BACK TO ITALY AND LAKE COMO Saturday, July 31 we left Nice by train bound for Milan. We took the liberty of buying first class seats for the long ride and this worked out well until we crossed the Italian border. After that, people sat wherever they could, including in the aisles, outside the restrooms and three to a row of two seat sections. Walking to the restroom involved stepping over and between people, pets and families. It was all pretty good natured and the conductors didn’t hassle anybody. This is a picture of the crowded train car we were riding.

We arrived in Milan Central Station 5 ½ hours later in 95 degree heat and high humidity. The train station was mobbed. We managed to get our 6 bags and 2 carry-ons safely through the terminal and then down to the Avis office, loaded them into our car and we were off for Lake Como. The trip went without a hitch. We stopped in the town of Cernobbia, just before the Villa D’Este for gelatto before going on to our hotel in Moltrasio, The Imperiale. Although it’s a Best Western, it is an old elegant building and we had a wonderful suite with a huge covered veranda overlooking the gardens and the lake.

That’s our room- the one with the pillars and the two windows back from it. Imagine us sitting out there each evening, sipping a drink and watching the days light fade over the lake as the lights of the towns gradually come on. It was a heavenly location. We had a great meal at a local restaurant. The next day we had a nice walk along the lake and up into the mountain along the side. This became a daily morning event for us in Moltrasio as we winded our way up the seemingly endless stone stairs through the town. The views were often too difficult to capture on picture because of the scope of our view ranging from far north on the lake all the way south to the city of Como. This is a sampling of some of the views we had.

On Monday, we decided to drive to Lugano, Switzerland. It was only a 40 minute ride, though the concept of “crossing the frontier” about which had been warned seemed intimidating. It really was no more than crossing from the US to Canada. Lugano was very different from Italy. Everything was exceptionally neat and clean. And of course, watches and cigarettes were on sale everywhere, costing significantly less than in Italy. We found no bargains, but enjoyed visiting all the shops and strolling along the beautiful waterfront of the city.

We then took the Funicular or mountain train up to the top of Mt. San Salvadore that overlooks the city.

The views from the top were truly the most breathtaking we have yet seen on our trip. In fact, they took so much of our breath away that Betsy had to get down from the highest viewing station quickly. There was a slight haze that day, so these pictures may not convey the view from 3500 feet.

On the way back we took a side trip down the Swiss side of Lake Lugano to the beautiful resort town of Mocota. All the structures of the town are tucked up close against the lake shore and the merchants are all along the promenade. It was cozy and friendly.

Then, being the good guy that I am, I took Betsy to the factory outlet mall we had heard so much about in Mendrisio, Switzerland. We went into stores for Prada, Gucci, Loro Pianna, Nike, Reebok, Puma, La Perla and many others. There were absolutely no bargains. We returned to the hotel and relaxed on our terrace listening to Frank Sinatra while we sipped Vodka Tonics and watched the day fade away.

The following day was spent mostly relaxing at the pool until a thunderstorm came rumbling through the area. Then we went to the local mall to recharge our phones and had a great meal at a local restaurant. Wednesday was another relaxing day of hiking, sitting at the pool, working on my manuscript, reading and enjoying the scenery. However, it was special because on this evening we had one of our most interesting meals in all of Italy. On the recommendation of Laura, the receptionist at our hotel, we went to a family run restaurant high on the mountain of the town of Moltrasio. Our host was Maria Luisa and her mother (the cook).

We gave her our food restrictions and she just brought us one plate after another. The wine was a local rosa that was great. Each item, of which there seemed to be no end, was better than the one before and we ate until we could hardly move. It was a real treat. Maria Luisa made sure that we knew that George Clooney ate there several times when he was on Lake Como filming his new movie. She even brought over her signed photo that she has on the wall. All the other guests in the restaurant were local residents. It was a great treat. Of course, it has taken us the better part of two days to fully recover from all the food we ate, but it was worth it.

Thursday morning we awoke to the most beautiful day of the past month. The temperature was 67 (20 degrees Celsius) and the sky was a pristine blue. We decided to explore this side of the lake as long as we had a car to use. We drove along the shore through small villages and past enormous estates and villas. The road is quite narrow at some spots and we were delayed for thirty minutes at one location because a large tandem construction truck was unable to negotiate a turn. The traffic had to be backed up at least a few miles. Remarkably, everybody took it in stride. There were no horns or flaring tempers. What a nice pace of life. Of course, it takes forever for things to get done, but I guess you can get used to that.

We stopped in Menaggio, the large city across the lake from Bellagio and the primary take off point for people traveling to Switzerland from the upper lake. It’s a quaint old area, second only to Como in size on the lake. The waterfront, looking up to the north end of the lake and the mountains beyond is, like all the other vistas we have seen, just beautiful. This view of the town square with the lake behind me and not in the picture gives a good sense of the scale of the town.

After a very light lunch, we drove back to the town of Lenno (that’s right) where we took a launch to visit the Villa del Balbianello. This was a trip we made at the recommendation of Royce Yudkoff who said it was not to be missed. He was right. The villa, donated to The Italian National Trust by its last owner, Guido Monzino, was first built by a wealthy Cardinal from Milan to entertain his friends in the arts. It sits out on a peninsula jutting into the midpoint of Lake Como and has been painted thousands of times by local and visiting artists. The last owner was the son of one of the wealthiest families in Italy and was, to say the least, eccentric. He was a world explorer who had been to the North and South Poles, the Himalayas including climbing Mt. Everest. He gutted and completely refurbished the estate with only the finest of silk wall coverings, English and French wood walls and cabinets, priceless orientals and a collection of Asian, African and South American relics that would rival any museum in the world. All of this is on display to be seen with guides. The views below give some sense of the size and scope of the property.

We drove back to the hotel and went to dinner in town. Once again, we were the only non-Italians in the restaurant, always a good sign. We had a nice meal and then walked down to the waterfront promenade of Cernobbio where there had to be at least a thousand young people out enjoying the evening.

Friday we spent, after our daily mountain hike, taking it easy by the pool until the clouds closed in and we spent an hour in one of the most dramatic thunderstorms we have ever seen. We’ve spent the last few hours packing up for our next adventure as we leave tomorrow for our apartment in Bellagio at the Villa Serbolloni. We have enjoyed our stay here in Moltrasio at the Hotel Imperiale and will miss Franco, Laura, Yousaf and many of the people we have met here, although we had very little contact with other hotel guests who were almost entirely German families. We will see what the next chapter brings us.