Thursday, August 9, 2012

Photos from our trip: Venice

Peeping through the windows of the Ca d'Oro, I spy an Italian flag across the Grand Canal.

Umpty trips to Venice and finally went beyond merely admiring the Ca d'Oro from across the canal.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Photos from our trip: Lake Garda

I had never been to Lake Garda before and so I wanted to compare it to Lake Como.  We stayed there three nights, and only one day was nice (well, that and the day we left immediately after breakfast).  It rained pretty heavily one day, so to wake up the next morning to a glorious sight, and crisp and clear air, was refreshing. 

Lake Garda is quite dramatic in the north because you are entering the Dolomites.  The south becomes dramatically... flat.  It's interesting to drive along the lake and see how quickly it flattens out, too. 

This is the path that leads down to the waterfront and to our hotel in Malcesine.  You can just see it peeping out, the pink Hotel Castello. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Photos from our trip: Lake Garda

Good morning!  Back to the regularly scheduled programming about our trip to northern Italy in May.

In between Venice and Lake Como, we stayed on Lake Garda, in Malcesine, for three nights.  We only had one nice day while on Lake Garda but were lucky it was the day of the Giro d'Italia. 

The Giro stage started that day in Limone sul Garda, a ferry ride away.  This is what we saw immediately upon disembarking from the ferry early that morning.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Villa Balbianello on Lake Como, Part II

"Villa Balbianello is bathed in sunlight all day", sayeth Miss Bentley, a.k.a. Vanessa Redgrave in "A Month by the Lake". 

The villa is at the southern end of the area called the Tremezzina which is the most beautiful part of the lake. A bold statement, perhaps, but an opinion shared by many.

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about the villa itself, and today will be a wander through the grounds.  If I recall correctly, we were not allowed to take photos inside so all of my photos are of the exterior and the gardens.  In the lower left of the photo above you can catch a glimpse of the truly massive plane tree.  It is hand trimmed before winter each year. 

I appreciate very much the fact that this villa also has signs of life.  In the summer they hold weekly cocktail hours, and, you can hold your wedding here and probably fetes as well - all outside, I'd wager.  I heard (perhaps apocryphal) that they allowed Vanessa Redgrave to stay in the villa during the filming of "A Month by the Lake".  If true, she would have been one of the few people to sleep there since the owner died.

Below is the old chapel door.  It is now part of the house.  I think the kitchen lies behind it. 

Below is a private water entrance. 

Below is where the final scene of "Casino Royale" was filmed, and also a Star Wars scene.  The statues are overlooking the Gulf of Venus - aka the start of the Tremezzina. 

Cypress trees, meticulously manicured plane trees, wisteria, box hedges and azaleas (among others) greet you as you wander around the terraced gardens.  Apparently the rocky promontory is not conducive to the typical plants you'd find in an Italian garden but I'd say they did pretty well.

That little gecko blends right in, doesn't he?

The villa is not merely one building, there are several.

And, back to the water gate...

a domani...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Villa Balbianello on Lake Como

Buongiorno!  I'm taking a detour from the "photos from our trip" series and will highlight Villa Balbianello for a few days (next post will be about wandering the grounds).  I'll include several photos to thank you for the patience of reading this long post. 

As I've mentioned before, it's tough for me to pick my favorite villa on Lake Como.  They all have their unique details and unique stories.  Villa Monastero seems to go on forever and is lush with a wide variety of flowers.  It also has life - it is now an education center.  Villa Carlotta made me sad on my first visit.  Such a beautiful home, a wedding present, named after a young woman who died within five years of her wedding.  It felt so empty to me the first time.  She died in the mid-1800s, and Italy confiscated the villa from the family at the onset of WWI - I wonder how long it's been since someone lived there?   There are many other villas to mention, but, I digress.

Villa Balbianello is found at the tip of a rocky peninsula jutting out into Lake Como.  You have two ways to get there:  by boat, or by walking from Lenno (and only on certain days as they close the gate to the property otherwise).  On one side of the peninsula is the Gulf of Diana, where Isola Comacina is found.  On the Lenno side is the Gulf of Venus which is the start of the Tremezzina, the most beautiful part of the lake. 

A few of the photos below were taken from a seaplane; Aeroclub Como (in Como) will take you up for a ride and while you visit the lake you will see many of their planes buzzing about all day long.

Villa Balbianello, to me, seems full of legends; you step into another world when you visit.  Originally a private, secluded retreat of a Cardinal, eventually it made its way into the hands of Italy's James Bond.  Well, I think of him as James Bond, anyway. 

Fay Ce Que Voudras ("do as you please/do what you want") is what you see engraved on the entrance gate when you arrive by boat.   Guido Monzino, a son of a wealthy Milanese businessman, bought the villa in the mid-70s.  To call him a world traveler would be an understatement.  He was the first Italian to scale Mount Everest (1973).  A few years previous to that, he led the first Italian expedition to the North Pole.  He climbed Kilimanjaro and the Matterhorn when younger.  What didn't he climb, actually.  And then he bought this magnificent villa and filled it with all the artifacts of his memorable life.  Sadly he only lived there for 14 years, as he died, too young, at age 60.  He was buried on the grounds of his beloved villa.  He willed the villa to the FAI (Italian national trust) which is why mere mortals like us can now visit. 

A visit to the villa will highlight his library and the map room.  His expedition room, full of treasures from his travels including the sled he used on the North Pole.  His extensive art collection.  His bedroom, with views over the lake and with a secret stairwell to another water entrance.  His smoking lounge, redolent of dark, heavy leather chairs and cigars.  It looks as if he just popped out for a second to get another bottle of scotch.  Think of the evenings there with friends, over scotch and cigars, telling his travel tales. 

I fell in love with the villa before I even visited.  A must-see which will have you dreaming of Lake Como is the movie "A Month by the Lake".  Vanessa Redgrave, Uma Thurman, and Edward Fox star, and their hotel was played by Villa Balbianello.  The movie is charming if somewhat thin on story but I still love it and watch it a few times a year.  The filmmakers clearly wanted to make Lake Como the star just as much as the characters. 

Next up:  a wander around the property...

a domani...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Photos from our trip: Lake Como

Good morning!  I hope you are enjoying this series. 

This photo was taken from our balcony at Albergo Lenno (and I cannot recommend this hotel enough, for your stay on Lake Como).  Lenno is a jewel and has become our favorite place to stay.  It has a tiny little waterfront village and the rest of the "town" (mostly just houses/condos) extends above the Via Regina, the white-knuckle narrow road that follows the west side of Lake Como.  The waterfront is where the charm is.  You can even walk to Villa Balbianello from Lenno.  That is another story for another day, so come back later for pictures of Villa Balbianello and its story. 

See the plane trees?  They had recently clipped them down, but good!  On previous visits they had a lot more foliage.  In fact, do you see that bare, tall "stump" of a tree in front of the ferry stop?  That was quite large and luxurious.  I wonder why they cut it down so much.

Across the water is the peninsula on which you will find Bellagio.  Bellagio itself is off to the left of this photo.  You can just barely see San Giovanni, to the left of the photo, in between two branches of the plane tree. 

a domani...
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