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Report 915: Lake Como and Bernina Express

By SeaJay from VA, Spring 2002

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Page 4 of 11: Monday, April 15

We begin today with a ferry ride to the village directly across the lake from our apartment, Varenna. The morning is clear and windy. The ferries run regularly and the rides to Varenna and Bellàgio are relatively short, about 15 minutes. We replenish at an ATM and take a morning coffee stop to get warm. We take in the church and chapel in the village square. In the chapel you have to pay to have the lights turn on. They are the type the must warm up and at first you believe you are getting ripped off by a church. The chapel is San Giovanni Battista and dates from the 10th century. The town church dates from the 17th century. We stroll the steep alleys and waterfront before going in search of the castle. We abort our first attempt to reach the castle at the third switchback up the mountain. Carol flags down a passing car and his answer isn’t clear, we discern that it is a long way. At about the same time CJ spots it at the top of the mountain across the valley.

We return to the waterfront and select a Rick Steves recommended restaurant. We share local fish specialties and incredible buckwheat, cheese and lettuce pasta. We are all sharing food around the table as we have been from the start and will continue all week. Today Carol and Tom, who are sitting on the same side of the table, both order the Menu Rick Steves that is multicourse and 20 Euro each. Kathy and CJ share 16 Euro pasta. Believing the couple of Tom and Carol have really shafted Kathy and CJ, the waiter offers us separate checks.

Following lunch we find the ancient walking trail to the castle. The tour information calls it a 15-minute stroll. Many stops, health checks, resting and much heavy breathing later we arrive at the castle on the summit.

The Castle of Vezio was built in the 11th century. The castle is extraordinary. A Keep within the walls has its own drawbridge connecting it to the outer walls. Views are magnificent and it is almost incomprehensible how high above the lake we have climbed.

The descent is much easier. It is only a short wait before we depart on the ferry. This time we are on one of the car ferries. Arriving back in Menaggio, we go in search of an open supermarket. We search far down the lake and still find no open markets although we do find some candidate restaurants. Stores are all closed on Monday. We have run out of food for breakfast. We return for a couple of hours of cocktails, cheese, sausage and relaxation.

Dinner is memorable. We dine at Antica Trattoria del Risorgimento, a quaint restaurant whose building dates to the 16th century. It’s located in the village of Azzano di Mezzegra. We ask for the advertised fixed price menu and receive acceptable selections. Kathy, CJ and Carol begin with wonderful artichoke pasta, Tom has gnocchi. Carol and Tom follow with a simple but delicious local fish. CJ and Kathy have a Milanese veal dish with a most unusual preparation. The veal is left on the bone and pounded out into a thin patty. It is very lightly breaded. Extraordinary! Desert is apple pie for Kathy, strawberry mousse for Tom and, the evening’s winner, a vanilla crème with poached bananas for CJ and Carol. This vanilla concoction is sprinkled with vanilla bean and is top shelf.

The breaded veal was so unique Kathy takes a photograph. It cracks up the young Italian at the next table. He comments that it is laughter of appreciation. He feels it is refreshing to see English-speaking people who obviously appreciate good food. He claims the British never demonstrate such appreciation. During the meal we have good conversation with both he and the hostess. Unfortunately for the restaurant, but fortunately for us, we are the only ones in the restaurant this evening.

Completing our desert we profess our ignorance of Italy’s after dinner drink, Grappa and ask if the hostess could give us some instruction and guidance as well as pick a single glass for us to share. Obviously complemented by our request, she breaks out four glasses and with great contemplation selects four different varieties, each with a distinct taste. (It still was more than a single glass) We had a Muscat, Friuli Cabernet, Brunello, and a Barbera. It’s still firewater for us but she claimed 90% of her customers order it after dinner. We resign to return here on Friday for our final dinner unless we find something even more wonderful.

Since we plan an early morning departure for breakfast and the market at Como, the women shower in the evening. We retire shortly after 2300.

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