Northern Italy--the Road Less Traveled
Updated: Feb 18
Italy is on everyone’s bucket list. There is Rome and her ruins, Florence with Michelangelo’s David and Brunelleschi’s Duomo, Tuscany with villas and vineyards. There is Naples, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Umbria and more, all displayed in glossy brochures and splashy Instagram posts. However, in a country whose reputation far exceeds its size, there are still some areas often overlooked, where the locals still outnumber the tourists, and where there are wonderful discoveries to be made.
The northern Lake District, anchored by Lake Como, snuggles up against Switzerland. Lake Como may be only an hour drive from Milan, but it is a world away in scenery and atmosphere. The stunning shore is dotted with villas and mansions, and when the fog lifts you can see the peaks of Swiss mountains on the opposite side of the lake. My home for exploring this wonderland is the Barchetta Excelsior. Its location is perfect—facing the Como harbor and the mountains beyond, a short walk from the lovely old cathedral, delightful little bars and restaurants along the side streets. The narrow streets of the walled old city stretch directly behind the hotel, full of little artists’ shops. My arrival on a chilly March evening was warmed by cheery Michelangelo, the hotel manager, offering a glass of prosecco and tasty snacks.
My guided tour the next day was led by blond Roberta, quintessentially Italian, every phrase ending with an added syllable in a lilting upswing voice. Plus the requisite hand gestures, of course. She wanted our little group to know about everything, from the medieval walls surrounding the walking city of Como, to the multiple architectural styles of the Cathedral, to local traditions when eating and drinking in the in the bars and cafes.
I did my best to take it all in…the three branches of Lake Como, the villas and mansions seen on the cruise from Como to Bellagio, including George Clooney’s sprawling estate and Richard Branson’s that can be rented for “only” 30,000 euros per night (in 2012). I learn I can take the #1 bus for a short ride from Como to Switzerland. I learn that Italians like to work in Switzerland at Swiss wages, and then pay taxes in Italy—if they pay taxes at all. I learn how the entire Y-shaped lake, from the upper point of Lartio to the southern-most point of Como was once a center of commerce, the meeting of north and south in the exchange of goods.
I also learn where to find that little restaurant out guide pointed out during the walking tour and decide it is time to indulge in more regional Italian delights.