Everybody knows that the casino called Bellagio in Las Vegas was named after the fabulous little peninsula city in Lake Como. You knew that right? Admission – I don’t think I knew that! Boy did I feel stupid!! Now, I knew that George Clooney hung out in a place called Bellagio on Lago Como I just never put George Clooney, Lago Como and Italy’s Bellagio together with roulette and blackjack. Duh!
Our incredible Milanese landlord, Claudia Puglisi Allegra, picked us up at the end of the M1 Metropolitana line and packed us off to Bellagio. The mountains surrounding Milan were absolutely lush and green. The ride and the view were travelogue material. It seemed like only moments of breathtaking views before we were off the highway and following a long and winding road that hugged the lake. Now, I have a real aversion to curvy, narrow, guard rail-less roads that Italian drivers race along. Copycat Jack races along the horrific mountain trails, while I look out the window at impending death by impalement in rocky valleys. Claudia was a smart and cautious driver. Also driving on this curvy narrow road if you careened off the edge you hit water. Therefore, my knuckles weren’t too white and I could enjoy the scenery. It was gorgeous! Not just gorgeous – breathtaking.
I may have broken the bucolic mood by talking politics – but hey there are things I want to know. For instance, why, I asked, don’t I see one ugly faux power generating windmill on these pristine hills – you may have read my earlier blogs about the proliferation of windmills destroying vistas in the south. (http://wp.me/p3rc2m-pp)
Jack rolled his eyes. Claudia looked at me like how could I not know the answer to that question and explained “this is the north – the government is not like the government of the south.” That might have meant – our government ain’t gonna let windmills ruin our tourist loving views. We also talked about the crisi and the fact that jobs exist in the north but not the south – again different regional governments. The north has industry and the south doesn’t.
Political conversation be gone! We enjoyed looking at the lake and interesting houses along the road. We parked in Bellagio at I Giardini Di Villa Melzi and met Claudia’s friend Aurelia Gallarati Scotti. She was a wealth of information about the gardens – including a note about how even the numerous fire places can’t sufficiently heat the villa and it is freezing. The villa was designed by architect, Giocondo Albertolli and built between 1808 and 1810. Napoleon’s pal, Francesco Melzi D’Eril was the first owner. He also happened to be the Vice-president of Napoleon’s Italian Republic.
The lush park-like grounds are open to the public and worth visiting. There is a small fee – but to walk back in time, stroll along the lake and take in the sculptures is absolutely worth the fee. During our stroll, Aurelia pointed out interesting architectural details and answered all my questions. There are an Asian inspired water-garden and interesting little buildings. The villa itself is still privately owned – boy to be a fly on the wall there. Some of the guests included Franz Lizst and of course oodles of politicians. We thank Aurelia for introducing us to the garden and its history. Next time we will bring a book, find a bench, read, stare at the lake and imagine life in the 1800s.
Jack and I went off on our own to explore the village of Bellagio. Groups of tourists were milling about the narrow streets peering in the windows. Actually, the place was packed with tourists. Cripes – watch what your bloody backpack smacks – its me. We climbed – yes it is a climb up the streets – and peered in expensive shop windows.
The place is beautiful to look at but reminded me of any of a number of places around the world that have lost the local charm of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker to shops that sell expensive touristy stuff.
But where did we eat? You knew that we foodies would sniff out great food. We literally fell into the Hotel Suisse – it is a hotel with a bar and restaurant. I didn’t want to sit outside and be trampled by tourists so we sat inside the nicely appointed space and stared at the herds through the windows. The food was exquisite and beautifully prepared.
Jack ordered Burrata Cheese nestled in a gazpacho and accented with a few anchovy. We were introduced to Burrata Cheese at one of Milan’s Pugliese Restaurants – Mamma Lina. Neither of us had ever had anything like it. Looking like mozzarella, Burrata has a thin shell of mozzarella on the outside and a buttery creamy soft interior. It is a Pugliese staple. Think mozzarella infused with cream. My appetizer of scallops perched on weird looking funghi and garnished with asparagus was yummy. Jack’s baccala was a work of art. The poached fish sat on a perfect circle of polenta surrounded with miniature veggies. I normally don’t order beef and am glad I did – it was one of the best fillets I have ever had. The bill was presented covered by a cute little brass dome. The scrumptious fare, including wine and caffè cost us €101 – hey it is a tourist town. We were taken aback by the note that was included with the bill – “if you pay electronically please note on this how much your tip will be.” This is Italy – my family and friends insist that tipping is not necessary. We seldom leave more than change and then folks often look at us like we are insane – most often in the south we don’t tip at all.
We then strolled to the pier and hopped the traghetto between Bellagio and Varenna. The short but wonderful ferry ride across the lake cost us €9.20 for two tickets. Next leg of the journey was a train ride between Varenna and Milano – those tickets were €6.70 each. It was great to cruise along and watch the scenery change as we headed out of the country and into the city. Thank you Claudia for a wonderful day!