I had originally intended to spend a little more time in northern Italy, both Milan and Lake Como and the surrounding area, but given the time of year, I opted to add Barcelona and Avignon to my trip, and sacrifice a little time from northern Italy. It was a tough choice, particularly to just have one day in Milan, as I really enjoyed the little bit of Milan that I did see. This was my fourth Airbnb stop, and it was a pleasure to meet the host and stay in her lovely apartment, which was stylish and comfortable. After getting settled, I took her advice to walk to the Duomo, rather than take the metro, which took me through a beautiful park, and then after walking for a while, I found myself in Piazza della Scala, mostly by accident. It is the Piazza with the La Scala opera house, and a very large statue of Leonardo da Vinci looking down at you with his artful eyes, toward La Scala. This piazza leads right into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is a very large and beautiful gallery of luxury shops and elegant restaurants and cafés, and is full of all sorts of eye candy. I exited through the south end, right onto Piazza del Duomo, the square with Milan’s incredible cathedral. It’s really quite stunning, both from the outside, and the inside, and of course I had to go to the rooftop, with its maze of spires, statues, and gargoyles. There are hundreds of statues around the exterior, at all levels of the cathedral, and it was challenging to try to capture the magnificence of it in photos. Another must-see in person.
After leaving the rooftop of the church, I went to a rooftop restaurant across from the north side of the cathedral, and enjoyed admiring the warm glow of the church in the evening light. Before leaving Milan in the morning, I visited a nearby cafe that my host recommended, and I also found out had been written up in the New York Times as one of the must-visit bakery cafés in Milan, and it did not disappoint. The cappuccino was so good, especially after pretty bad coffee during most of my trip, that I had two. And the pastries… they reminded me of Bakery Nouveau back in Seattle — so good. Milan is everything you imagine and more when it comes to fashion and style — gorgeous people in gorgeous clothes.
The train trip from Milan to Varenna on Lake Como was a quick hour, and I took my guidebook’s advice and sat on the left side for the best lake views up the east side of Lake Lecco, where it eventually meets with Lake Como. My first view of Varenna from the train told me that I had chosen the right place, also going with my guidebook’s recommendation on where to stay in this area. After such hectic travels thus far, I was ready for some relaxation time, and visiting Lake Como in November, in the off-season, pretty much forces you to slow down and just be. This was my last Airbnb stop, and it was another great experience, with a very kind and helpful host, which is part of what makes Airbnb (and similar types of personal rental companies) so wonderful — you get great advice on restaurants, sightseeing, and other tips from locals who know the area. Between this and my guidebook, I’ve felt right at home in each place.
While in Varenna, I explored the little town, including a tour of the gardens of Villa Cipressi, which is now one of the fancy hotels in town. And what a treat that was — just stunning views of the lake, and beautiful gardens, with one of the largest wisterias that I have ever seen. On my second full day, I took a boat to nearby Bellagio, which was lovely to see, and then over to Cadenabbia, with a short walk to visit Villa Carlotta, one of the gorgeous villas turned into a museum, where you can tour the amazing villa and gardens for a fee. Just wow. I wound up spending more time here than intended, including a late lunch at the little cafe on the grounds, so I didn’t make it to the famous Villa del Balbianello, sadly. It’s said to be the most magnificent villa on the lake, and has become well-known for its role in various films, including scenes from Casino Royale. As with many sites that I missed thus far, this one is on the list for next time.
I departed Varenna by train this morning, changing trains in Milan, and am now on my way to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast. This is my last main stop on my trip, and the longest in any one place, where I will spend a week, before two nights in Rome, then flying back to the States. I’m looking forward to the southern Italian coast as the dessert course of this amazing European buffet.