The Spell of Italy, Stronger than Ever


I have made vacations in Italy many times, but I am now delving beyond Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice. On this trip I focused on Lake Como, Bologna and back to Rome.  Wow!, what an adventure!

Certainly the weather played a part in this September home run.  Traveling from north to south in this changeable season can give you a bit of an edge.  In this case, the weather was perfect nine days straight, sunny and warm.

We landed in Milan and had a car and driver take us the 45 minutes directly to Villa D'Este  on Lake Como.  The history here goes back about 500 years, but what you see first is the charming town of Cernobbio, and after a right turn the gated drive with a view of shimmering Lake Como in the morning sun.  Then the villa presents itself and you know you have arrived.  It is another world: traditional, unhurried and magnificent.  No world traveler should omit this magical experience from their travel history. It will not be complete without it. 

We had a comfortable room on the side of the building with a lake view from our balcony.  The very well tended grounds, gardens and floating pool give you a sense of place, peace and contentment. Yet just outside the grounds you have a brief walk to charming Cernobbio where ferries can transport you up and down the lake.  We took a day trip to have lunch in Bellagio, and another one to Casta Diva across the lake: a very special, less traditional but more secluded resort. 

After four days we had a private transfer direct to Milan’s Garibaldi Station for the new private Italio high-speed rail system to Bologna, enjoying their Club car. It was only 19 leather seats and a dedicated attendant. It was not a luxury service, but you had complimentary coffee and snacks and good privacy.  An on-time arrival at the new Bologna Station then brought us to our basic three-star hotel, which we ended up in due to a huge ceramic fair that had taken up almost all the hotel space in the city.

Bologna is unlike any city I have experienced in Italy.  Due to long standing rules, all city buildings are built with enclosed covered walkways which add charm. With about 65,000 student residents, it is also a very young city.  Further, it reminded me of an intense foodie city such as Adelaide, South Australia, with serious dining and wine tasting going on. 

There are shops and stalls with every kind of meat, cheese, bread and pasta, and so much more.  The quality is top notch and outstanding.  Here you can walk around viewing the various restaurants pretty much empty until about 8 p.m.  Then magic happens and everyone who was strolling now has a place at a restaurant table and the feast begins.  It is essential that you make reservations in advance here to avoid disappointment. 

The ancient walled city with towers and Roman ruins is rich with history, and a two-hour walking tour with a professional guide was extremely helpful in seeing the city in context. We were there for three days and that was not sufficient. 

Our final stop was Rome, familiar to many but with always something new to see.  Again it was the new private Italio high speed rail to get there, and to see the new Rome High Speed terminal (not Rome Termini) that will be the center of Italy rail travel within two years.  It is massive with triple banks of escalators going everywhere.  On the day we arrived, it took us a bit of time to find our way out of the huge building due to the construction still taking place.

About 15 minutes away by taxi was our home in Rome, the historic Bernini Bristol Hotel, a strong 4 1/2 star hotel facing the Piazza Barberini, where the fountain is unfortunately now closed for restoration.  We had a very nice room on the 6th floor and the service was very good.

Our treat in Rome was a brand new tour of the Coliseum, which included the basement where the gladiators and lions were held before their performances.  It also included views of the historic structure from the top level which is provides a completely new perspective.  There are lots of steep stairs and it takes some effort, but for those who can, it is fulfilling and rewarding. The tour continued with Palatine Hill with a total of about 4 hours total for the tour.

In summary, do not dismiss Italy because you have been there once or twice. This rich and layered land holds many secrets waiting to be uncovered on roads less traveled. 

Hilton Smith