How to have a perfect (rainy) day at Lake Como

Loving Bellagio and Varenna, despite the rain…

Early morning, last day of Italy trip. Bed stumble, groggy walk, window peek, cringe. Wet roads…not on Lake Como day! But if you travel shoulder season to Europe, like us, a frequent drizzle will be a constant companion, so its best to make your peace with the clouds. You can’t change the weather, but you can certainly change the shape of your facial muscles. Brave the rains with a smile!

Two hours later. Stubborn dark skies. Hoodie check. Umbrella check. Street-bound. And train-bound. Milano Centrale to Varenna-Essino. Window seat, hazy view. Weaving along the Lombardy countryside, is that a faint silhouette of an enchanting town in the distance? And the lakes under that chiffon cloak of mist… mmm, right about now. Eyes back to Kindle. Quick glance later. Visibility has improved. Glimpses of Varenna as the train curves along the track, in-and-out of tunnels. Hope elevator.

Breathe in lungfuls of crisp autumn air, as you walk downhill under thick lush cypress and pine to the waterfront. Varenna tempts, you resist. Focus, focus. Its still dry, must catch a boat to Bellagio first. There’s one every half hour. Play mentalist with the unsuspecting clouds…go away, go away, just for today. 

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Soon, you’re floating in the shadow of the Alps encased in Italy’s Lake District. Several long, deep breaths. Gaze at the horizon dotted with green islands. Graceful lakeside villas of the rich and famous. Drool time. Imagine the colours of the landscape in the sun. Clooney’s pad, somewhere? Blink and miss…because in 10 minutes flat, you’re de-boarding at Bellagio, ‘Pearl of Como’. Could they have coined a more apt catchphrase?

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Bellagio is posh, swanky and old-world. Aristocratic villas converted into grand harbour-front hotels…art nouveau ironwork breaking the softness of the pastel shades. Colorful houses in pale pink, peach, tangerine, lemon and ochre with contrasting green shutters, clinging at absurd angles to the wooded hill behind. You feel pampered without a reason. Skip the cafes, restaurants and arcaded boutiques on Via Garibaldi. Postpone that indulgence spirit for now. 

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Linger along the flower-embellished lakefront path leading to Villa Melzi. You’re a guest at the 19th-century summer residence of Francesco Melzi d’Eril, (vice president of the Italian Republic during the early 1800s). This is one impressive neoclassical villa guarded by stone lions. With more than its share of generously proportioned botanical gardens. Avenues of plane trees. Profusion of bright azaleas and rhododendrons. And a hidden Japanese waterbody. Chin up, haughty expression…no one’s looking.

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Stroll along the endless multi-level sloping grass mounds. Mimic the stance of dreamy marble statues. Search out the grotto. Pretend you’re virtuoso composer-pianist Franz Liszt writing his famous Dante Symphony in the delightful Arabian pavilion. Watch a newly married couple walk past or daydream on those delicate wrought-iron chairs. The mist hangs over the steel-grey waters. Clouds kiss the hills. Are you even noticing that raindrops are still falling on your head? Who cares. You’re in Como!

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Your jeans are damp and your shoes are squeaky. And don’t even get started on the limp hair. But you can’t get enough of this ogling, can you? More eye-candy awaits in the town. So, head for that long flight of gently inclined cobblestone steps going up from the main street. Large, rough, round, slippery, pebbly steps. Rain on your head. Umbrella in your hands. A neon green rain jackets walks past. You’re actually loving the weather! Hey, isn’t this the famous street with the lamp?

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Go mmmmm at a Italian trattoria. Wander into the criss-cross maze of narrow streets. More charming when you call them by their Italian name (contradas). Stare at iron-grill balconies. Gaze at vine-covered doorways. Measure your height against elegant arched entrances. Find fluttering Italian flags. Take a gelato stop. (Make that two). Go up one flight. Down another. Fantasise about driving a yellow Beetle. Wander more. And when you’ve lost your heart to Bellagio, remind yourself that Varenna is waiting.

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If Bellagio is the glamorous, air-brushed cover gal, Varenna is the unaffected, alluring girl next door. Still spotless, faultless, like a generous painter’s imagination. No fancy boutiques or swishy promenade, just a quaint fishing village atmosphere draping the air (minus the fishy smell, of course). And something far better than a parking lot of swanky cars…a pretty boardwalk! The Lovers’ Path, as it is called, runs along the edge of the lake upto the historic center. Pause under the red-painted, wisteria-draped canopy and renew your vows. Write a poem. Hold hands. Become the subject of a picture. Hum your favorite tune. Or just smile. Everything works.

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Just a handful of people around. Enjoy the solitude. Explore the two 19th-century villas with beautiful gardens (Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero). Test your lungs by hiking up to Castello di Vezio. Or just follow our league…repeat the Bellagio routine. Up and down long flights of steps. Notice how they curve slightly in the middle. Catch the shadow of light on the smooth stones worn out over time. Capture every inch of prettiness in your camera. And memorise with your mind’s eye. The crispy curl of the russet fallen autumn leaf. A little piazza overlooked by 14th-century Church of St. George. A sundial on a wall. Church bells in motion. A half-open church door. It just doesn’t end. 

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When your legs start protesting, return to the waterfront and find a table with a view at Varenna Caffe. Coffee, cake and tranquility. Hypnotic rippling of the lake, soft lapping of the waves, a red boat bobbing in the distance on the grey water. Life on Lake Como. Imagine everyday exotic in this little postcard town. Board-walking home every evening. Watching the sun go down over the silvery surface of the lake. Sounds of silence. A fresh breeze. Who needs meditation when you have this? 

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But tick tock, tick tock, you have a train to catch for Milan. And suddenly, a miracle! The clouds part gently and the sun peeks through. Yassssss! A brilliant blue would never evoked so much divinity. And look at that view! No wonder artists have been inspired by Lake Como ever since the 2nd century BC. Definitely calls for some more pictures. So, take home some exquisite portraits of your own.

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Lake Como on a rainy day


This is the most underrated capital city in Europe

Croatia’s capital, Zagreb deserves more limelight…

Elegant stone-tiled mansions and newer apartments stand shoulder-to-shoulder in harmony along broad tree-lined avenues and inviting green spaces. Its understated elegance, relaxed pace and easy cafe culture grows on you unobtrusively. This is a lovely city recreating itself, carving out a new identity, while preserving the richness of its past. Zagreb may be underrated, but you will regret skipping it. Here are my firm recommendations on the two atmospheric neighbourhoods to concentrate your energies on, while visiting Croatia’s capital.

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One of the most spectacular drives hidden in Montenegro

Head to Mount Lovcen now…

A route so spectacular, it will extract involuntary Confucianist soundbites, celebrating undying love for roads. Because its paradise found, sprawled before your eyes for miles and miles, as you ascend 1000 meters above sea level up Mount Lovcen from Montenegro’s bay-facing capital Kotor. Yeah, you’re probably juggling reflexive philosophical mutterings with overwhelming emotions of gratitude. But concentrate on keeping those blinkers glued to the window pane. Panorama after panorama unfolds.

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Three Barcelona icons that will blow your mind

A deeper look at Gaudi’s architecture…

Barcelona’s most famous Catalan Modernism artist-architect, Antoni Gaudí made a livelihood from constructing (or deconstructing) ‘fantasy homes for the rich’ and dreamt of completing a ‘cathedral for the poor’. His legacy lives on through some of the most recognised icons of Catalonia. You’ve seen the pictures. Now dig deeper into his craft.

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Pretend to be a noble at a French châteaux in the Loire Valley

France will have you fantasizing…

Just two hours southwest of Paris, lies the Loire Valley, an enchanting countryside ablaze with colours of green and gold, filled with vineyards, farmlands, hunting forests and ancient towns. Christened Loire after France’s longest river, which was a highway for transporting food and building materials in flat boats during the Greco-Roman age. An exceptionally fertile land that enticed 15th-century French royals and nobles to hire Italian architects and artists to build hundreds of palatial Renaissance-style chateaux.

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These fascinating paintings will make you redefine Amsterdam

The Dutch capital will fuel your appetite for art. No, seriously!

Which city de-criminalized homosexuality as early as the 1800s and celebrated the first legal same-sex marriage in 2001? Where do hundreds of ‘coffee shops’ offer a menu of cannabis products openly? Where does one find a famed red-light district with legit sex shops, theatres, peep shows and even tours for those who are game? On a lighter note, for the less risky traveller, which city allows the thrill of bicycling without helmets? That’s illegal too!!

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Flashback to the gilded age of beautiful Budapest

Still as glamorous and grand…

Life seems uneventful along the peaceful road winding up to Gellért Hill, lined with posh residences and embassies. But one look at the Habsburg Citadel and the Budapest Statue of Liberty commemorating defeat of Nazis…and you can sense the reverberations of an unsettling past. From this vantage point, resist the urge to proclaim aloud…“A river runs through it”. Practically the entire map of Budapest stretches across your vision. Bridges over the great Danube stitch Buda on the left river bank, atop leafy hills hiding natural cave systems and hot springs with Pest on the right, crowned with a scene-stealing Gothic Parliament building. Timeless splendour of a timeless city. Best viewing mode: Sepia. So, dive right in.

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