”I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees”
– Henry David Thoreau
I have had many conversations with a close friend on the physical and spiritual bliss of walking through nature’s forests – it feeds my soul and can actually bring tears to me eyes. I prefer journeys that emphasize being outdoors hiking rather than on a bus, unless the distances between points is too great.
My Northern Lakes tour was a hiking trip – and that is putting it lightly. Today’s post will tell the tale of the first of two back to back hiking adventures in Bellagio over a two-day period that required many HOURS of hiking time – but the rewards were more than worth it.
TREK ONE: VILLA SERBELLONI – Giampiero, our guide, wasted no time after introductions and a quick rare bus ride to Bellagio from our meeting point in Milan to officially start our on-foot journey. A quick note – while many in our tour group had arrived earlier in the week, my friend and I, being Newbies had just arrived in Italy only hours before. And, by popular vote the group took right off for our first destination without stopping by the hotel (our luggage did go there separately). So for the next 6 hours or so after we landed I traveled, seemingly always uphill, with my on-board backpack bag that weighed over 12 pounds – by the end of the day I felt I had conquered My Olympus.
The Villa Serbelloni is located at the tip of Bellagio on the promontory between the two legs of Lake Como. If you remember from my first post- the Lake Como was formed by glaciers and slow-moving rocks caused the split in the flow of the water. From the gardens there are incredibly stunning views of both the Como and Lecco legs of the Lake as well as the Pre-Alps near the border of Switzerland
There are over 20 hectares of parks and gardens (a hectare is about 2.5 acres) and as mentioned, to see it you need to travel UP a series of Switchback gravel and dirt roads – here is what a portion of it looks like:
BACKGROUND – While the actual villa on the grounds was constructed in the 15th century by Marchesino Stanga and gradually passed into the hands of the Serbelloni Dukes in the late 18th century, the land’s usage can be dated back to the times of Pliny the Younger. For those not familiar, Pliny the Younger, also known as Gaius Plinius Caecillus Secundus was a lawyer, author and magistrate of Ancient Rome – born in 61 AD died in 112 AD. A host of illustrious figures have been hosted in the villa, including Leonardo Da Vinci and Queen Victoria. In 1959 the estate was given to The Rockefeller Foundation (as hinted in my previous post) and it became and is still today an international study center for scholars, scientists and artists. Much of the land is now private for use only of these specially invited artists, but even the grounds that are open to the public are a marvel, filled with rare and exotic plants, trees and flowers. There is even a small garden with a statue and fountain dedicated to Pliny the Younger:
Our official tour began at the church tower square where we met the local guide named Rita who turned out to be quite a celebrity herself in the town of Bellagio – her family has owned land there for many generations – in fact she even had the name of the town tattooed on her ankle. About the only person Rita HADN’T met in the area was George Clooney- but she’s working on it! Rita (as well as all of the local guides we encountered) was very funny and well-informed – and obviously loved her life in general . After quick introductions – we started our journey – and I say JOURNEY as it was over THREE HOURS of hiking up switchback roads – quite an instant deep immersion into the hiking portion of this trip (remember my extra baggage):
And, in addition – the path often veered into alternate routes – some quite precarious as we got further up the promontory – so it was critical to watch where one was going:
Still the hike was exhilarating and somehow I secured additional energy despite having just gotten off the overnight plane to Italy that morning – and the visual rewards were outstanding. As poets Stendahl, Flaubert exclaimed upon their visits – this was truly a paradise – the magnificence of the native and exotic flora – cedar trees, pine, beech, monkey-puzzles, oak, walnut, fir, sequoia (as shown above) – even camphor trees whose crushed leaves instantly clear up any congestion one might have – here is a small sampling of the many many pics I took:
Even though it was fairly late in the season – there was still a profusion of fragrant flowers – camelias, hydrangea, roses, wisterias, azaleas water lilies and more:
The external views were no less mesmerizing looking across various vantage points across beautiful Lake Bellagio:
At the very pinnacle there were ruins of an old castle fortress, probably of Lombard origin, joined to a Romanesque church with an apse transformed into military watch towers:
Here is the entrance for the artists who have special access and accommodations in the villas compound:
Now, what does one do after hiking for three+ hours in Italy? Eat of course! After finally going downhill back to town we arrived at the Terrazza Barchetta Ristorante:
Our waiter was a little stiff (just kidding):
The food was glorious and I think tasted even more special after hiking for three+ hours:
Bellies full, we wended our way to our hotel – a bit of a speedbump when we got to our room which was soo small that I had to take my luggage out on the terrace in order to open it. No worries, Giampierro and the wonderful owners of the Hotel Belvedere quickly came up with a solution and we ended up in a lovely cottage with a stunning view:
So as the sun sets on our first day in Bellagio, i leave you now. Next up – actually the very next day – we took another hike UPHILL to visit Villa Melzi.