It was an incredibly relaxing week, catching up with friends, enjoying some delicious food and wine while taking in all of the beauty that Lake Como has to offer.  For the most part the weather played along with only a little rain, but generally blue skies and warm temperatures all week long.  Nice!  🙂

Actually, I find the best time to go to Italy is from mid-September until the end of October.  There are very few tourists, things are still open but not crowded plus the weather still very good.  This is what they generally call the saddle season.  I would definitely say its worth giving it a try for your next trip to Italy.

It would be tough to find a better getaway than immersing yourself in such a beautiful location and culture for a week as you can in Northern Italy. Just sayin…

As we neared our final day in Italy we still had a couple of things to see and do.  Not least of which was to take Shirley to one of my favourite places on Lake Como, but this would have to wait until the afternoon as we’d decided to spend the first half of the day in Switzerland.

I know right…I’m a shameless destination dropper.

Given all the times I’ve been to Lake Como I’ve never once visited Switzerland and that the Swiss frontier is only 27 kilometers from Bellagio, with the town of Lugano only another 7 kilometers further on.  Why not?

We caught the 8:45 am ferry to Cadenabbia (15 minutes by car ferry) from Bellagio.  Once we’d arrived on the western shore it literally took us only another 30 minutes to be in Lugano proper, with only a cursory wave from the Swiss border guard as we crossed over the frontier.

We had two things that we wanted to see and do with our morning in Lugano.  The first was to take the funicular up to the top of San Salvatore which overlooks this pristine city on the lake.

At almost 2000 meters above sea level it looms over the city of Lugano like Sugarloaf mountain does for Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. 

We took the funicular, built in the 1890’s and still runs much as it’s done for the past almost 130 years.  A slow and steady climb up this very steep mountain, and even here we were surprised with how few people were taking the car up to the top of the mountain with us.  Totally loving this out of high season trip.

To say the panoramic views are breathtaking are a complete understatement!

With the snow capped Swiss Alps rising in the relatively near west, yep, they almost looked they were painted as they sat in the brilliant sunshine.  We were surrounded on all sides by lakes and mountains…truly magical!  Plus it’s good for the soul to take it all in and just breathe.

The second important thing we want to see was the one of the oldest churches in the city of Lugano.  The Chiesa di Santa Maria Degli Angeli with its ancient frescoes (opened in 1499) are world renowned and just have to be experienced once in your lifetime.  Even though I’m not a religious man the sheer beauty wasn’t lost on me. 🙂

What we weren’t prepared for was the complete absence of anyone at the Chiesa.  It was open for anyone to come and pray, as we strolled in and sat in awe of the beautifully kept church on the hill, yet we didn’t see a soul during our entire visit. Actually it was sort of eerie…

We then took the same route back into Italy, but instead of stopping at Cadenabbia for the ferry we ventured on another 10 kilometres to the town of Lenno.

Villa del Balbianello is situated on a promontory that juts into the lake within viewing distance of San Giovanni, and just a couple of ferry stops from Bellagio adjacent to the village of Lenno.  It’s one of those iconic places that has to be a stop on any itinerary when visiting the lake.

Not only is it part of the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano – Italian National Trust) but the property was bequeathed to the trust in perpetuity by its last owner Count Guido Monzino.  The son of a wealthy Milanese grocery and department store chain owner, he didn’t flaunt his wealth but was a generous and altruistic human being who donated to many causes over the course of his life.

This famous and intrepid explorer also organized and financed 23 expeditions all over the world on behalf of Italy, not least of which was a trip to both the North Pole and Mount Everest in the mid 1970’s.

His untimely death in 1988 of a heart attack, provided FAI with the opportunity to take over and preserve this incredible villa based on his last will and testament. Such an incredible legacy to Italy!

More recently it’s been the venue for a number of major motion pictures; the James Bond movie (Casino Royale) was partly filmed onsite as well as Episode II of Star Wars – Attack of the Clones.

With commanding views up and down the lake and the gardens manicured to perfection we spent the afternoon exploring the villa, learning about its history and generally soaking up the gorgeous Italian afternoon sun.

We got home around 5:00 pm and sat out on the terrazzo with a bottle of wine and some charcuterie that we’d picked up from the local market.  It was the perfect way to share our impressions of the day in one of the most beautiful part of the world.

It won’t be easy to go back to the reality of the day to day, but thankful that we had such an amazing time as we begin planning our 2020 getaways.   Stay tuned for some great upcoming trips.

Until next week!