Travelogue – The Best of Lombardy: Milan, Bergamo, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore

After discovering my love for all things France the past few years, it was nice to return to my “roots” with a trip to Italy (I studied abroad in Florence and it was my first time to Europe so Italy will always hold a special place in my heart).  My mom and I headed to Milan, Bergamo, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore for a perfect week of eating, drinking, swimming, boating and living “la dolce vita”.  
We arrived in Milan where we spent 2 nights in a perfectly located Airbnb.  Two nights is plenty of time to explore Milan, we hit the ground running with a wine and food walking tour of the canal district our first night.  We spent our one full day walking the entire city, visiting The Last Supper, the Duomo and of course, shopping!  We had a great aperitivo at the Bulgari Hotel before dinner at Giacomo (the salt baked branzino is a must.)
Sunset walking tour at the Canal – a trendy neighborhood full of bars and restaurants

Classic risotto Milanese

I remember this being one the of coolest experiences during my time abroad and it didn’t disappoint the second time!

After 2 nights in Milan, we took the train an hour north to the charming medieval town of Bergamo.  The funicular takes you from the newer lower town to the upper town.  We found great shopping in the lower town and stayed at a charming B&B in the old town.  For aperitivo we took the funicular to the top of the old town for an amazing view.  

Next, we were off to Lake Como.  Another quick and easy train ride to Varenna where we spent 2 nights at Hotel Olivedo.  I can recall my first real food memory (before we photographed every dish at every meal) my girlfriends and I took a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, I remember arriving and having the most perfect lunch in Varenna overlooking the water where the boats departed for Bellagio but never knew the name of the restaurant.  Pumpkin sage gnocci with brown butter was forever cemented in my mind and my go to answer when asked for best meal of your life, low and behold it was the restaurant in the Hotel Olivedo!  It was just as good as I remembered and the setting even more beautiful.    
While in Varenna we spent our days visiting Bellagio, taking a cooking class (post to come!), exploring the lake with a sunset cruise (we didn’t make it as far down as George Clooney’s house), morning hikes to the ruins at the top of the hill and aperitivo on the lake.  We had great meals at Restaurant La Vista (be sure to request a table outside) and Il Cavatappi.    

After 2 nights we crossed the lake to Tremezzo where we splurged for 2 nights at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, certainly the most fabulous hotel I’ve ever stayed at.  We toured the Villa Carlotta which is literally next door then had lunch at Cantina Follie in town.  Word of warning, there’s really no reason to stay in Tremezzo if you aren’t staying at the Grand Hotel, a visit to the Villa Carlotta is worth a half day trip trip from wherever you are staying on the lake.    

We spent the next two days truly relaxing.  With 2 pools to choose from and pristine grounds with gorgeous views from every angle, we didn’t want to leave!

We did venture out for dinner at Al Veluu which was worth leaving the grounds for.  The food was delicious and we had the most amazing view.

Breakfast every morning was a real treat.

We ventured out our second afternoon to Menaggio via the little tourist train.  We did a quick loop of the town, had a delicious pizza lunch, grabbed a gelato and hightailed it back to the pool.  Word of warning, almost every shop closes for siesta between 12-2 so plan accordingly.  We had the intention of picking up picnic supplies for a poolside dinner and we were lucky to make it to the grocery store for cheese before they closed.  

We enjoyed a perfect picnic dinner in our robes.  It stayed light until almost 10pm! 

Our last stop was Lake Maggiore.  We hired a taxi to drive us to Stressa on Lake Maggiore. we found it was cheaper and easier to use trains and taxis vs. renting a car.  While anything would feel like a downgrade after Tremezzo, we had a particularly bad experience with our chosen hotel (website is incredibly misleading) so we cut our losses and we’re able to get a room at the Hotel Regina Palace
 In hindsight, Lake Maggiore felt a bit like a poor-man’s Lake Como and was a bit disappointing overall, but we made the best of it.  Visiting the islands and touring the beautiful palace and gardens on Isola Madre followed by lunch at Verbano on Isola Pescatori were well worth our time in the area.  If I could do it again, I would stay at Verbano and skip Stressa.  Lunch under the wisteria looking over the lake was pure bliss, and the food was amazing too.  They offer taxi boat services for dinner as well if you book in advance.

We had dinners at La Botte (great and inexpensive) and Il Clandestino (good but stuffy), takeout pizza from Taverna Pappagallo and rooftop drinks at the Hotel La Palma.  And lots of gelato in between.  

While it should have been easy to take a bus directly to Milan airport, I didn’t realize you had to book in advance of the weekend as they are not open Saturdays so we ended up taking a private car back.  It was still a quick and easy journey.    

Take me back!!

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