Last night was about enjoying a sunset on the Lario, aka Lake Como. The most famous of the Italian lakes gains to be seen during low season, for the number of tourists around you is rather close to 10 than 300. Although it can be a little bit cold (6°C during the day), the silent and peaceful atmosphere makes you understand why the lake has inspired many artists and love stories.
The Y-shaped Lake Como is not the biggest, but the deepest (410m) of the 3 Italian lakes. The play between fog and sunlight all day long stretches the imagination to build romantic or tragic stories, set in the majestic villas surrounding the Lario. This specific “light and dark” mood was a perfect match with the European Romantic movement in the 19th century, and some of the masterpieces in literature and music of that era were born on the shores of Lake Como. French writer Stendhal describes the lake in The Charterhouse of Parma (1839) as “the most beautiful place in the world”. The lake is brought like an actual character into the story, its changing light and landscapes matching with the hero’s state of mind.
As for music, the Hungarian master Franz Liszt chose Bellagio and the Villa Melzi to compose his Sonata quasi fantasia, and to nest his forbidden love with his French mistress Marie d’Agoult. That is why his daughter Cosima (future wife of Wagner) was born in Bellagio on December, 25th 1837.
The nearby Villa Serbelloni has welcomed various celebrities of their time, from French writer Gustave Flaubert in 1845 to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in June, 1963. It is currently hosting the Rockefeller Foundation where artists of all fields are invited to stay for 4 weeks in order to “work in the best conditions possible” (how not to??). Another music master almost died of love and inspiration on the shores of the lake : Vincenzo Bellini composed La Sonnambula and La Norma in 1837 while burning for the lady Giuditta Cantu. La Norma has since become a world-known opera tune through “La Casta Diva”.
All the stories surrounding the lake seem to take at some point to Bellagio. The “pearl of Lake Como”is the perfect place to settle down. From there you can go around easily around by ferry. This center town is strikingly charming and well-preserved, with its old center including 19th century caffés (where you can find newspapers as well as all day long service) and classic “alimentaris” (selling great wine as well as toiletries).
The hotel “Suisse” on the tourist harbour has also kept its charm and a delightful restaurant, fortunately opened during the low season. All in all, life in Bellagio is far from the crazy prices its summer reputation may entail : a nice meal for 2 can be found for 35€, and the classic italian breakfast on the harbour shared for 15€. But these prices seem to apply only to the brave visitors who dare showing during winter time. Another option is to choose any time the Villa d’Este (south of the lake, close to Como) and pay 2000€ per night…
There is one major setback at that time of the year : even if you are sure to experience the most romantic and poetic getway, many villas and hotels are closed until March, and can only be seen from the lake or the road.
One exception is the Villa Monastero in Varenna. The medieval town and the gardens of the villa are worth the tour.
Otherwise you will have to admire from afar the “movie villa”, Villa Balbianello, where Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones and James Bond : Casino Royale were shot. Even from the boat the setting already makes you feel you landed on another planet.
The George Clooney fans will have to wait until Spring to have a chance to get a glimpse of the most famous villa owner (in Laglio)…The others will take their own chances and live a winter tale like no other.