Travels to Como, Italy 2015! Image 1
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Travels to Como, Italy 2015!

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We arrived into Como by train from Milan, which was a fabulous way to get there because it is only a 35 minute ride and the train station was within a mile of the Sheraton, Como.  I had mixed feelings about staying at the Sheraton, mainly because of the number of hotels and inns that sit directly on the water and the Sheraton does not.  However, being a Starwood member, I couldn’t pass up a two bedroom/two bathroom suite for the same points as a regular room in the states.  I made the right decision because our room at the Sheraton was clean with new carpet and furnishings and I had the most comfortable bed I had slept in the entire trip.

Also, Sheraton Como gave us access to the club room, which provides refreshments all day long including; sparkling water, wine, appetizers, breakfast items and mid day snacks.  The grounds at the Sheraton are lovely with a park-like setting around the pool and a modernist feel to the hotel.  The biggest negative is the lack of staff.

Our first night we dined at Crotto dei Platani, a restaurant in Brienno which was a $45 cab ride each way, which we found out about upon arrival to the restaurant.

Crotto dei Plantani was on the lake and we were sat at an outside table with a spectacular view.  In Como, several restaurants pour prosecco the minute you sit down, which is included in the price of your meal and it really hit the spot.

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Our meal was nice, the air was chilly outside and most of my pictures have a pink cast to them because of the heating lamp above us, but my favorite dish of the night was the Seared Lake Fish with Balsamic Glaze and Figs.  The fish was divine and cooked perfectly with a nice crunch to the exterior.  I loved the light vinegar sauce, which enhanced the flavors without over powering the fish.  The owner of the restaurant offered to drive us back to our hotel for $35 euros, so we took him up on it.

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The next morning, we headed to the ferry terminal, Tavernola, which was a few blocks away from our hotel.  We purchased an all day pass, so we could hop on and off the boat when we wanted to, to explore the small towns.  Our first stop was Tremezzo to see Villa Carlotta.  The villa was smallish in nature, but had a few rooms, which were impressive.  My favorite was the Marble Room, filled with elegant statutes and murals painted on the ceilings and walls.  I wanted to take him home with me, but he wouldn’t fit in my suitcase.  Hmmm…..

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Maybe I could have just one Renaissance painting above a doorway in my house??

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The loveliest part of Villa Carlotta was the gardens.  There are manicured areas with hedges and fountains as well as wooded areas with streams flowing through the property.  A nice place to walk around and take in the beautiful surroundings.

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Afterwards, we headed to Bellagio on the boat to have lunch.  I had read reviews of both Silvio and Ristorante alle Darsene di Loppia and decided upon the latter because it was a little less traveled than Silvio and the food reviews a tad higher.  We hiked a few miles around the bend and up a hill to reach the restaurant and when we arrived, we were pleased at the ambiance and friendly staff.

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They served us chilled prosecco immediately after sitting down and we ordered a nice bottle of Pinot Nero to go with lunch.

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I ordered a Fish Plate to start, which was a fancy plate of poached, smoked and chilled fish from the lake and sea.  I enjoyed the Lake Fish Roe the best, it had a unique salty kick that was divine.

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Next, was pasta; Gnocchi with Seafood & Cherry Tomatoes in Brodo.  The white and purple gnocchi were prepared nicely with just a few folded into the fresh seafood and cherry tomatoes.  I loved the broth with the gnocchi, as opposed to a heavy thick sauce, it really kept it simple.

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For our entrees, we had the Fried Fish and Roasted Elk.  The fish and vegetables were tempura battered, but not greasy and I loved the variety of fish.  The Elk was a nice change from all the veal we had been consuming and cooked perfectly — charred on the outside with a very pink center.

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For dessert, Chestnut Tiramisu with a Chocolate Gelato was the perfect ending of a nice extensive lunch. I have made a lot of tiramisu in my lifetime and this one was different with the chestnut paste folded into the mascarpone cream, instead of the traditional marsala wine.

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Afterwards, we noticed that the Trombetta, or mini train dropped off in front of the restaurant, so we jumped a board and took a spin around Bellagio and back to the boat to head to Varenna.

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The ride to Varenna was quick, only a few minutes by boat and the lakeside town was so charming.  We walked along the cobblestone streets and purchased a few Christmas ornaments to take home for gifts. Then, we climbed up and over the hill to see what was on the other side of Varenna, another pretty church and more cafes with people dining and enjoying life.

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After an hour or so, we headed to Menaggio on another quick boat ride across the lake.  We were traveling on a Sunday and Sundays in Italy tend to be silent after lunch, so Menaggio was mostly closed down by the time we had gotten there.  We tried to find a place to find an aperitivo with a view and we had read about a place called Chic & Freak, but it was closed.  We would definitely go back for a drink if ever in Menaggio again, great views from the location.

We had to take another boat back through Bellagio to get a high-speed boat (which I highly recommend) to get back to Como, so we had an aperitivo in Bellagio, while we were waiting.  It was around 5:30 p.m. once we arrived back in Bellagio, and I must say, a much better place to be after most of the tourists cleared out.

For dinner that night, we just wanted a bite of something in town, so much to my chagrin, we asked our concierge for advice.  He recommended a casual restaurant I had read about on tripadvisor called Ristorante Della Torre in Cernobbio.  Upon arrival, the place was mostly full and we sat in the middle of the room, which you could see the view from afar.  The waiter wasn’t very friendly, but the ladies behind us were kind and smiled.  We had Prosciutto with Zucchini Blossoms & Mozzarella.  The prosciutto and blossoms tasted nice, but the mozzarella had a sour flavor that didn’t work for me.

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We ordered a pizza with Bresaola, Smoked Mozzarella and Tomato Sauce and it was good too, but after the fantastic lunch we had, we were comparing apples to oranges.

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The next morning we decided to explore Como, which was within walking distance of our hotel, only a few miles.  We headed to a small cafe for cappuccino and a pastry.  I had heard about a cafe called Cremeria Bolla Como, which had been in business 1893.  The tables were outside on a square with waitresses dressed in pastel aprons and caps.

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Cremeria Bolla served Gelato and Sundaes as well as Pastries and Cappuccinos.  It was a little too early for ice cream, if there was such a thing, so we had a cappuccino, an apple tart and a chocolate dipped cream filled cookie, which were all nice.

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After coffee, off to the Duomo in Como for a spin around and to check out the city.  The Duomo had a magnificent pipe organ, which I always look for in large churches because it brings back great memories of my Poppy playing organ.

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Afterwards, we headed to the Funicolare or Funicular to take a ride to the top of Como-Brunate.  The funicular connects the city of Como to the town of Brunate in Lombardy, Italy.  After a quick ride to the top, we headed out to explore and ran into our good friends Candy and Ken Deemer from Los Angeles. We were shocked to see them in Como, so we found a convenient cafe with a spectacular view and had a couple of glasses of wine and caught up on our travels.  

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For dinner that evening, we were headed to The Market Place, which I was truly thrilled about because of all the foodie reviews I had read.  The chef Davide Maci, with his farm to table cuisine, was changing the mainstream cuisine of Como.  To start, the place was much more casual than I had expected, which was a nice change from some of the Michelin Starred Restaurants with good food reviews.  We had a glass of prosecco to start and some of the housemade bread.

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We ordered a nice bottle of wine, that we later found out our server was part owner of the winery, and we began our meal with Grilled Octopus on Borlotti Bean Puree.  The octopus was perfectly braised and lightly grilled for a smokey essence.  I loved it!

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Also, we shared a Terrine of Foie Gras with a Seared Duck Breast with Demi Glace and Fig Puree.  The Foie melted in our mouths and paired nicely with the wine.

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We both had pasta; Squid Ink with Zucchini & Tomatoes and Short Rib Agnolotti with Chanterelles. What else can I say except, “Wow!”

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We shared Poached Bass with Fresh Vegetables, but after the pasta nothing much mattered, but was good too.

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Our dessert was a Crusted Caramel Cream with Vanilla Gelato & Pistachios, it was delightful.

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The Market Place had exceptional food and the tasting menus were all reasonably priced, around 40-60 euros.  The chef allowed sharing a tasting menu and adding a la carte items from the regular menu, nice touch!

In the morning we walked to Cernobbio to catch the ferry and to stop one last time for a Macchiato and a Bombolini before catching the ferry to Lenno to see Villa del Balbianello.

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This cafe had the most delicious pastries and the pastry chef in me couldn’t help but admire all the beautiful rolled cakes in the display.

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The coffee and pastry hit the spot on a chilly morning in Cernobbio.

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After an hour ferry ride to Lenno we headed to Villa del Balbianello for a quick trot around, before we headed back to gather our things for a train to Milan.  You had to take a guided tour to actually go into the few select rooms of the villa, but the grounds were the prettiest part to explore.  I recommend taking a water taxi out of the villa on the other side of the property to get a great water view.

Como was a beautiful place to explore with cities and towns of great charm.  The Americans have definitely found Lake Como and many are on the hunt for George Clooney, unfortunately.  I found the city of Como most interesting with more to see and updated restaurants.  You only need a few days to visit most of the towns in and around Como and it is definitely worth a visit.

And another note:  I emailed Casa Santo Stefano when I returned from Italy and they apologized for their mistake of not keeping my email address to inform me they had to close, due to their Sous Chef having emergency foot surgery.  Also, they offered me a free bottle of wine the next time I get to Como.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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