Ciao Bella! Travel to Italy

  • The Grand Hotel Tremezzo The Grand Hotel Tremezzo
  • Villa BalbianelloVilla Balbianello
  • Villa BalbianelloVilla Balbianello
  • Villa Balbianello3Villa Balbianello
  • VillaAmintaVilla Aminta
  • VillaAminta2Villa Aminta
  • villa-deste-2Villa D’Este
  • villa-deste-2Villa D’Este
  • laScala-operaHouse-milanLa Scala Opera House, Milan

I recently had the pleasure of joining an interesting and diverse group of Virtuoso travel professionals on an amazing journey to Milan and the Italian Lakes. To avoid jet lag, I flew into Florence for an unforgettable two days before joining the group in Lake Como. The beautiful Hotel Lungano overlooking the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio was a perfect place to stay — well located with beautiful and inviting rooms in a boutiquestyle hotel setting. I highly recommend a spa treatment upon arrival to get all the kinks out and start your journey totally refreshed.

From there I braved the rail system for our twohour journey to Lake Como. Word to the wise: don’t pack your entire closet because there is an apparent lack of “Southern gentlemen,” or porters, to assist with your luggage. So glad I had been attending my Pilates classes before I left — I needed serious upper body strength to haul my suitcases around. Other than that minor inconvenience, traveling by train is comfortable, fast and a great way to view the countryside.

Upon arriving at the legendary Lake Como, we were met by our local hosts, ICBallagio, who had flawlessly arranged all the details of our trip. For those traveling to Italy and wanting a unique experience, this company can arrange anything from a wedding at a private Villa to the best-guided tour of any city in Italy.

Our first stay in Lake Como was at the renowned Villa D’Este. The views are breathtaking, with the hotel situated on the lake and the nearby snow covered Swiss Alps in view at all times. The lush surroundings are seamlessly complimented by charming cobblestone streets and country villas that evoke a bygone era. Much of our sightseeing was done by water taxi, which allowed us fabulous views of the many charming Villas, including George’s Villa (as in Clooney). Not a shabby pad!

From Villa D’Este, we took a day trip to the beautiful Swiss lakeside town of Lugano, which is nestled in a picture-postcard setting. Interestingly enough, their currency was the Swiss Franc, which was about even with U.S. dollars — a perfect opportunity to load up on Swiss chocolate and Swiss army knives to take home as presents.

A trip to the charming town of Ballagio was also on the agenda. This historic town is considered to be one of the most beautiful sites in Italy. We visited the Grand Hotel Villa Serbello, which actually was closed. Many hotels close between November and April for renovations.

The Grand Hotel Tremezzo was our home for a couple of nights. This fascinating palace dates back to the beginning of the century and has gorgeous views of the surrounding villas, palaces and gardens.

The shopping in Ballagio was terrific, with more affordable prices than major cities. Beautiful silk scarfs were the big hit.

I cannot begin to describe our many culinary adventures; but make no mistake, we did not go hungry. One of the most memorable meals was a leisurely lunch on Isola Comacina. Dating back 100 years, we all experienced what it is like to dine Italian style with a continuous flow of great wine, food and fascinating conversation.

Our adventure also took us to the central lake area, including a stop at the beautiful Villa Balbianello that has gardens to rival any in the world. We stayed at another jewel on Lake Maggiore, the Villa Aminta, one of the most sought after hotels in Italy. It is definitely overthetop ornate.

Interestingly enough, all these magnificent properties are a short distance from Milan, the European capital of fashion. I admit I have never really thought of Milan as a destination, certainly not compared to the obvious choice of Rome, Florence or Venice. But I was pleasantly surprised.

It is a charming mixture of both the sleek — hotels like the Four Seasons, Park Hyatt and Bulgari — and the old-fashioned Renaissance Milan, the Principe di Savoia Hotel. This hotel brags of having one of the most luxurious presidential suites in the world. It is about 5,000 square feet, and you too can stay there for a measly $25,000 a night.

The city has something for everyone, from fashions of the top designers (prepare to spend big bucks) to a visit to the Museum of La Scala Opera House. About 40 minutes from Milan is the antique upper town of Bergamo, one of Italy’s most beautiful and important cities, historically and artistically speaking. Here you can walk through the cobblestone main street, seeing the late 16th century Bibliotheca and picturesque Palazzo.

All in all, this area of Italy is a must on your travel wishes of fabulous places to see.

Getting there is relatively easy, with many non-stop flights from Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and New York to Malpensa Airport in Milan. And if you forgot to buy a gift for your mother-in-law, there are plenty of designer boutiques at the Milan airport.

Arrivederci for now. My next adventure is to my homeland, Ireland. Instead of greeting you with a Buon Giorno, it will be a “Top of the morning to you.”