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Report 915: Lake Como and Bernina Express

By SeaJay from VA, Spring 2002

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Page 3 of 11: Sunday, April 14

We are up at 0830 compliments of the local church bells located in the famous leaning tower about 50 yards from our apartment. A miracle has occurred. The Luke’s luggage arrived shortly after midnight compliments of our helpful local carabinieri (police officer). The delivery service would have never been able to deliver the luggage without the help of the officer.

We have a simple breakfast of bread and cold cuts. Following showers, the women review the tourist information. We set a course into the mountains for a special restaurant called a “crotti” (old wine cave) that is supposed to feature local food and atmosphere. The climb is up an “almost a road”. It is very narrow, has numerous switchbacks, and runs on the edge of the mountain with no guardrail in most places. We pass through the village of Naggio before turning into the Val Senagra. The driver, CJ, is in his glory; the passengers are deep in prayer.

The restaurant, Crotto Merlo is a family type of place surrounded by cut trees and heavy machinery. There is no sign of an old wine cave. At one table is a family of about 10 and at another table are about 20 twenty-somethings. We have an antipasto, cheese polenta, ravioli soup and main courses of veal; roast chicken and roast beef in red sauce. The secondi (main courses) are overcooked. The cheese polenta is to die for. We all could have made a meal of the polenta. Two and a half hours later we depart. The restaurant is also a logging and firewood business. Tom asks if we can buy a few pieces of wood for our apartment. The manager does not seem pleased with the request but will comply. He instructs us to pull our car on the scale. There we are, driving through heavy mud to weigh the car with the three of us in it just to get 16 pieces of wood! As Kathy remarks, “you just can’t make this stuff up.” CJ doesn’t believe the added weight of the wood is within the accuracy of the scale given the weight of the car. Who invited the engineer? The first measurement shows a decrease in weight. We realize that CJ, Kathy and Carol are no longer in the car. They are all standing outside taking pictures and generally in hysterics. When we return to the car, the manager gets his reading and charges Tom the 4 Euros he had in his hand. We depart still in hysterics. The restaurant manager and his patrons are equally in hysterics over the crazy Americans.

We misinterpret the directions and continue up the mountain road. It’s already a two-way single lane, switchback-laden road. It’s about to get worse. We find a small patch of space to pull over. We need to gather some sticks since the plan is to roast sausages over the open fire. Why is Carol hanging from a tree over the side of the mountain? Four good green wood roasting spears later we continue up the mountain. The road narrows, then turns to gravel, then to rock. We dodge rockslides, washouts, and eventually must ford a stream with waterfalls above and below.

At some point we enter a wildlife preserve. CJ is finally driving very carefully over a road with a high probability to puncture tires or take out an oil pan. Long ago we entered four-wheel drive country with our little Ford Focus. Eventually we dead-end in an alpine meadow high up on the mountain. We must traverse the rocks and stream again! Eventually we reach an intersection above Naggio. We realize the instructions meant the right turn to the restaurant was a diversion and that if you didn’t want to go to the restaurant you would “proceed straight ahead” here and not at the restaurant. (Later in the week we would buy a more detailed map that would make this all very obvious.) Thankfully, we didn’t have it today or we would have missed this wonderful misadventure.

We take the road to Carlazzo. On our return to Menaggio, we detour across the valley to a picturesque village. It is Bene Lario and has a beautiful cemetery at the church. We somehow end up driving through the village with its “almost car width” streets. Arriving back in Menaggio, we drive south to scout attractions for future exploration. Driving back through town CJ tries to find the alternate bypass to St. Moritz and misses. We find ourselves heading back up the mountain above Menaggio. More switchbacks but at least this time the road is paved and a bit wider and populated. The views of the lake are spectacular. We have a drink at a restaurant/bar, scout out a restaurant and pizzeria and return to the apartment.

We return to Aquaseria and try a different restaurant this evening for a light dinner of pizza. It’s the Trattoria Valenti da Peppino – Pizzeria. We stop at a local waterhole, the Piccadilly, for a couple of drinks. It’s located just below our apartment. This night we retire around eleven.

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