The name of our tour was Romantic Villages of Alpine Europe, an accurate description of the places we stayed and visited. Being a small-town girl, this was the perfect tour for me. We mostly stayed in towns with 5,000 residents or less. I loved the small-town feel of the places, with their cobblestone streets, town squares, small family-owned shops, narrow streets, and alleys.
Our first village of Cernobbio on the shores of Lake Como. The alpine lake is shaped like a Y, with steep mountains shaping the lake. Ferries carry people all around the lake, from the largest town of Como to all the villages that line the lake shore. We rode the ferry to visit Como and Bellagio (the real one). We were lucky enough to visit Como during a festival. During the parade, people were dressed in medieval clothes, each different colors and styles that represented the villages along the lake.
The weather was very hot, much hotter than I thought it would be. I hadn’t packed clothes for 90+ degree weather and was pretty miserable. While we were in Bellagio, I discovered a small ladies shop and did what any normal woman would do. I bought new, cooler blouses. The proprietor was very helpful, knowing just enough English and interpreting my sign language well enough that we could communicate without much problem. I could have spent much more, but I tried to hold things in check.
The hotel was quite a way from the main part of town, but the walkway along the lake shore made the trek very enjoyable. We ate pizza with some of our fellow travelers at a little open-air café that had a deck out over the water. Someday, a diver will find silverware on the lake bottom beside that deck—one of the hazards of having a café in that spot.
We visited the town of Bergamo and the walled old town that sat on the hill above the more modern town. Riding a funicular up through the wall that was built in the 12th century, we arrived near the city center. The streets are very narrow and cobblestone. The chapel and church had some of the best Renaissance architecture around. They still have the old sun dial in the city square and the bells in the church ring out several times a day. It was truly a step back in time.
While in Cernobbio, we made the drive to Milan, a huge city. We went downtown to the Duomo (church) square where the Milan cathedral sits. We went in the cathedral, an enormous structure with fascinating architecture and artwork inside. Nearby were the expensive shopping of Milan: Prada, Versace, and such. Not anyplace where I’d find much. Their sale racks are probably far above my level of spending. The one place there I really wanted to visit was the da Vinci museum, but there wasn’t time. Besides, no one but Hubby and I seemed interested in it.
My favorite Italian village was Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Stresa is a charming village with wonderful shops, bakeries, and restaurants. The best Italian food was found there, as well as the best olive oil and balsamic vinegar I’ve ever tested. The path along the lake has palm trees and wonderful views of the mountains surround the lake.
In the middle of alpine splendor, the village looks out at three islands in the middle of the lake, two of which have been owned by the Borromean family for over 600 years. While their nobility titles have gone by the wayside, they are an influential family that still lives in the palace on Isola Bella. The palace has 100 rooms, 25 of which are open to the public. The smaller palace and English-style botanical gardens on Isola Madre were beautiful, with tropical and exotic flora. A banana tree even grows in the garden. We had lunch on the smallest of the islands, Isola Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island), that is not owned by the Borromean family.
In my opinion, northern Italy, by far, had the best food of the trip and some of the friendliest people encountered during our trip. The gelato was definitely better there than in the other European countries we visited, and trust me, Hubby and I tried them all out so we know it to be a fact.
The biggest surprise to me was all the graffiti around, even in the old cities. Walls were tagged and ugly. Even in the old town of Bergamo, an ancient stone wall had a big paint symbol on it. I don’t understand the need to do that, but whoever is responsible ought to be out there with a toothbrush cleaning it up.
Next week, I’ll talk about Switzerland and the Swiss. They are very interesting people and a very interesting culture.
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