When you’re leading a group, you are always concentrating fully on them, totally absorbed on making their holiday the best possible, looking out for their safety while making sure that none of the sights or experiences are missed. It’s pretty full on, and hugely enjoyable. But carrying out a survey for a future holiday is a quite different experience you are completely on your own, but you have to assess the destination from the group point of view. So last month saw me heading off to enjoy the delights of Lake Como and surrounding countryside, with absolutely no responsibilities and no clients.
I had been asked to carry out this survey for a new Adagio holiday for the 2015 season with gentle walking near Lake Como, and some garden visits thrown in. As I am a keen gardener as well as a walks leader it seemed to be my kind of task.
When I say no responsibilities, I soon found that this wasn’t going to be a relaxing week! There were quite a few things that I had to get done in the five days that I was there. A chat with the nice lady in the Tourist Information office in Tremezzo told me that there were lots of opportunities for gentle walking, interesting gardens and historic houses. Some were only open on weekends, others closed on Monday and Wednesday, Ferries were better in term time and some only went in the Summer! It all seemed very complicated but she gave me a simplified timetable and I was an instant expert.
She also mentioned the musical events around the towns of Lake Como in the summer period and sold me a ticket for a piano recital for that night in Villa Carlotta … I am easily persuaded!
Our hotel is stunning. It was built in the 19th century as a private house and later converted to a hotel and recently upgraded. The foyer pictured below gives a good impression of what a lakeside palazzo used to look like.
The foyer of our hotel … boots off
The mid lake ferry
The next day I went off to Bellagio, just across the lake, taking the the 9.50 am ferry. That, I thought, will make for a leisurely start when we come back here next year. You can see Bellagio from the panoramic restaurant on the top of our hotel, and when you get there it is just as nice as it looks. Narrow streets, cafés on corners and of course, the second thing I was tasked with finding, a splendid lakeside garden.
Villa Melzi Japanese garden – Bellagio
The Villa Melzi garden lies along the side of the lake and is designed in the ‘English’ style, Having said that, the first thing that you see is a charming Japanese garden. I walked around here for well over two hours, the views are superb and I suspect that in the spring the azaleas will be a riot of colour. Lunch was at a lovely restaurant by the lakeside, just trying the menu for the common good, and then a gentle stroll around the grounds of Villa Sebelloni for high level views of the lake.
Another day and another ferry ride to Varenna, a lovely village on the far side of the lake with two more gardens, quite different from each other, and a castle too. Varenna seems to have been left behind when tourism found the Italian Lakes and is delightful to walk around and explore.
Varenna from the lake ferry
Varenna is the kind of place that makes you think of taking up sketching… need I say more?
Varenna – the more formal style of garden at Villa Monastero
Another short walk was along the Como ‘Greenway’, which is really a cobbled street set back from the lake and above the main road on our side of the lake. This winds its way through tiny hamlets and lets us take a look at local life away from the tourist sites.
The ‘Greenway’ – cobbled streets away from the crowds
It also has the advantage of leading to two more wonderful gardens; Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello. Again two different gardens; Carlotta is more formal, but has some magnificent tree ferns from Australia. The villa has a good sculpture exhibition.
Villa Carlotta from the lake
Villa Balbianello has a crazy garden tumbling over steep inclines into the lake – I wouldn’t want to be in charge of mowing! It was used for part of the filming of Casino Royale. The villa is open and a guided tour is fascinating, but if you want to know why, you will have to join me or my colleagues in Como next year.
Villa Balbianello gardens with no sign of Mr Bond
What else was there to find out? You might well ask. A few strategic cafés for morning coffee are essential for any well planned Adagio holiday, and a couple of lunchtime restaurants with ambience and good food. (Plus I was tasked by my wife, before leaving home, to be sure to find out where the best loos were). Then there is the post office, WiFi, bank machine and suchlike, all found, plus a shop which will make sandwiches, and a fruit stall with bananas. (You can’t have a walking holiday without finding a source of bananas, or there could be riots!)
La Punta ristorante, with a view from the table that you wouldn’t believe
In case you are concerned about all this effort I was putting into the survey, I can say that the food and restaurant testing aspect presented no problem at all, the hotel and the local restaurants were operating at a high standard, and I can confirm that the local wine is in good shape too.
I finished the week with a flourish, taking in the Funicular in Como, a climb to a hillside church behind the hotel and a day visit to Lugano in Switzerland where there was one final garden visit plus a wonderful church with ancient frescoes to gaze at, and a ferry along Lake Lugano itself.
Some of the frescoes in Lugano
So here I am back in the UK looking at my notes, having managed to work out an itinerary which includes six wonderful Italian gardens, several villas and six or seven short walks. Plus a good number of ferry trips with spectacular views and some excellent places to enjoy some typical Italian cuisine. Oh yes, … .and lots of loos of a high quality!
I will be back there next April with the first Adagio tour of Lake Como, Gardens and Villas ((he who surveys always gets the first tour … it concentrates the mind wonderfully) and next time , when I look around I won’t be on my own. I should be able to see my Adagio friends gazing with delight at the sights which I have just been privileged to see.