Since the moment my wife Jennifer laid eyes on her baby sister, Jessica, they formed a strong bond that has only developed over time. Sure, Jennifer usually acts more like her mother than her sister and yes, there have been a few lively battles resulting in a couple “boo-boos”, but they are as close as any two sisters I have ever known.
That’s why we were thrilled when we learned of a last-minute vacation Jessica planned with her boyfriend, Matt. We were doubly excited because not only were we going to spend time with Jessica, but we were finally going to be able to meet Matt. Living in Italy comes with its obvious benefits, but we do miss out on a lot at home and so we are thrilled any time “home” comes to us.
I picked Matt and Jessica up at the airport and after completing a brief pit stop at home, whisked them to downtown Como. Como is a great first stop for anyone trying to avoid succumbing to jet lag. We walked around the city and rode the finiculare up to one of our favorite spots – Brunate. There, we soaked up the views of the lake and ate a scrumptious lunch at one of our favorite little spots, Bella Vista (Beautiful View).
We decided that we wanted the next day to be all about authenticity (OK, perhaps I steered the tour in that direction) and so we ascended through the hills of Menaggio, one of our favorite lake towns. I had read about a little rifugio, which literally translated means, refuge or shelter. If you’re talking about a visit to a rifugio for lunch, you’re referring to a place that is far up in the hills, buried deep beneath the trees and usually only known to locals. You need to be prepared to eat in a converted home or even a glorified shack and you certainly shouldn’t expect quality roads (sometimes you have to abandon your car and hoof it). But if you’re willing to brave all that, you will find that they are… fabulous! Apart from really getting a feel of “authentic Italy”, the views and food are almost always worth the journey. La Baita was one of our favorite restaurant experiences in a long time (read my full review with extra photos on TripAdvisor, entitled “Authentic and Delicious”). We enjoyed bresaola (cured meat), homemade pasta served family style and plenty of mouth water roasts. We were so full that we felt like simply rolling back down the hill into town. Of course, by the time we descended into the town of Menaggio, we had all found enough space in our bellies for some gelato.
The following day was Matt’s birthday and so the lovebirds took a boat to Bellagio and spent the entire day exploring the “jewel of Lake Como” on their own. They even went out to a romantic dinner in Lake Como, a place known for their Bistecca alla Fiorentina (nothing says romance like splitting two(+) pounds of perfectly cooked beef). Something about an overtired toddler crashing their dinner didn’t seem appealing to anyone, so we hung back and let them go at it alone. Matt realized that while they were in Bellagio, he had left his camera; so he and I picked up the following morning. I’m sure he’s one of a few people who can boast back to back visits to Bellagio with the second visit lasting less than five minutes. Since the morning was spent traveling to Bellagio and back (it’s an hour each way by car on slow and winding roads) we all decided that a leisurely afternoon BBQ was just what the doctor ordered! We closed the day with drinks in Como, always a surefire hit.
We still had plenty more to do with Matt and Jessica, including a trip to the antique market of Milan and a tour of Bergamo – but each of those are deserving of their own post. Sadly, our time with them felt short, as they left us to visit Rome and Venice on their own; but we were thrilled that we got the chance to meet Matt and glad to see Jessica back in her favorite home away from home… Italia!