What would take us away from sunny Lake Como south to Milan? The Duomo Cathedral truly one of the most magnificent churches ever built. The construction required thousands of skilling craftsman, each specialized in their own trade, passing along their expertise and tribal knowledge through generations of time. After hundreds of years and plenty of archbishops, the Duomo stands as a testament to the ingenuity and sheer determination.
A view from the main worship area within the cathedral
The journey & parking
Milan, (or Milano, as the locals and country signs call it) is a city of approximately four million. The drive from Como took approximately four hours. Having never had our own car in Milan before, we were initially hesitant, then had a moment of clarity. We drive all over the place, from Los Angeles to New York, Berlin to Boston, which are far larger. Milan proved to be a piece of cake. Straight in we went, found street parking for a few bucks, and even got a caprese appetizer on a side street before walking a few blocks to the cathedral.
We arrived to find a part of the cathedral under reconstruction, and a whole lot of military personnel protecting the national landmark. Neither bother nor obstructed us whatsoever. The main square was less than half-full, the day overcast and cool. In other words, a perfect day to visit.
Every entrance is guarded (as you can see behind me) and parking on some of the closets streets is only for service or military vehicles
The fees and expectations
If you want to take your own photos, an extra charge of $5 is required, but completely worth it. The columns, stained glass windows, and 15,800 pipe organ make it worth the money. Because it was a slow day, the inside wasn’t crowded in the slightest, which was a good thing; the mausoleums holding the deceased archbishops were worth snapping a photo, which we did multiple times.
Street parking all around–this was a Thursday afternoon
The tourist information identifies which archbishop was responsible for a particular section of the Duomo, which shows the link between general manager, if you will, and what was created. Imagine the vision of these guys, who knew their contribution was vital, but they’d never see the completed work in their lifetime—or for several lifetimes to come. Talk about commitment. Most of us can’t see a few years in front our faces, let alone decades or centuries.
My number one recommendation is don’t go when service is in session!
My mother plays the organ, so I’m a bit familiar with the instrument. The long, metal rods scaling up from the balconies make it the largest organ in Italy, and in the top 15 instruments in the world.
Beyond the cathedral
If churches, architecture or history isn’t your thing, don’t
despair. The Duomo Square has shopping area known as the Piazza Del Duomo.
Think the Mercedes Benz clothing/jewelry store and the like, along with multiple
outdoor eateries. If your traveling partner is at the Domo, you can easily
spend an hour wandering through the shops or taking in a hot, chocolate mousse drink
as I did (which was more like pudding, actually).
The entire visit will run you no more than two-four hours, depending on your tastes. That leaves a lot of time to explore other parts of the city.
Just one of many, many entrance doors
What I liked best
All if it, the area, the cathedral, shopping, eateries, you name it. I even got the military guards to smile and take a picture with me, and they accommodated!
What I liked least
Nothing. Nada. It was as perfect as the day could get.
Feature image: The Domo, taken from the main square
Lake Como, Italy is more than a single body of water
“Are we going back to Bellagio?” is how Rog remembers asking
the question. My recollection is slightly different. I thought it was more akin
to “We are going back to Bellagio,” the statement said with a bit of force.
The town holds a singular point of divinity for Rog, which would similar to a devout Christian would think of the Garden of Eden being placed in your back yard. In other words, heaven on Earth. Nope, this isn’t the hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada mind you, but the slim peninsula situated on Lake Como.
The beauty of the Italian Alps–this was just a random stop at a persons home, and I couldn’t resist (they were polite and pleased I adored their home/view)
It’s all about the food
The similarity centers on food, the apple in one instance,
but meats, cheese, and yes, a few apples on this one. You see, by the time we arrived
in Bellagio, we were starved. We roamed the streets, getting in a few sites
before stopping at a restaurant situated half-way up a narrow allow, but wide enough
o allow a two-person table. We took the waiters recommendation, ordering what
we thought would be an appetizer-size plate. It turned out to similar in size
to a large pizza, the wooden plate laden with an assortment of cold cuts,
cheeses and fruits, fresh bread, crackers and all types of jams.
This was culinary nirvana for Rog: massive quantities of the authentic fair. So it is that we are taking the girls back this summer, his hope to find this exact eatery once again and replay the experience that made such an imprint. Shopping? Yeah, we did that, purchasing items for relatives at seriously discounted prices given the currency exchange. The ferry ride? Check. Walking the waterfront? Yep. Traipsing up and down the narrow streets, indulging in the local gelato? You betcha. But nothing…nothing ranks up there in Rog’s mind like that platter of food. Me? I was along for the ride, literally. I loved it all.
Narrow streets (this was actually one of the wider ones), no lane markers, the motorcylists racing between cars already packed like sardines in a can. This is where I got the idea to have one of my lead characters in the Danielle Grant series die while on his motorcycle. It’s real!
The journey, and I’m going to throw in Menaggio and a bit of the Lake itself
This day trip to Bellagio started out as a one-day itinerary
once we arrived in Lake Como. To the uninitiated, the locals, and Italians
spell the lake Como, pronouncing it “oh,” as in Lake “Coh-moe”, slightly
different that Americans, who tend to spell it “Cue—oh-moe”, and spell it with
a ‘u’. It doesn’t really matter, because the either way, it’s big, diverse and
takes a while to drive around.
From Zurich, we went over the Swiss Alps, using the road favored by touring bikers (motorcyclists) and the sports cars who thrive on the twisty-turvy road. Along the way, you encounter the Contra Dam, cows and a dramatic change of scenery (which I partially cover in my blog on those topics).
What we didn’t expect to see was such a dramatic change once we reached the top of the mountains, seeing the planted Italian flag. The differences were stark. The roads, just as twisty, were not as well maintained, so we had to be careful of the potholes and general condition, yet we were so captivated with the views and architecture of the hillside homes it didn’t matter. Mountain lakes like Lake Lugano were dark grey, the clouds giving the glossy covers a matte finished look. The roughly three-hour drive from Zurich ended when we hit the first down on Lake Cuomo, Menaggio.
The top of the mountain has a mother Mary statue for safe passage of travelers. I was safe but I was cold!
A plethora of towns
Unlike my adopted home town of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which
is 22 miles long, and retains the name wherever you are actually located, Como has
townships dotting the shoreline. In the States, certain areas are named (Loffs
Bay, Mica Flats, etc.) but those are informal neighborhoods. On Como, each
township is just that: its own town, with a center, police force etc. We stayed
in Menaggio at the north
end, choosing a place right close to the tunnel for ease of access to what we’d
call a freeway, but is more like a narrow, two-lane road. We also desired a pool,
(thinking it was going to be hotter than it was), parking (hard to come by) walking
distance to the center of town and most of all, the ferry.
Menaggio offered all of that, but then we learned, so do many other little areas. This summer we decided to be closer to Bellagio and are staying on the opposite side of the lake in Verena, the ferry ride to Bellagio about five minutes, versus the fifteen from Menaggio.
The official marker in to Italy was anti-climactic. I wanted officers and a stamp (as I wrote in one of my novels) and I got crickets.
The relatively low prices of rentals on the lake are what astounds most folks (Americans) we speak with. I believe it’s because the impression is one of such exclusivity for the lake itself as the vacation spot for celebrities and the wealthy. The reality is the hills are full of vineyards cared for by the full-timers, and the price of top floor penthouse is less than $2,000 US for ten days, the private elevator, parking, three-bedroom, three-bathroom flat with five decks a bargain.
Top deck view, the tunnel to the North in the background. It was quiet however, barely a sound. The hill behind our flat were vineyards.
Back to Bellagio
The first time we visited Bellagio, we decided to drive, and it was a journey of about five hours all the way down and around the southern tip of the lake, then up to the peninsula. Nope, we had no idea it was going to take this long, but with only a single, extremely narrow road to navigate and a ton of stop lights, we made it as quickly as possible. Needless to say, we took the ferry on the return trip, and the journey was shortened by about 5 hours (it was only a fifteen-minute ride across the lake!)
The ferry schedule is every thirty minutes all day, docking portside to the center of town
Bellagio has two faces, really. The center of town, which is flat and lakeside. This is where quite a few of the major shopping takes place (think Hermes and the like). Yet dozens (hundreds?) of smaller boutiques with Italian goods dot the steep alleys that extend from the center up the hills. The majority are perhaps the size of my living room, crowded with silks of all types, jewelry, shoes or purses—the kind of things favored by women from out of town (me!). You’d think I would go crazy, but actually, I didn’t. I stopped after purchasing a few leather bracelets, because I’d seen quite a few of the same items in Lugano (another township) at a lower price—roughly 30%. I held my money and went back to Lugano to purchase a purse and a few other things, still enjoying the experience of Bellagio without feeling like an irresponsible shopper. To give you an example, a purse I’d seen in the US was $700. In Bellagio, that same purse was $500, which is quite a discount. In Lugano, it was $300. No that’s called savings.
Steep, narrow walkways–this was one of the less traveled–others can be wall-to-wall people
The other face of Bellagio is just outside the center, within walking distance, and it’s what I’d call the local areas. Lovely, mostly empty beaches, gardens and what I’d call sitting areas—secluded spots with benches for sitting and watching the ducks on the water. We could only rationalize that those who come to this lake want to “be seen” at the hotspots either on a boat or on a packed beach, rather than enjoy the quiet and romance that’s actually available and free! So it was that we went exploring and, in an hour, counted four different waterside areas, all in the area of Bellagio, all as free of people as the next one. On several occasions, these public areas were right next to high-end hotels. Glancing through the trees separating hotel from the public area, we saw the pool area packed with sunbathers, the chairs right next to one another. It’s all a matter of preference, we surmised. If you want to come to the lake, sit poolside and be pampered, then you have plenty of options.
Lakeside pools offer slips for boats but also much warmer water than the glacier-fed lake
By now, you are probably sick of reading my commentary on “the waterfront” of whatever lake we’ve visited. Sorry, it’s going to continue. Upon reflection of my seeming obsession with waterfronts, perhaps it’s because they are all so different—country to country and town to town. Such care and attention is given to the trees, pathways and facilities, more than often I feel like I’m in some version of Cinderella’s castle and the ferry godmother is going to pop out and grant me a wish.
The lovely (and basically empty) pathway leading to the center of Bellagio
And on that note, don’t be afraid to drive that rental car to Lake Como or pick one up when you arrive. Parking is plentiful in the Lake and surrounding areas. Not all rental homes have parking, but many do, as well as the hotels.
What I liked best
Each township has its own vibe, culture, eateries and destinations to see. It’s no wonder people come for a month and spend days roaming the 146-kilometer areas. If you are bored and want to visit the celebrities, I found this guide just for you, which also gives you some options as to how to best get to the lake.
Up the hillside are villas and wineries
What I liked least
The driving! Whoa, never in our lives have we encountered the insanity of the one-way, narrow, basically lawless driving along the lakeshore, particularly between and within the smallest of the townships. Because we have gone at the beginning of the summer (June and to mid-July), instead of the high season, which is August, we didn’t even experience the worst of it, but what we did encounter was enough. Oh well, it’s part of the experience.