We were in our last week of a 6 week stay in Southern France and Northern Italy before we headed back home in Australia. We had caught the train down from Nice to the Cinque Terra on the north-east coast of Italy for three days of walking along this famous coastline. From here we caught the train from La Spezia to Milan to change Trains for our trip north again towards the Alps and Lake Como. We were getting off the train at Varenna on the eastern side of the lake.
Varenna was a beautiful town on a central spot on Lake Como where the two main branches of the lake separated out, one branch heading down to Como and the other to Lecco. We got very used to all the lakeside towns being beautiful. From the Varenna railway station it was a short walk with our bags down to the ferry terminal where we would catch our boat across the lake to Bellagio that had a commanding position on the tip of the promontory of the lake. I have to admit that there was an air of mystery as our car-ferry emerged out of the mist to collect us for our short trip across the lake.
The image to the left shows the foreshore of Bellagio. The Car-Ferry terminal can be seen on the right end of the photo (Two towers). Other ferries stop further along towards the centre of the old town where the streets are very busy with tourists. Arriving by the car ferry had an advantage in that our hotel was not in the centre of town so we didn’t have to drag our bags up the narrow, staired alleyways which are the only access to the ‘centro storico’ of Bellagio
We were staying at Motel Belvedere which wasn’t located in the old town area of Bellagio but up on the ‘saddle’ of the promontory with views in both directions of Lake Como. We were collected by the hotel van and the map to the right shows our location for the next three nights. The photo below shows Hotel Belvedere’s position which enabled us to walk one way along a direct path to explore the old town from the upper side or walk the other way down to the amazing landscaped villa gardens along the water’s edge of lake Como.
This area of northern Italy has a long and complex geological history as well as evidence of the long settlement of humanity in this area. The lakes and mountains were formed by glaciation two and a half million years ago. However evidence of human beings occupying the area begins only 30 thousand years ago in the Paleolithic period. Evidence of human occupation around Lake Como starts around the 7th century BC with small villages beginning around the lake edge. The firsts identifiable inhabitants of the area were a Celtic people who were conquered by Gauls from over the mountains to the north. The Romans arrive in 225 BC and the area was used as a wintering place for Roman Armies heading north and in later centuries, a place for the settlement of colonists brought in by Rome. In our walks around the gardens of the peninsula we would discover that famous Roman literary figures settled in Bellagio, the Poet Virgil and the famous writer, Pliny the Younger. His father Pliny the elder left us a vivid description of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius and died rescuing people from this catastrophe. The history of Bellagio after the fall of the Roman Empire reflects the long complex story of wars and changing power elites that is the history of Italy more broadly.
We spent our first afternoon exploring the town of Bellagio itself. Like so many hill towns of Italy, it is a circumscribed village left over from the early middle ages where the streets are narrow lanes with little access for such modern conveniences as cars and delivery vans. It is a slopped grid of three parallel streets running across the hill and cutting across them down hill are seven sloping alleyways comprised of medieval stone steps.
By walking from our hotel, we were able to stroll along Via Garibaldi to the main public piazza of the town, Piazza della Chiesa. The Basilica of San Giacomo (St James) is the main public building of the town and it recognised as being built by the Comacine masters (from Como) sometime in the 11th and 12th centuries. The bell tower is believed to have been a modified watchtower from the original, early medieval defences of the town. The church has been modified over the centuries from its original Romanesque style to a Baroque style and then back again to its original Romanesque form in the 17th century. It is a very beautiful church inside and well worth a visit.
On the other side of the square is what looks like another 12th century watch tower that has been transformed in the 21st century to an arts centre. This tower, called the Torredelle Arti Bellagio, is definitely a remnant of the original defences of the medieval town. As can be seen in the image on the left below, this tower was in full Art Exhibition mode when we visited.
To the right above is one of the gorgeous alleyways of Bellagio that enable citizens and tourists alike to get up and down the slopes of the town, if not conveniently, in a beautiful, atmospheric environment that locals have enjoyed for centuries.
BELLAGIO…Day 2…the Lakeside Gardens