A Rainy Stay in Italy’s Lake District
By Valerie Quintanilla
I made it to Varenna in just over an hour from Milano by train. The sun was shining when I arrived – I’d soon learn that wasn’t to last long. But, thank goodness for the dry weather as I am sure my luggage and I would have slid into Lake Como coming down the 25,000 steps leading to my lodging for the next few days.
I got myself settled into my place, and then hit the lake walk to check out the town. It’s teeny. There is a ferry dock, a handful of hotels and ristorantes and amazing lake views. I rented an adorable little studio apartment just off the lake walk in Varenna. Proprietor Annamaria also owns the watercolor gallery on the opposite side of the street, Studio d’Arte. The one room studio is beautifully appointed – as I expected since the owner is an artist.
I spent my first night with a light dinner at a lake front eatery, lingered over a glass (or two) of vino, and then called it an early night. I was exhausted from the time change. I guess I didn’t realize how tired I was – I woke up the next day at noon!
I got ready quickly and headed directly for the ferry dock with a destination of Bellagio. The overcast skies sprinkled rain along the way, washing away my plans of finding a hike in this Italian paradise. I had to ask myself, it’s a rainy day in Bellagio, so WWGCD (what would George Clooney do)? Since we are only acquainted in my imagination, I had license to be creative with the answer, which really just meant doing whatever my little heart desires. I decided George would want me to be happy, so he’d wine away the day. But, before I could start my self-guided wine tour lunch was a must (remember how I slept through breakfast?).
Eating while traveling solo in Italy can be mildly reminiscent of wine tasting solo in Napa. The servers always make a point to find the most obscure seat for me. I was once positioned behind a tree limb. Well, on this day, despite visibly open tables, I was told by not one, but two establishments that they were full. Hmph, not only was this annoying, it was delaying my wine adventure. Were George involved I have to believe I wouldn’t be turned away (a girl can dream). I finally found a pizzeria that would take me, so I gobbled down lunch and headed out to explore.
First stop on this wine train: Enoteca Principessa. The wine shop offers dispensary tastings, similar to The Cave where I wine tasted in Greve in Chianti last year. This place was much smaller with about 15 wines available for tasting (Le Cantina had 100+ wines), and the best part was that the store worker was happy to recommend wines to try (I got a big fat NO on that at Le Cantina – ever the marketer, my blog post on the day offers suggestions on how the owners can get more dough by giving vistors a better experience). He started me off with a Brunello (grape: sangiovese, region: Tuscany), I did a local red from Lombardy (grape: nebbiolo), the next wine I purchased, but I can’t remember the name and they were kind enough to wrap it, so it’s safely hiding from sight. It’s a red made of 15 grapes – one being a white varietal. Pretty cool. I finished up with a lovely Amarone della Valpolicella (grapes: Corvina 40% – 70%, Rondinella 20% – 40%, and Molinara 5% – 25%, region: Valpolicella). I fell in love with Amarone during a wine class I did years ago. I specifically included Verona in my trip two years ago so I could visit Amarone producers. Quite the treat.
Tastings ranged from three to five euros for about a two-ounce pour. The store worker gave a recommendation on another nearby enoteca. After paying for my wine and tastings, I pressed on.
Wine tasting stop #2: The second place offered a full glass of wine for five euros. I had another Brunello di Montalcino. I had passed this enoteca on my search for provisions, but thought I better eat before imbibing. Little did I know, the store worker ducked in the back to prepare a selection of local meats and cheeses for me. It was a good little plate of food. If only I was more hungry!
Third wine stop: I found my last wine stop online during my trip planning, Cava Turacciolo. It’s a teeny wine shop/bar situated in a cellar near the waterfront. I enjoyed one of the tastings options of three local wines from Lombardy – one white and two reds. I met a fun family from Philly. The son is about 26 years old on holiday with his parents. It made me hopeful for a trip to Italy with my family one day. My mom, dad and step-mom would all love it here. One day! Cin cin!
I made my way back to Varenna on the 30-minute ferry ride. The Lake Como ferry system makes it easy to hop along the various towns.
Even though I didn’t get to see him, I like to think my day’s adventure would please Mr. Clooney.