Sunday, November 23, 2008

Summer in London - but where is the sun?

We had kept waiting for summer to finally arrive in London - it never did, so to get our fix of sunshine, we did what alotof Londoners do .... head to the continent. Summer in London seemed to take on the same, but disapointing theme ... some nice warm days during the week, as Friday rolled around, the weather turned rather dire ... humid, cloudy and rain!

The one saving grace was the late sunsets - it was lovely after work, to head to a local park - in our case Clapham Common, grab some beers, or ciders ('the' summmer drink) and try and soak up any sun that existed. The beers gardens in pubs were full - people were smiling and actually polite - it is amazing what some fine weather can do to people!

So where to catch some sun ....hmmmmmm how about Italy?

So we decided to consult the massive map of Europe on our living room wall - there was an orange dot (orange dots = places we want to get to) just north of Milan right on Lake Como.

Susan decided it was time to to have a 'Lifestyles of the rich and famous' experience, so we bookeda hotel, on the lake at Bellagio - home to George Cloooney and site of a recent James Bond film.

Another rush to Gatwick airport on a Friday post work and on our carrier of choice (ok, the only one we can afford) EasyJet ..... a budget airline, which never runs on time and you can't quite be sure that they'll run at all. Afteran hour and half flight, we landed in the home of Italian glitzy fashin - Milan. We grabbed car and headed north. Lake Como is about 1.5 hours north of Milan, and as we landed after 11pm, we decided to keep the drive short and do a stop over in Varese.

Neither of us knew much about Varese - and as we were only going to have a sleep over, we didn't much care. Our hotel turned out to be an old medieval palace, so we pulled in, checked in and then slept. he next morning revealed what a stunnng piece of luck we stumbled upon - Varese is beautiful and the hotel we stayed in was outstanding. (the view from our room below)

As a further reason love Varese, is that it was the host ofthe 2008 World Road Cycling champoinships - ahhhhh Italy and cycling - what else could you ask for?

Well it just got better- we headed up towards Lake Como - but decided to take a bit of a detour via Lake Maggiore. The southern part of the lake is in Italy, the northern part in Switzerland - so we decided to take a quick trip in Switzerland on our way back around to Lake Como.

There are around half a dozen lakes upon on the border of Italy and Switerland - all beautiful. The scenary is alpine - funnily enough with the Swiss Alps as a back drop!

We arrived in Bellagio - the sky was blue, the temperate was mid 20s - this is the summer we were chasing!

Bellagio is a small village, on a promitory which is surrounded on 3 sides by Lake Como. The villas are bright yellows and pinks .... which conjures hideous visions of 1970s Surfers Paradise - but somehow, the Italians just know how to pull off tacky, in a way that has some charm

We walked through some tiny cobblestoned alleyways, past restaurants, bars, cafes and numerous wine shops/tasting rooms called enoteccas - these were a real highlight. You wander in, talk to the proprietor of the shop and explain the type of wine you like - hand over £10 and get to tast some pretty good vino. Most enoteccas also do food, usually local produce - which in the case of this region was lovely cheeses and stunning, thinly sliced cold meats. So after a fair few vinos - we settled on a bottled e liked and headed back to our hotel room - right on the lake, with a balcony which had a view to die for.

The roads around the lakes are extremely narrow and very winding - which makes for some 'interesting' moments when a bus or truck is coming in the other direction. The best way to get around the lake - unsurprisingly is by ferry. There are villages dotted all the way up and down the lake and the ferries run very regularly all day and through the night.

After a nice breakfast of breadrolls, meats and cheese - we jumped on a ferry and headed over to Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, which is a beautifully restored medieval villa - aka palace, with stunning gardens and views over the lake.

We then headed down to the village of Tremezzo for a spot of lunch ... unsurprisingly, breads, cheese, meats and icey cold Peroni beer!

Back onto the ferry and we just stayed on as it criss-crossed the lake - the sky was blue as was the water - it was just lovely sitting in the sun out on the water, looking at these stunning lakeside villas, covered in vines.

We jumped off at Menaggio, which is really pretty and seems to be the place where alot of cyclists and motorcyclists hang out - so, alot of lycra and leather and as you'd expect, heaps of cafes doing a roaring trade in skinny lattes!

After a cappuccino and tasty torte we wander around Menaggio and then back onto the ferry to head back to Bellagio for cocktails!

Most of the hotels on the lake in Bellagio have a restaurant/cocktail bar right on the water - ie literally on the water. So we found one on the water, which had a canopy of vines, shading the sun as we drank caprioskas as the sun set behind the mountains .. this is the life. After a number of drinks - it was time for some food and of course, vino.

We wandered up and down the steep alleyways past heaps of restaurants - finally settled upon one, which looked traditional and nice - and we were blown away by how good and cheap it was! We had a platter of cured hams, venison, wild boar with a range of different cheeses and olives - yum! Then some great fish for main course. All this was washed down with a bottle or two of very tasty northern Italian vino blanco.

If you are looking to get away for a holiday and lose weight - do NOT goto Italy. The food is always good and the servings are never skimpy.

So, we stumbled back to our room .. sat out on the balcony and looked over the lights across the other side of the lake - and of course, another glass of vino.

Unfortuntely, the next morning was time to head back .... but not before we nipped back into Switzerland and around the other side of Lake Maggiore ...... as we drove there was a sign to St Moritz (only 1 hour away.....) - we thought about not heading back to London and popping up to visit the ski resort - we could only afford to visit there in the summer!

Oh well - back to London, the humidity and rain ...... but our spirits were lifted and I was already plotting our next Italian trip!

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