decision. Decide on Bellinzona, and have a pleasant trip back to Bellinzona, seeing the spectacular scenery from a different angle, but without the photographic advantage, as this was only a single decker. The front seat was already occupied, but Dianne moved forward to share it with a young American who was currently working in Iceland on the logistics of Arctic exploration and research. Murray moved forward later to behind the driver for reasonable views out the front.
Back in town by 3PM, we decided to catch the #4 Scuola Media 1 local bus to Castle Sasso Corbaro at the top of the very steep hill, and possibly walk some or all of the way down. We were out of the bus by 15.47, walking up the road to the castle, some 50 metres higher, on a good road. For some reason the bus didn’t go this last bit, possibly to discourage tourists from using it. The castle was small and square, about 20 metres high to the roof of the square building taking up a quarter of the castle area, with crenelated walls about 15 metres high around the remaining perimeter. The castle was entered through a small arched gateway to the outer platform, and another arch into the internal ground floor courtyard. Although the front entrance was open, the staff looked like they were knocking off for the day, and not particularly interested in selling us tickets, and we thought we could see enough from inside the courtyard.
From the level of the castle we had excellent views over the city and down to the middle, lower and main castle, and took photos. From here, Castello di Montebello, the middle castle in particular looked well worth visiting. While Murray was finishing the photographs, Dianne said she would start down as she couldn’t go quickly with her broken ankle, but when he finished, Dianne was nowhere in sight, so he hurried down the way we had come from the bus. By the time he got halfway down, he realised Dianne couldn’t go that fast, so had to hurry back to the castle to find her. With no sign of her in the castle, he looked in more detail, found a steep shortcut down to the bus stop which was obviously too steep for Dianne. He struggled down the rough, steep steps to find her waiting in the car park, having survived the climb.
As it was still a long time for the next bus, we walked down towards the middle castle, retracing with some difficulty the route up. There were a series of green painted arrows on the ground, pointing up the hill. Dianne worked out that this was the walking route up to the castle, in spite of no written information, and took a narrow walking path down between houses and fields while Murray stuck to the road, arriving at the intersecting point just after Dianne. We carried on down, but Dianne’s ankle wasn’t liking all the downhill, so she stayed at a bus stop while Murray carried on down to the middle castle.
This castle was much more complicated than the top castle, with drawbridges, a moat, an inner keep, and access to the galleries around the crenelated walls. The outer and inner gates were open, there was a ticket booth, but no sign of staff, so Murray took a quick look inside the inner keep, climbed the walls to the galleries, and walked around the outside, taking photos down to the lower and main castles. At this stage, he could see the bus coming down the hill, decided it was not necessary to prove a point by walking all the way, and joined Dianne on the bus back to the station. An American girl who joined the bus on the way up, and caught our bus on the way down, told us where the Migros Supermarket was, close to the base of the main castle, so we made the supreme effort (we’re both just about exhausted by now) to continue on walking towards the supermarket, failing to get a bus.
At Migros, we settled for bread, water, a roast chicken, nectarines, and a bag to carry the spoils, and waited for a bus to take us back to the railway station and our hotel, where we monstered the chicken, and waited for dark to go out and take photos of the illuminated castles. Meanwhile, the storm threatening all day had broken, so we had to wind ourselves up to take the umbrellas and try to get night photos in the pouring rain. From across the road at the railway station, we could see an illuminated tower, which we thought was the castle. Took night exposure photos through the rain, picking up a lot of illuminated raindrops until we walked across beyond the streetlights. The tower, on closer inspection, was a church on the hill with scaffolding and a shroud of yellow brattice. From further into town we got photos of the top castle, waited for a bus to take off, but couldn’t get any enthusiasm out of the driver, so walked to where we could see the main castle, took night photos, and returned half drowned to the room to dry out, and start packing for our departure for Bellagio, on Lake Como, in the morning.
Tuesday 27th June Bellinzona, Switzerland to Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy
By 9.30 we are packed, breakfasted, and on the train to Chiasso, on the border with Italy, and the first leg of the journey to Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como. The railway passes through the industrial area of Bellinzona, then climbs steeply up the eastern side of the valley, with views across the fields on the flat bottom of the valley, and up the valley to the cloud-shrouded alps toward San Bernardino. It hasn’t been raining this morning, which made our departure a lot easier, but as we get higher and further south, rain sets in, making photography difficult, as the camera focuses surprisingly well on raindrops only inches from the lens. We can barely see Lake Lugano, even when the train crosses the lake on a bridge. The lake, what we can see of it, looks interesting – would look good on a sunny day.
By the time we get to Chiasso, the weather is still overcast, but the rain has ceased. We make an interesting border crossing, going into a corridor, past some immigration and customs officials without even a glance. Get to wait on Binario 13, an unfortunately named dead end track off to the side of the main tracks. There aren’t 12 ordinary Binarios, so the choice of 13 is interesting.
For the first time in a while we have to pay for transport, a whole €2 each for a six minute train ride in a very old and munted Trenord train, which drops us at the San Giovanni station in Como.
We have maps.me to guide us, giving us a blue line to follow on the Ipad. It doesn’t feel right, and there is no sun to show which way is South, but we put our trust in the machine, and it gets us to the waterfront and the Navigazione Lago di Como wharf just as the ferry to Bellagio is loading. We don’t have a lot of time to make sure this is the ferry we want, but it is ready to go, so we take a leap of faith, buy tickets (10.40 euros each), and get on board, finding a spot outside on the plastic seats under a plastic roof, while the bags are stacked on some sort of padded shelf forward of the staircase. Mike stays inside to keep an eye on the gear, Debbie finds a seat toward the stern, Dianne near the front, Murray on a roving commission with the camera.
By the time we leave, there has been some sun, and some decent patches of blue in the sky. Como is located in a sheltered hook to the east at the southern end of Lake Como, but as we get out onto the lake proper, the wind, with some rain and spray comes in strongly on the port side, and Murray returns upstairs from a position on the bow. Our first stop is at a rather industrial looking port on the west side, with a lot of ferries, and covered hangars. As we proceed up the lake, we make multiple stops, typically at a town or village clinging to the steep walls of the valley, with the town centre and main church right near the ferry wharf. We see a lot of boats at moorings in the open lake, some in marinas sheltered by sea walls, and others in individual stone walled “garages” with locked steel gates and concrete roofs, some with balustraded terraces.
We see a lot of remarkable houses, mansions, hotels and virtual castles along the shores on both sides of the lake. One in particular, with three stories plus a tower attic is built on the edge of a six-metre cliff, with a six stage zigzag driveway, and an eight-storey lift going up to road level. Another has a large swimming pool between the house and the lake, others have extensive grounds with lawns and trees.
We see the fast ferry go past, an old-style Vee hydrofoil design very similar to the early model Manly ferries, which were discontinued because of high operating costs. It was throwing a lot of spray, and probably doing about 30 knots. This was just before we pass what is reported to be George Clooney’s weekender at Laglio, a modest three-storey with a big cypress pine and what looks like extensive grounds with a grove of trees. Three storeys seems to be the limit for most of the buildings in the towns and villages, but there are also amazing structures, possibly churches or monasteries, with multiple levels, terraces and towers.
By the time we get to Lenno, we can see what has to be Bellagio in the distance, but first we have to round the peninsular with amazing houses and grounds, with green lawns and cypress trees, some tall and pointed, others trimmed to green hemispheres some 10-metres in diameter.
The actual town of Bellagio is quite small, placed relatively low on a high peninsular with only a couple of mansions two thirds of the way up the hill, which is heavily wooded. The town is dominated by a high church tower, set unusually far inland and above the port.
We disembark at the ferry terminal directly opposite the alley which leads to our hotel Antico Pozzo, which looks promising, but the steep alley, like most of the alleys leading up the hill, has the rounded waterworn gravel cobblestones favoured in this area, and about a hundred low steps, not ideal for dragging bags. Murray carries his bag halfway up, then comes back for Dianne, but a German gentleman offers to carry hers all the way up to the hotel entrance, for which we were truly thankful, and Dianne and Murray share the load to get up to the hotel. We are pleased to see that our apartment, half of what can be a suite, depending on which doors you lock, is on the lowest level, still up two short flights of stairs, and manageable. We are in Number 3, which is much more spacious than our other places, with a main room with a large double bed, a table with four chairs and a sofa. The kitchen is in an alcove which leads to the bathroom,. The kitchen has a microwave, toaster, coffee machine, Euro-compact dishwasher, two burner gas stove, fridge, and one of those strange European over-sink draining cupboards. Debbie and Mike, in Number 2, have a different arrangement with the kitchenette on one wall of the bedroom. It also has aircon, which for the first time this trip we don’t need, as the rain has broken the heatwave. The décor may not be the latest, but Antico Pozzo (A$155 per night for four nights) has everything we want, in a great position, in a lovely town.
As we haven’t eaten since breakfast, and it is now 14.30, we all decide to have a late lunch downstairs in the attached restaurant, a good steak with mushrooms and a pasta. We were told there was a supermarket at the top of our alley, but all we could find was a very high priced but fancy Alimentari. After getting more information, we find that there are two supermarkets at the south end of the town, more than a kilometre away, so, after considering our options, Murray, Dianne and Debbie get shopping bags and set out along the main road out of town on the east side of the peninsular. We get some good views over the east leg of the lake, check out the bus timetables, walk past a large mansion on the east side of the peninsular with a strange grassy moat running right across the peninsular to the west arm of the lake. We find the non-Migros supermarket down an unlikely narrow alley crossing the peninsular. The shop is surprisingly large and well-stocked, and we have to make decisions based on how much we can carry in the small backpack plus a purchased shopping bag. We end up with nectarines, tomatoes, bread, water (which turns out to be Frizzante, interesting for making coffee), Coke, coffee, chocolate, Apricot juice, cask wine, milk, muesli (mostly sugar), speck meat, yoghurt for Dianne’s bones. This is quite a load, even with the heavy articles in the backpack. Debbie had a similar load, but with only a cloth shopping bag to carry it.
We decided to carry on across the peninsular to make a round trip, but looked like going a long way until Murray found a walking path down the “moat”, which worked pretty well until the path got waterlogged, together with our feet. The western side of the “moat” was interesting, with steps on a grassy slope leading down to the water, and a pretty tall skinny brick chapel to the south. There looked like there might be a lower road, but we decided to keep to the higher level of the moat, and further along we crossed a stone bridge over a deep gully, with interesting historic-looking arched structure, what looked suspiciously like a sewage pumping pond, and a semi- underground stream, with openings at regular intervals. On the lake side of the bridge were historic looking buildings, one a long, single level structure with a slate roof and a verandah with arched colonnades. Dianne wanted to investigate a steep roadway down to lake level, but we needed to conserve our strength to get the supplies back to the room.
On the way back into town, we passed the interesting looking Villa Melzi gardens, a strange “beach” with no sand, but a concrete water slide into the lake, a small boat harbour with boat “garages”, the public gardens along the waterfront, the car ferry dock, and the passenger ferry wharf, to reach our final challenge of the 100 steps to the room. This would have been an enjoyable afternoon stroll if we hadn’t been carrying all the groceries. After our restaurant lunch, we settled for bread, speck and tomato for dinner. Dianne has her usual swollen and aching foot at night, after so much walking. Luckily it recovers overnight, ready to do it all again the next day.
Wednesday 28th June Bellagio –Varenna – Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy
The weather looks pretty grim, but we are hopeful it will improve, and the four of us head across the lake to the town/village of Varenna, using the ordinary ferry (over 65 fare of 3.70 euros each), which takes us across a pretty choppy lake with scuds of rain. On the way across we see a large, brilliant white waterfall coming down the mountain and emerging into the lake through an arched bridge at the south end of Varenna. This moves the walk along the lake foreshore higher up the list of priorities. Looking back we can see that the Bellagio peninsular is really steep on the east side, with sheer rock faces to the water, and there is almost no development on this side.
At the far side we deploy our umbrellas and take a short walk to where another torrent rushing down the mountain discharges into the lake. This water is really dirty, which is a surprise as nearly all the waterfalls coming down the mountain we have seen have been white water, not brown. There must be road or rail works, or some sort of construction, or else there could be agricultural land in a valley we cannot see.
The rain has eased enough for us to make a decision on where we will walk, and a trip up the hill directly behind the port to the castle gets the nod. The first part of the climb is on the road, then we leave it for a cobbled path which is pretty steep and slippery. This is not too good for Dianne’s crook foot, so when we get back on the road we decide to stay on it, the risk of being run down is less than the risk of damage to the ankle. We are still climbing with no indication of just how far it is to the castle when we meet an Asian group on the way down, who tell us it is still a long way, and the castle is closed anyway because of the rain.
We get good views and photos from high on the mountain slope before we retreat down the road, ending up back beside the brown-water rafting race. When there is a sudden downpour, we retreat to a nearby café for drinks. When the rain clears we walk south along a Greenway, mostly right beside the lake, sometimes cantilevered out over the water, with good views over the lake and up colourful narrow alleys through the village. The gardens, flowers, trees and foliage along this “Green” walk are particularly attractive. At one point we come upon an actual beach, of fine gravel, littered with flotsam of leaves and branches washed into the lake during the storms.
We climb up another water worn cobbled alley to the main road for a look at the historic church and bell tower of Saint Giorgio’s church, located in a pretty piazza with trees and restaurants. It is threatening to rain again, so we repair to what looks like a long shot for lunch, as the chairs and tables outside in the piazza are wet and deserted, but find they have a large, busy inside dining area with a glass roof so we can check the weather as we dine. We have a pretty good lunch while it rains fairly hard on the glass roof, but by the time we finish, the rain has eased, and the two of us decide to carry on along the greenway to the waterfall, while Mike and Debbie call it a day.
The Villa Monastero has a large garden stretching along the shore. We have a look at the flash terrace at the start, but decide we can see more looking down on the garden from the road. There are good views down into the gardens, across to Bellagio, and back along the shoreline to Varenna village. Past the Villa, the road splits where a traffic tunnel leads back toward Varenna, but we carry on to where we can descend to the shoreline where the foaming white river plunges under the road and out into the lake at Fiumelatte. There is another rock-walled boat harbour here and a small village, with the Greenway passing through the back alleys. From another bridge higher up the hill we are able to photograph the river plunging into the lake.
We follow the river up under the railway bridge, and find a marked path through the bush up to the start of the river, where it exits from a rock face through a grille attached to the rock, presumably to discourage foolhardy idiots in the low-water season. Dianne has managed to struggle up the rough path and stairs, but decides against the final push to the rock face. The idea of a “spring”, carrying the water volume of a river is pretty amazing. We take photos on the way down of the steep, rough path Dianne managed to climb, but it is hard to get the real conditions in a photo.
From this far along the track, we can see just how high up the mountain the castle is, and are glad we chickened out. Back in Varenna proper, we look at the ferry timetable, and decide on the car ferry for a change, and find it roomier than the normal ferry, and higher off the water for better views. We look back to the Varenna town and shore line, and see how far up the mountain we climbed to the spring. We can just see down the lake toward Lecco, and there is a lot of rain coming so we decide to have a quiet afternoon in the room, and evening meal of bread, spek and nectarines.
Thursday 29th June Bellagio and meeting with the Australian walking group.
Debbie & Mike set off for a big day exploring as Allie, their daughter is arriving tomorrow to spend a couple of days with them.
Last November we spent a couple of weeks walking in the Victorian Alps with a group from the National Parks Association, and found that some of them were visiting Italy at the same time we were. After comparing itineraries, we found that today was the only day our paths would cross (they’re staying in Milan, but coming to Bellagio for the day). We’ve arranged to have lunch with them, so we cannot go far as we have to meet them at 12.20 at the ferry wharf.
Take a walk down to the end of the road to the north, which leads us to the tip of the promontory called “Punta Spartivento” which, literally translated, means the point where the wind divides, and find a park with a restaurant and a boat harbor. The road is enclosed by high stone walls, so we only get glimpses of the villas and gardens, and the grounds of the big hotel where a construction team is laying support planks for a mobile crane. On the way back, Dianne investigates an open driveway and parking area on the inland side of the road, finds that it connects to a bridge over the road leading to the extensive grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (doubles from 555 euros per night!). This is where Allie stays, as it was one of the few places that had vacancies at short notice – I wonder why? Not being shy, Dianne decided that if there is no closed gate, we have the right to walk through, in spite of the rather weather beaten backpack Murray is carrying. The gardens are quite pretty, with a good display of flowers, and a large swimming pool we have to walk past to find reception. Have a quick look and exit onto the street. To prove this is not a cheap hotel, we witness the 20-something dolly bird in a bright red dress and ultra-high heels climbing into the driver’s seat of a bright red Ferrari sports car in the carriage turnaround.
The ferry arrives at 12.20, and by 1.09 we have been introduced to all six visitors (the two Anne’s and Tony and David who we walked with; and Helen and Rosemary who we didn’t know), have confirmed that the restaurant booked by Dianne (La Fontana Bellagio – 4 of 60 on Trip Advisor) is suitable, and have been served lunch, according to the photo. After lunch we look at the church, walk the narrow back alleys, then the waterfront as far as the “moat”, but run out of time to explore the interesting village near it, and get back in time to load the troops back on the ferry.
In the late afternoon, we went for a walk up to the top of the town. Found a side alley which headed further up hill, and found ourselves in a major unplanned expedition. We got talking to an American couple from upstate NY who were staying at La Pergola, a converted monastery on the water in Pescallo on the other side of the peninsular. We decided to carry on with them to the beach, and along to their hotel, and they showed us around the common area, with the dining area right on the water with glass balustrades. They described it as a wonderful hotel, with friendly staff and excellent food. Dianne later researched it, and was surprised that it was relatively inexpensive, but had some “interesting” reviews.
Because the alley leading to this side was rough cobblestones, with steps, we decided to use the road access to get back to the main road that we had walked on to the supermarket. It was a lot longer, but easier walking this way, and it was pretty late when we got back, so settled on a pizza from the restaurant downstairs for dinner, and took it up to our room, and were surprising just how good it was.
Friday 30th June Bellagio – Villa Carlotta and the Greenway walk to Lenno – Bellagio
In the morning, the weather is fine and we decide to do the Villa Carlotta and Gardens, and walk part of the Greenway, possibly as far as Lenno. We run into Debbie & Mike at the ferry wharf, and meet Allie, who we have heard so much about.
We take the ferry to Tremezzo that makes a stop right at Villa Carlotta, and decide to bite the bullet and pay admission to the gardens and the villa itself ( over 65 – 8 euros each). The villa is set back from the lake, on the main road, with 20 acres of extensive gardens with a pond and fountain, and several layers of terraces with steps up to the ground floor. The original villa was finished in 1745, and was sold in 1843 to Princess Marianna of the Netherlands, the wife of Prince Albert of Prussia, who gave it as a wedding present to her daughter Charlotte (Italianized to Carlotta) on her marriage in 1847. Charlotte died in 1855 at the age of 23, from complications of childbirth (which according to my calculations, means she was 15 when she married). A lot of the villa is devoted to the musical aspirations of her husband, Duke Georg II of Saxen-Meiningen. A whole floor is devoted to the problems of sourcing suitable timber for musical instruments from the third world in particular.
We use the lift to get to the top floor, are pleased to arrive in one piece, as the lift, like the Villa, is a historical artifact. The history in the villa was devoted to mainly music, with different music playing in each room. Musical instruments, mainly stringed were on display. We take a few photos of the great view from the villa, but none of the villa interior. The gardens, however, were a different matter, very pretty, with a variety of habitats, from olive groves to rainforest. We had a map with the various walks marked on it, and decided to tale the long itinerary, but were confused by work in progress and a few false leads before we completed the circuit. Notable in the gardens was a very large log from a diseased pine tree that they were trying to turn into something useful – possibly musical instruments .
In our rounds of the garden, up and down the hillside, we managed to use up a lot of energy, but decided to keep on with the greenway walk, maybe as far as Lenno, the next ferry stop after Tremezzo, but checked the bus timetable so we could bail out halfway if necessary. The Greenway is a 10.5km walk from Cadenabbia to Colonna, and follows the path of the ancient Via Regina, the road that was built by the Romans to connect Como with territories over the Alps. We had wanted to walk the whole way, but will have to settle for only doing part of it, as we leave tomorrow, and Dianne is not up to walking that distance in one go.
Before setting out Murray walked back to look at what must have been a paddle steamer, now a restaurant, but there was little mechanical history on show.
We found a Greenway sign and took its photo as a guide, as the path leaves the lake shore and heads up into the hills for a couple of kilometres before descending to Lenno. First major point of interest, right in Tremezzo, was a floating swimming pool owned by the Grand Hotel Tremezzo across the road. The water level in the pool was about half a metre above the lake, and bright blue.
Just beyond the village the Greenway left the road and passed through a lakeside park, very pretty, with a major fountain and stairways, and a very large church with a tower on the man road. There are a lot of restaurants on the main road, but by the time hunger has set in, we are in a restaurant free area, and just about to head inland. We find two small bars with food, one with a nice outdoor area by the lake, the other between the road and the buildings, with an awning. As the sky was threatening, Murray opted for the latter, to Dianne’s displeasure, as there was a non-stop procession of trucks passing right beside us, making a great din as they changed gears to make it up the hill. And it didn’t even rain! Murray had an ordinary pasta, Dianne a surprisingly good eggplant and tomato dish.
We turned inland on the Greenway, following a half-metre wide slate strip up the middle of the road with intermittent silver Greenway medallions set into it. The path leads uphill into semi-rural areas and apartment blocks, not particularly interesting, but with occasional quaint areas, and spectacular views over the lake. We pass the paddock with horses and cows mentioned by Mike and Debbie, who did this walk yesterday, then drop back down to lake level and follow a concrete path beside a very narrow shingle beach. There is a kiosk and attractive table settings beside the water, but we’re pretty hot and tired at this point, so decide to carry on to the Lenno ferry, to make sure there is a ferry and buy tickets. From here we get good views into the bay at Lenno and out towards the point, where there is an interesting ruin on the water, and, further out, Villa del Balbianello, the impressive mansion with trimmed trees and lawns that we first saw from the ferry.
From the return ferry to Bellagio we can look back to where the Greenway climbs the slopes between Tremezzo and Lenno, and the ferry calls in at the wharf at the small San Giovanni hamlet marking the limits of Bellagio, and we get a better look at the steps at the end of the “moat”, and the villas and gardens here. After we arrive at Bellagio, we take it easy in the late afternoon, and have another great pizza, and pasta in the room.