You may have the universe if I may have Italy. -Giuseppe Verdi
A great deal has changed since Verdi spoke those famous words one hundred and fifty years ago, but the thought remains timeless. You, my friends, may have the universe if I may have Bellagio, dripping with bougainvillea and an effervescent charm.
Lago di Como exceeds any and all preconceived notions of beauty. The tiny lake towns, dotted and adhering to the sides of the Italian alps like multi-colored picnic blankets on endless pastures of parkland, are so bewitchingly modern in service, class, and offerings, yet set in the picture-perfect-postcard Shelley might have experienced.I hate to play favorites, but so far, Bellagio gets the gold.
The promenade is wide and leisurely, adorned with beautiful shops, newsstands, and cafes with peach-colored tablecloths and white iron chairs. Take any of the narrow lanes that lead inward and upward, and listen, smell, taste, feel, and see lakeside life at your fingertips. The ambience is romantic, sunny, and melodic, as if Verdi is orchestrating the background music for all town meanderings. I half expect Don Juan to come to life, leaning against one of the sun-colored buildings underneath a lantern, beside an overflowing pot of geraniums, ready to sweep me off my feet and charm me at a table for two on a terrace surrounded by seductive vines- (or am I to sweep him off his feet? Byron, please clarify).
It is absolutely necessary to approach Bellagio as most Italians approach life: with ease, patience, an open heart, and seemingly endless time. Rush not, do away with time caps and agendas and expectations. Just be in Bellagio. Let it have its effect on you that it has had on so many before us. What would Shelley have been without Lago di Como?
Shop in Bellagio. Si, it is a paradise of exiles, and a paradise for shoppers. Seek out silk at Azalea, a family-run shop with the finest selection of scarves and ties (in more fabrics than just silk). On bubbly Salita Serbelloni, Azalea has been in la famiglia since 1968. The whole extended family helped us pick out beautiful gifts for ourselves and others, from their nonna to ours. Across the street, an elegant leather workshop sells handmade belts, shoes, bags, and accessories. Beyond silk and a small amount of leather, there is an abundance of art, most of which is made in the very shop in which it is sold, and a wide selection of jewelers.
Mangia in Bellagio. On the boat, we got to chatting with an American couple who were returning to Bellagio from Milan after just four days of having left the town. They loved it so much, they decided to return on their final day in Italy. The pinnacle of their return trip? A particular pizzeria that they could not remember the name of, but they had carefully memorized the steps, narrow lanes, and crooked cobbles that would lead them to their version of paradise. (Antico Pozzo– they very thoughtfully wrote to us once they made their way to lunch).
Take a dip in Bellagio. Check in to the old-world Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni at a secluded edge of town, with its lush tropical gardens and lakeside pool. Treat yourself to a late, leisurely lunch, and have your evening aperol spritz at your lounge chair.(More to come on Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in another post.)
When it is time to stretch your legs, join lovers at the promenade for a lakeside walk beneath the bougainvillea, or duck in and out of the shops along the main road, now staying cool underneath sun-coverage. Cyclists, dogs, and ferry-watchers criss-cross in slow motion, careless or otherwise unaware of passing cars. The lake is ablaze with the last of the day’s rays, and the alps fade into each other in a haze of blue; reflections of Como’s colors.
I have drunken deep of joy,
And I will taste no other wine tonight. -Percy Bysshe Shelley