Saturday, 28 July 2012

Living the Life on Lake Como

Heading north out of Milan by rail was much like leaving (or entering for that matter) any other big European city, plenty of grime and plenty of graffiti. There was certainly no indication of the breathtaking beauty that we were about to experience just one hour away at Lake Como. However, upon reaching the end of the line in the town of Como, we knew that we were in for something special when we walked out of the station to see the great lake stretched out before us like an endless blue runway.

Jules had been planning our visit here for months in advance, scouring the internet for the perfect holiday rental that would provide the unique combination of a truly authentic Italian experience combined with all of the necessary holiday comforts and conveniences. She thought that she had found such a place in Argegno, a slightly lesser known tourist town than Bellagio, Menaggio or Varenna, but with the important common feature of being right on the waters edge. It also had one other added attraction for Jules and that was being the neighboring town of Laglio, which any celebrity watcher knows is where George Clooney chooses to spend his summer vacations (Jules would continue to live in hope of a chance meeting throughout our stay). While George was nowhere in sight as we passed through on the bus, what did become apparent as we weaved around the coastline was the increasingly stunning lakeside views. As we headed closer to our destination, an American girl lent over to ask whether the next stop was in fact Argegno. She went on to explain that her and her two friends had traveled up from Milan for the day just for a swim in the pristine waters and with much of the lake having limited public access, they had read that this was one of the few spots they might be able to wade in. We all hopped off the bus heading in different directions; for them it was the water and for us, the hills. We actually saw the girls later in the afternoon and it seemed that they had indeed fulfilled their mission and with dripping hair they were about to begin their long trip back to Milan. We on the other hand, would be spending a much longer time here (two weeks in fact) in a house only a stones throw from the waters edge and with majestic views of the alpine peaks beyond. It would be from our balcony overlooking the lake that we would recite our regular mantra… ‘how good is this?’… several times a day!

It wasn’t too long before we were exploring the numerous lakeside towns using the regular ferries that ply these waters. For those in a hurry, there was the ‘servizio rapido’ (hydrofoil) service, but for the rest of us, with time on our hands, the regular ‘slow ferry’ would move at a pace that allowed us to do some sunbathing between taking regular photographs of the ever-changing scenery. This surely was the best way to take in the scale and beauty of Lake Como and its surrounding towns; each with it’s classic window-shuttered buildings, painted in umpteen shades of terracotta. Clinging onto the steep mountain slopes, these closely stacked buildings were generally simple and rustic, separated by narrow laneways, providing a romanticism that is unique to Italy. Jules and I would spend many an hour analyzing and dissecting the qualities of each town while sitting in the local cafes and restaurants. I must admit that gazing at unbelievable views and eating Italian dishes with a glass of vino or cold beer was a pretty nice way to spend an afternoon. Not surprisingly, it soon became our regular pastime as we tried to determine the most picturesque town. After much deliberation we eventually awarded that honor to Varenna, as much for its serenity (due to the lack of cars) as the quintessential charm of its old town.

Despite our regular journeys around the lake, at the end of the day we were always happy to return to Argegno. We had not seen a better view of Lake Como than from our very own balcony, unless of course you discounted the outlook from Pigra. This is a small town that sits on top of the mountains above Argegno and by boarding a tiny cable car, you can stand on a summit almost 1000 metres high. The aerial view from here was pretty special indeed and provided us with yet another reminder of the sheer scale of the lake and overlapping mountain ranges that continued endlessly through to Switzerland. Back in the village, Jules was increasingly making herself known to the locals. Most mornings she would head off to visit the lady in the grocery store, the baker and her friendly fruit and veg man, who were all very welcoming. They would encourage her to use Italian language, while providing just enough English to act as a safety net if she couldn’t quite find the words. She would return with bags of delicious goodies and fuelled with inspiration to cook. As she loaded her ingredients into the fridge, she would look at me and say with a smile … ‘I could get used to this!’

The view from our balcony!

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