LAKE COMO FOREVER
This summer, we spent nearly a week on Lake Como in Northern Italy. It's one of my favourite places in the whole world, refined and cultured with a rich history, amazing food, and breathtaking landscape, but not overcrowded with tourists. It still feels Italian. The secret is that it's less than an hour's drive from Milan airport.
After five days in the city, we picked up a four-door Mercedes at Stazione Centrale and headed onto the highway. I think there was one toll of less than three euros along the way. We drove north on the lake from Como about 30 minutes, and pulled into the very Grand Hotel Tremezzo. It's five star luxury by any standard, yet with less than 70 rooms, every guest is looked after with great care and respect. When we were there mid-July, the guests were split between honeymooners, empty nesters, and families. The hotel itself is just over 100 years old, and it maintains its artisan details such as parquetry floors, marble throughout, and ceiling roses that made me swoon. The brightly coloured velvet seating in the lobby and lounge areas invite hours of reading and long drinks, with sweets from the candy bar.
Prosecco, chocolates, sparkling water, and fresh fruit welcomed us in our lake side view room. Standing on our balcony, we could see the ferry cross over to Bellagio, and just below was the lake pool where guests sunned themselves on the deck while sipping cocktails and listening to jazz. The room was plush and classic European, the ensuite had all mini toiletries one could need, and there was plenty of closet space and hangers for all three of us.
After we unpacked, we had a wander around the hotel and found the gorgeous garden, complete with a wood-fired pizza cafe and a beautiful pool oasis. Lunch was in order, and it couldn't have been more perfect. We ended up having pizza again there two more times.
The days blurred together, but the memories will stay with me forever.
It's nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Italy, when food is cooked with such care and respect to what's in season. However I do have favourites. If you find yourself near any of these restaurants on Lake Como, reserve a seat, and prepare to be impressed.
Tremezzo - Cantina Follie, Grand Hotel Tremezzo (breakfast)
Bellagio - Ristorante Alle Darsene di Loppia
Como - Il Gatto Nero, I Tigli in Theoria
Cantina Follie is a casual, outdoor wine bar that serves light fare. A short stroll from our hotel in Tremezzo, wander up an alley, go through a small door and up the stairs in a wine store then onto a terrace with tables lit above by fairly lights. It's charming, beautiful, and romantic like a poem. We ordered an antipasto platter full of local cheeses, cured meats, and pickled vegetables. It was one of many antipasto platters in Italy, but somehow this was perhaps the best because it was the first. We enjoyed matching wine flights as well.
The breakfast buffet at Grand Hotel Tremezzo is something that the breakfast gods dreamed up. Made to order eggy crepes, Belgian waffles, beautiful platters of cured meats, local cheeses, five different local honeys, that incredible Italian steamed spinach, eggs any way you desire, and a table of fresh juices including blood red orange with endless bottles of Prosecco to mix or not to mix. Maybe a dozen loose leaf teas, frothy cappuccinos, and that thick Italian hot chocolate. I'll add that breakfast is enjoyed alfresco on the terrace with lake views and served by smiling Italian male waiters dressed in black ties.
Ristorante Alle Darsene di Loppia in Bellagio is a Michelin star restaurant and came recommended by our hotel. We took the direct ferry across in the late morning, which is only about 20 minutes. We walked around Bellagio, up the narrow hilly streets and down to the sandy point where Clara and Ross played in the water. It was hot, about 30C and a pre-lunch granita wish was granted. The town is quaint, but definitely touristy. Alle Darsene di Loppia is at the other end of town, a long walk and lunch would be well earned. It's patio dining, next to a dock, under shade. Away from the crowds, it's peaceful and welcoming. Known for its seafood, Ross started with a tuna tartare and then we both had the special house pasta with fish. The pasta was silky and al dente at the same time. Clara isn't a fan of seafood, so the chef kindly made her fresh tagliatelle with tomato sauce. After a heaping spoonful of Parmagiano Regiano, she polished it off as fast as she would a slice of chocolate cake.
In Como, the city, we dined at two restaurants on different nights. I Tigli in Theoria came recommended by our Milanese friends who are as fanatical about good food as us. After a very stressful time to find parking, we walked in late but were welcomed with calmness and a smile. This is a Michelin star restaurant, which is an understatement in my opinion. It was fine dining at a very sophisticated level, but without pretensions. From them pulling out our chairs in coordination, to a sommelier who was clearly interested in giving us a great wine, and food that was as delicious as it looked beautiful, every attention to detail was anticipated and provided. I had a beef tartare that jumped from the plate like a perfect photograph. The confit salmon in mushroom broth was incredible. Desserts and post dessert sweets were the perfect finale. Dine here and you will see Italian food in an entirely new way.
Il Gatto Nero was for nostalgia. Ross and I were in Lake Como ten years ago, when I was pregnant and we had dinner there. It was pre-Trip Advisor reviews, so who knows how we found out about it. Its location is stunning, high in the hills of Como and the view on the terrace is spectacular. Almost everyone knows about it now, and apparently George and Amal were there earlier in June. The original owners have sold it, but it still looks the same as I remembered. Beef tartar, velvety soup, octopus, lake fish, and tiramisu; it was all wonderful. Il Gatto Nero is an experience that can't be missed.