10 July 2011

LIFE: Lake Como

SARONNO, Italy - On these hot summer days I can't think of a better place to be than Lake Como. With the temperatures heading toward the 90's, a friend of mine, from my Conde' Nast days and I decided to take the ferry to Cernobbio and have lunch at the opulent Grand Hotel Villa d'Este.
 Small Corner of Lake Como
The restored villa is set in a large Italian Renaissance garden, complete with a rippling waterfall that starts at the fountain of Hercules and ripples down a stone staircase. Inside, the villa is furnished with exquisite museum quality antiques and crystal chandeliers. 

With the sun high in the sky, we decided to have lunch under the tall chestnut trees on the Villa’s lake front terrace. We picked a lakeside table with a view of the sapphire blue water, and with the sound of the lake softly lapping against the shore, how could we not get caught up in the magic of this sweet dolce vita. 
 Villa d'Este, Lake Como
In the mid-afternoon we took the ferry north, along the west side of the lake to visit the Villa Carlotta. In the spring, large buses filled with tourists from Europe and beyond line the narrow road in front of the villa. It’s not just the lure of the pink and white villa that brings them here, but the gardens, that are spectacular in their spring finery of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. 
Villa Carlotta, Lake Como
The Villa was a wedding gift from the Prussian princess, Princess Marianna to her daughter Carlotta. The Villa Carlotta is just about mid-way around the lake, at the Tremezzo/Cadenabbia ferry stop, where the lake is at its widest and most beautiful. Here the sparkling water is framed by the mountains that hug the border between Italy and Switzerland, opening up from the spur that makes up the inverted Y shape of the lake.

In the days before World War II, Cadenabbia was one of the favorite watering holes for sun-starved northern Europeans. At the historic Hotel Rodrigo, the guest list read like a who's who in Italian and European nobility. With pure silk sheets on the beds, and the reputation for having the best dining room in the area, it was a favorite of Britain’s Edward VIII, who would bring Wallis Simpson here for lunch and romantic afternoon trysts. While the hotel has been closed for several years, the   building has been declared a national treasure. 
Approaching Cadenabbia, Lake Como
The beauty and languorous melancholy of Lake Como continues to attract lovers from all around the world. It was rumored that Prince Charles secretly rendezvoused with Camilla at Castello Maresi in nearby Griante when he was still married to Diana. The rumor was hotly denied by castle employees. 

The pink fairy-tale Castello Maresi sits behind heavy wrought iron gates in a lush, flower filled park-like estate facing Lake Como and the promontory of Bellagio. The tall towers, turrets and a high stone wall add to the castle's secluded romantic atmosphere. 
 The Lucia, traditional boat of Lake Como
From the ferry dock in Tremezzo it is only a short ride across the lake to Bellagio. The town is anchored at one end by the white neoclassic Villa Melzi known for its exquisite gardens and at the other end by the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, playground of the rich and famous. 

Small boutiques and art galleries line the winding cobblestone streets and the old arcades, cafes and ferry jetties give the waterfront a fin de si├Ęcle air. Stendhal, who considered Bellagio the most beautiful place in the world, spent his happiest summers here enjoying opera, fighting duels and falling in love. 

During the 18th century the Russian upper classes, the charming and sentimental figures familiar from the pages of Chekhov and Tolstoy, made the hotel their own. Guests coming down to breakfast would often see the Empress of Russia, Prince Metternich or Queen Victoria buttering their toast in the hotel dining room. The Hotel Serbelloni still has an aristocratic air about it. 

Sunset, Lake Como
With the sun starting to set behind the mountains, it was time to board the ferry boat and return to Como. Standing at the rail, watching as the lake unfolded before us, the light soft and sheer, it was easy to see why, since the days of the Romans, all who pass fall this way fall in love with Lake Como. 

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