NORTHERN LAKES OF ITALY, PART 5 – MORE COBBLESTONE STEPS, DAZZLING VIEWS AND THE BEST HIKING REWARD, EVER

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We now continue on my hiking trip in the Northern Lake Region of Italy – if you recall in my last posting we hit the ground running immediately after landing in Milan on the first of back to back LONG UPHILL treks.  Today’s post is about:

TREK TWO PLUS:  COMO, VILLA MELZI, VILLA CRELLA AND LORENZO – The brochure itinerary seemed innocent enough – “we follow our guide on a scenic loop walk…into the countryside surrounding Bellagio, and ultimately back on foot.”  While this was true it DID NOT emphasize that fact that a good deal of our “walk” was uphill on uneven cobblestone steps like those in the above picture.  The steps themselves are not particularly steep – it was just that the climb kept on going and going and going. Yet, when all is said and done – we didn’t notice or complain as the towns and vistas were spectacular this was the second day with our very animated guide Rita, who,  as mentioned in my last Italy posting is quite a celebrity in Bellagio.  We actually met her mother-in-law as we started our walk and we were given a special look at her home which was at the peak of the promontory overlooking Lake Bellagio (Grazie, Rita).  The status of this exquisite land can only be hinted at from the following pictures – I imagine the actual value is priceless.  What a lovely place to live:

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If we weren’t in love with the town of Bellagio yet, the walk through the town cemented our rapture – the access was through narrow cobblestone lanes and steps and small stone bridges.  Rita explained that the intentionally isolated nature of the village actually prevented the town from the scourge of disease when the Black Plague hit in the mid-14th Century.  I like to think that the town and its mini-districts – and yes even the many many steps were just too beautiful for any evil to pass through:

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It did feel as though time was suspended in Bellagio – helped I am sure by the many  Romanesque style Churches in the area  including the medieval Basilica of San Giacomo which was built in the 12th century.  If you look closely you can see the holes that were left from the scaffolding used during construction:

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The man-made beauty of Bellagio has its natural competitors – I showed you the gardens of Villa Serbeloni – Villa Melzi has another stunning botanical garden lush with plants, flowers, trees and even colorful fish. First, a little history:  The actual villa which overlooks the lake was built in the early 1800’s upon a request by Francesco Mezi d’Eril, who was the vice president of the Italian Republic at the time.  A well renowned  agronomist planned the garden specifically to organize  the various settings  to maximize the view of the lake as well as the individual sections such as the Japanese pond.  Such was and is the beauty of the villa and gardens that it attracted some famous visitors, including the Emperor and Empress of Austria, Prince Metternich and the Empress of Russia and the composer Franz Litz who it is said composed one of his most famous piano pieces, “Dante Sonata” during his stay.

Now see this beauty for yourself:

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Ah, but our day was just beginning.  Following our visit to Villa Melzi we next made our way across seemingly unending meadows – these were flat, at least at the beginning until we got to another series of uphill stone steps,  but the countryside beauty made this an easier task:

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What was on the other side of this climb?  Our next stop, the Villa Crella, a lovely edifice that belonged to rich Milanese entrepreneurs:

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This also has a working winery run by Giampiero’s friend Lorenzo – see where I am going with this?  After a tour of the grounds we went up of course another flight of steps behind this building:

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And what do you think was waiting for us there?

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GIAMPIERO, FRANCESCO AND LORENZO MAKE A GREAT TEAM!!!

Not only were we given a wine tastings of Lorenzo’s fine grapes – we also had a balsamic vinegar tasting.  Balsamic vinegar is the product of a reduction of white Trebbiano grape juice which has been produced in Italy since the Middle Ages. Fun fact:  there is no balsam wood in balsamic vinegar.  The term “balsamico” is derived from the Latin”ballsamum” which means restorative.  Most of what we are familiar in America is the moderately priced Balsamic Vinegar of Modena – but the high-grade balsamic vinegar is very, very rich, only requiring a dab or two and is NOT used as a salad dressing.  It was really an eye-opener to taste the difference.

The Margherita pizza slices and bruscheta that had been prepared as appetizers with our tastings did not cure our appetites – as we had been told that Lorenzo was cooking a special lunch for us of traditional pasta and polenta – of course paired with his wonderful wines.  The polenta uncia is a local dish made with polenta, butter, cheese and roasted garlic – yes it’s that rich and mighty tasty.  Somehow my pictures got lost so with your indulgence am substituting some stock pictures:

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Yep – BEST HIKING REWARD EVER!   Frankly I don’t remember the walk back even though it was downhill – I think I was in a wine and pasta induced euphoria.  Some of the group stopped for a decadent desert at this very popular establishment:

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No surprise for those who know me- I opted not to have the gelato (although I did succumb another day) choosing instead to walk back to the hotel, shower, change and head to the lovely bar to imbibe more lovely wine and gaze out onto Lake Bellagio:

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And, not for the first or last time thinking:  “LA DOLCE VITA!”

 

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