Friday, 29 August 2014

Backtracking to Varenna

Varenna on Lake Como is an easy day trip from Milan.  From Central station, the fastest way to get there is to catch a train to this pretty hillside village, positioned halfway up the lake.
In the past we've passed through Varenna, rushing down the narrow lanes to catch one of the numerous ferries to the other towns around Lake Como. Occasionally, while waiting for a ferry, we've had time to wander along the lakefront path known as 'Lovers' Way'. Having caught glimpses of a pretty town square up the cobblestone lanes, we've often vowed to return. 
A few weeks ago we made our first attempt to explore Varenna.  Unfortunately, just as we left Milan dark clouds gathered and then burst the moment we stepped off the train.  We dashed from the train station, through the pouring rain, to a rather ordinary looking main square where we grabbed a very quick bowl of pasta. After waiting for the rain to clear, we gave up and dashed to catch the next train back to Milan. A speed-record breaking trip to Varenna.  But we were determined...
What a difference the sun makes!
We returned to Varenna for a second visit and this time the main square was picture perfect. A small market provided amusement for the many tourists who were visiting as part of a vintage car tour. (The pale blue VW in the photo below, looks very similar to my first car which was almost vintage back in 1981!)
Although it was tempting to hang around reminiscing, as we watched the not-so-old cars squeeze through the narrow streets, we had other plans in mind. The weather was ideal for a stroll through the gardens of Villa Monastero.
This is the fourth garden that we've visited along the shores of Lake Como.  Although the views across the lake were beautiful, the garden was disappointing as it was a little overgrown in comparison to the others we've seen.  The extensive and perfectly manicured gardens of Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo, Villa Melzi at Bellagio or the magnificent Villa Balbianello, set a very high standard which Villa Monastero didn't quite match.  It seems we've become 'garden snobs'!  However, we didn't leave Varenna disappointed.
A garden walk was the perfect preparation for what turned out to be our best discovery in Varenna, Il Cavatappi.  This tiny restaurant is ranked number one  on Trip Advisor as the best restaurant in Varenna and deservedly so! 
It is easy to feel that you've stumbled across something rather special when you're seated in a restaurant with only five small tables inside, and outside, just two more.  The double clothed tables, set with crystal glasses and polished silver, hinted that we might be in for a treat and we were.  Fresh lightly seasoned grilled vegetables were served as an antipasto, followed by two dishes of home-made pasta; gnocchi with a 'three tomato sauce' for me, and ravioli stuffed with lake fish for Stefano.  Friendly service, excellent wine and very reasonable prices made this one of the most memorable meals that we've eaten in Italy. 

Our day spent backtracking to Varenna had a surprisingly delicious ending.

Mmmm arrivederci. E' il tempo per pranzo.  

We recommend - (Apparently bookings are usually required.)
Il Cavatappi
Via XX Settembre
39 0341 815349

Sunday, 17 August 2014

It's been a while...

Last week we returned to our favourite place in Italy, the Piedmont, for a week of relaxation.  
But it wasn't long before the back road between Novello and La Morra tempted us. It was very quiet, with just a few hills to make it interesting,
and the scenery was stunning!
So, we borrowed the bikes from the agriturismo where we were staying and set off for a leisurely morning ride through the vineyards.
Memories of a wonderful cycling holiday in France, more than five years ago, came flooding back.
Even though we were slightly saddle sore afterwards, we both agreed that it was great to be back on the bikes!
Nostra vacanza in Piemonte era bellisimo!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Are we in Paris?

Although we've been living in Milan for over a year, our weekend adventures around this city still delight us.  A few weeks ago, on a warm Saturday afternoon, we finally caught the famous Number 1 tram.  Many of Milan's tram routes were closed when the underground metro was built in 1964, but there is still a network of tram routes which wind their way through the city.
The  lovely old tram, Number 1,  is recommended in many guidebooks as a relaxing way to tour some of Milan's main attractions like Castello Sforzesco, Teatro La Scala and Parco Sempione.  Our plan for taking the tram was slightly different.
Last year I blogged about a wine bar where the first glass of wine is almost free.  After a little research, I learned that this bar is only a short walk from Corso Sempione where the Number 1 tram runs. At last we had an excuse to catch this beautiful wooden tram and enjoy the views from its antique interior.
Just outside the main entrance to Castello Sforzesco we jumped on board. As we rattled past, we caught a glimpse of the new temporary gates promoting World EXPO opening here in May next year.
Then on we went passing the Needle and Thread sculptures in front of Cadorna metro station. Until I studied this photo, I'd always thought that these modern sculptures were strands of coloured spaghetti, but now I see the thread looping through the needle. Quirky!
The old tram seemed to insulate us from the modern world outside.  And when it reached a wide roundabout at the end of Parco Sempione, we thought we had entered another country.
Suddenly the streets of Milan looked very French.  In the outdoor cafes, patrons sipped wine under shady umbrellas while gazing dreamily onto Arco della Pace.
  Corso Sempione stretched before us resembling a majestic tree-lined boulevard.
No wonder we thought we'd left Milan.  Arco della Pace and Corso Sempione were built during Napoleon's reign.  Construction commenced in 1807, a signal of Napoleon's expansive empire and a direct connection between Paris and Milan.  
So feeling romantic after our brief flirtation with Paris, we continued on down Corso Sempione till we reached via Biondi.
  From there it was just a short stroll to Wineria where we tested their special of the night.
 A thoroughly romantic end to a gentle summer afternoon in Paris, oops, Milan.
Baci Stefano!
Paris isn't the only city of romance.

L'estate notti a Milano sono caldo.  

We recommend -


Piazza Carlo Caneva 4
20154 Milano