I took advantage of a free Sunday during my time in Varenna to see a few villages around the central lake – Bellagio, Menaggio, Tremezzo and Cadenabbio. I was poised at all times for my G.Clooney run-in, resigned to the fact that I might have to settle for third wheel and borrow some nicer clothes from Elisabetta if I stayed for dinner. George must’ve been hiding from the rain back on his side of the lake. Nevertheless, highlights:
– The beautiful ride across the lake. My days off always fell on the rainy, foggy grey days, but Lake Como in dreary weather is just another type of stunning: layers of mountains forming bluish grey silhouettes, with colorful villages growing clear through the mist as we approached each port.
– Palace gardens. These guys didn’t make gardens; they made full on parks, forests, jungles. The Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio remains a manicured park open to the public to this day; Tremezzo’s Palazzo Carlotta’s epic gardens are the main draw of the ticketed palace museum. One of the Princes was a well-read botanist and brought plants from around the world to create the Epcot Center of backyards. My surprise favorite was the Valley of the Ferns, a misty, forested area with footbridges crossing a waterfall immersed in ferns.
– Pierangelo Masciadri’s Arte e Moda in Bellagio. This silk clothing and accessory designer’s daughters work at his two stores in Bellagio and Venice. Oddly enough, his much-touted street cred is that Bill Clinton, George W. and Bill Gates are all fans of his ties. I love that each of his collections is inspired by art, science and history. One is based on Egyptian figures, another on Leonardo Da Vinci’s anatomical art, and several are regional studies of Italy, like a collection of horse-centric ceramic designs from Tuscany.
– Wandering around Menaggio, a beautiful village that’s just big and small enough to get safely lost wandering up the cobblestone streets.
– Trying mascia, a typical dessert of Lake Como, in Menaggio. Like many classic northern Italian dishes (polenta, little salty fish, risotto…) it comes from making something comforting and delicious with what little was available. Made from stale bread, pine nuts and dried fruits soaked and plumped up, mascia is like a mix between bread pudding and a cake or breakfast bread. It’s just solid enough to retain its shape, but so moist that I felt like a guilty kid sneaking bites of raw cookie dough.