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5 Days | Lake Como & Milan

Updated: Dec 10, 2019


Rarely does a place strike me with its beauty so much that photos cannot truly capture it. This can be said for stunning Lake Como, which I recently visited for a long weekend along with my husband and some of our friends from New York and Dublin. I also made a quick stop in the bustling financial capital and ever trendy home to the world's fashionistas, Milan.

If you love history, beautiful scenery and copious amounts of unapologetically phenomenal food and wine, keep reading to uncover some of my discoveries in these two truly magical destinations.

 

1. Varenna | Lake Como

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Varenna from Monestary

A quick 2-hour flight from London Heathrow will get you to Milan's lesser travelled Linate airport. From there, you can take a 30 minute taxi ride to Milan's magnificent Central Station where you can pick up the train to several towns on Lake Como, amongst other Northern Italian destinations.

My journey from the city started out typically as the train edged out of the station, taking me through Milan's graffiti-laced local neighbourhoods. Then things started to change and the scenery got better and better and better still. The landscape became hillier, and greener and soon the train was buzzing along at 90 MPH through tunnels chiseled into the mountainous landscape, as the white capped peaks of the Alps came into view.

My stop was Varenna - a less touristy, idyllic gem of a town lying on the east side of Lake Como's mid-section.

Photos by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Settings in Varenna

Varenna is the perfect spot for jumping on and off the ferries to visit other towns along the lake. But the town itself is more than worthy of just a base location. I spent a day exploring at my own leisure and found two particular attractions of note, the stunning gardens of Villa Monastero and the elegantly refurbished Villa Cipressi, which is now a hotel.

Varenna also has several shops and restaurants as you descend up and down it's steep hills as well as a dynamite lakeside walk where the scenic perspectives change as you walk.

Photos by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: The gardens of Villa Monastero

Where to Stay

Piazza Martiri, 14, Varenna LC | +39 366 373 5111 | info@olivedo.it

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Hotel Olivedo, Varenna

Lake Como has a wide variety of choice when it comes to accommodation. Whether you have the cash to live like George Clooney (one of LC's permanent residents) or if your budget is more backpacker, there is something for you.

For me, the family owned and operated Hotel Olivedo was a pefect choice. This moderately priced hotel is situated next to Varenna's ferry port (more of a dock than a port) and makes for an excellent base for exploring the other towns on the lake. The rooms are well appointed and all of them have balconies which face the lake and offer some seriously drool-worthy views.

The best thing about this hotel? The lovely family who run it. Dee Dee and her family bent over backwards to make the stay amazing and I truly enjoyed getting to know them as I and the rest of the group happily depleted their stock of pinot grigio! My husband and I agree, this is the friendliest place we've ever stayed. Their charming son, Luigi, looks forward to taking over in the next few years.

Where to Eat

Varenna | +39 034 181 5349 | info@cavatappivarenna.it

This tiny restaurant, located on an unassuming side street towards the top of the town, has only 7 tables. Advanced booking is a must and you will not be disappointed with the simple yet seriously delcious local dishes, made with fresh ingredients and prepared practically in front of you in the open kitchen.

Photos by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Il Cavatappi | Ravioli dish with sage butter, Chef's welcome and consult at your table

Al Prato

Piazza Prato, 6, Varenna LC | +39 348 712 4389

This is a great spot, just off the main drag for lunch or dinner, especially on a sunny day sat in the garden surrounded by lush, ivy-covered stone walls. Try the fresh burrata and aubergine puree or the asparagus with a fried poached egg (any chef that can pull that off is a hero in my book). Here, fresh ingredients and service reign supreme.

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Al Prato | The freshest burrata, aubergine puree. Heaven.

 

2. Mennagio | Lake Como

Photo by Simon Hodges: Small port, Menaggio

Just across the lake from Varenna, reachable by ferry, lies the picturesque town of Menaggio. I spent only a few hours here on a Sunday morning. Menaggio is great for a lazy stroll as you take in the views. I enjoyed a glass of wine and a nibble as the noon mass finished and the local families spilled out onto the streets.

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Views from Menaggio

Photos by Erin O'Brien-Hodges Flora & fauna, Mennagio

 

3. Bellagio | Lake Como

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Lakeside eatery, Bellagio

Although a bit busy and 'Disney Land' at the port, Bellagio boasts many shops and eateries and a few lake front spots well-placed for the magnificent scenery. I came here in May, where there was plenty of shady wisteria in full bloom.

I primarily stopped here at lunch time with an empty belly, admittedly feeling a bit hangry. My appetite was soon satiated as we came upon Bilacus, a local restautant tucked up in the maze of streets that stretches from the water up into the hillside.

Where to Eat

Salita Serbelloni 45, 22021, Bellagio | +39 031 950 480

With plenty of locals and tourists dining together, this restaurant is slightly off the beaten path and serves up tasty, fresh traditional dishes. You can dine on the terrace, or inside - It really doesn't matter as the doors are open and there is a open airy atmosphere. I had the risotto and fried lake fish. Bliss.

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Risotto with fried lake fish, Bilacus, Bellagio

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Lunch with friends, Bilacus, Bellagio

 

Via Regina, 2, 22019 Tremezzina CO | +39 0344 40405

Reachable by ferry, Villa Carlotta will take you back to the true days of aristocracy, over it's many floors, grand rooms, terraces and gardens. Again, another different and breath taking view of the splendor that is Lake Como.

Photos by Erin O'Brien - Hodges: Villa Carlotta

 

5. 24 Hours in Milan

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Galleria Vittorio Emanualle II

My idea of soaking up a city is not to try and do it in a day - the antithesis of a culture break. However, with a little over 24 hours to spend, I reconsidered this as a taster session for a future trip. I had two things on my mind 1.The Duomo and 2. More awesome food.

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges: Milan's Duomo

Arriving in the afternoon on a train from Varenna, I spent the rest of the day exploring the city on foot and took in the decadence of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the couture of the Golden Triangle. By night, I caught a glimpse of the tiny backstreets, boutique shops and galleries and sampled some excellent food.

Waking up bright and early on the last day of the trip, I arrived (as advised by the ticket office) at the Cathedral at 8AM, then took to the roof at 9AM to marvel in the 1000's of carvings and statues that flank the church before the rest of the crowds descended.

I'll be back again in July to spend a little bit more time in the city whilst venturing to other parts of Emilia-Romagna.

Where to Stay

Via Moneta 1, 20123, Milan | +3902874863 | info@ducadiyork.com

Just off the Piazza Del Duomo, yet tucked away in a quite oasis admist the buzz of Milan, sits the reasonable, friendly and nicely appointed Gran Hotel Duca Di York. A good choice for a short stay away from the maddening crowds. The hotel concierge was also able to recommend a great local restaurant in the evening.

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges

Where to eat

Via Spadari 9, 20123, Milano | +39 02 802 3161

Photo: by Erin-O'Brien-Hodges - Peck

This pheneminal food emporium is where you go to sample and purchase everything nice - from meats to cheeses to fresh pasta and truffles. There is also a formal restaurant and a casual eatery where you can watch well-dressed Milanese business folk retire for their lunch mid-day. I loved the eatery for lunch. Highlights are a selction of meats and cheeses and my very favourite, the jelly-coated Peck pate. Also check out the extensive wine cellar on the bottom floor.

Photos by Erin O'Brien-Hodges | The extensive deli counters & exquisite Peck Pate

Trattoria Milanese

Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano MI | +39 02 8645 1991

Photo by Erin O'Brien-Hodges

This unassuming yet buzzy trattoria can be found off the backstreets of the Pilazzo Duomo and was recommended to me by the concierge at the hotel. They were barely able to sqeeze us in on a Tuesday evening, but we got lucky and were able to dine amongst locals. My husband and I I shared two Milanese classics: breaded veal cutlet (which was the size of my head) and Risotto Milanese with Osso Bucco. I left with a belly very full of scrumptiosly delcious, hearty food and good vino.

Via S. Maurilio, 20, 20123 Milano | +39 02 8909 3317

My last venture before heading to the airport did not disappoint. This trendy cocktail bar and eatery boasts a host of cocktails and an extensive sandwich menu and they use only the freshest of ingredients. A couple glasses of wine and a sandwich with lightest toasted bread - stuffed with ham, foie gras, brie, pesto and arugula - and I was good to go.


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