Sunday, March 02, 2014


Just north of Milan is an area that years ago made my Top 5 of wonderful places in the world, along with cities like Copenhagen and San Francisco. The area is Lake Como, and I always knew when I came to Milan that I would be making a side trip up there to experience it again.

The first time I visited Lake Como, in 1998, it was in the spring, with bright blue skies, flowers bursting out of the ground and tourists bustling along the waterfronts. This time it was late winter, and the skies with grey and foggy, the earth bare and the cold streets virtually deserted. But it’s still a beautiful, enchanting place.

We began in Como itself, a wealthy and gracious town on the southernmost tip of the lake. It still has imposing medieval walls on its southern side, although now their only conceivable use would be to keep the riff raff out, preventing them from shopping at the local Emporio Armani or causing queues at the espresso bars. Behind the wall is a maze of cobbled streets edged with imposing old buildings, where one can buy essentials like designer watches, high end kitchen appliances, 18th century paintings, cutting edge modernist furniture and cocktails.

In the centre of the city, as a counterpoint to all that mammon, is the Duomo, a grand cathedral clad in white marble. As is only fitting for a city of Como’s obvious wealth, the Duomo has been flawlessly renovated and maintained. Inside it’s vast and dim, with only the dull grey winter sunlight and a few candles to illuminate it. The stained glass windows seem to hover the darkness, all the more beautiful for having little to distract from them.

Which is all well and good, but we were in the mood for a different kind of worship. And so it was that we hit the nearest gelateria and Admiral Ackbar made a heroic solo ascent of Mt Amarena.

From Como we took the hydrofoil ferry up the coast to Bellgio. The best word to describe Bellagio is probably ‘charming’. It’s beautifully laid out, achingly pretty, and wonderful to walk around and explore. However it never veers into being twee: tourists are cultivated but not indulged. It’s such a human-scaled and intimate place that even the ridiculously tiny Smart cars and Fiat 500s suddenly feel big, and if a tourist cruises through in a Subaru Forester it’s like an attack by Godzilla.

It is so tantalising that I spent the entire time just wandering about, investigating little laneways and tiny piazzas and secret beaches. Even Admiral Ackbar felt encouraged to get his Hobbit on and go on a journey of discovery.

The slightly sad thing about visiting Lake Como a second time is that I wonder when, or rather if, I will ever see it again. Leaving it is like leaving a good friend with the distinct possibility that this may be the last time you see them. It lends the empty streets and cloud-shrouded mountains an air of melancholy.


Post a Comment

<< Home