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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Another Way Into Italy!

Your typical arrival in Italy is by air at one of the large-airport cities, like Rome, Florence, Milan or Venice. But, there is another way…one that is beautiful, fun and relaxing.  It’s the way we’ve arrived in Italy on four different occasions. What way, you say? That’s the train way for a day — from Zurich, Switzerland.

Why start your Italy journey in Zurich? Because, you get an enjoyable start to overcoming your jet lag and getting comfortably acclimated to the Italian time zone without having to sleepwalk your way through churches and museums on your first day in Europe. The Swiss trains are very comfy and you will see beautiful countryside (as you doze off-and-on) heading south.

...you get an enjoyable start to overcoming your jet lag and getting comfortably acclimated to the Italian time zone without having to sleepwalk your way through churches and museums on your first day in Europe.

Flying into Zurich is not a problem, even direct from the U.S.  If you are one of my European readers, you have many options, of course.  Once you arrive at the Zurich airport and leave customs, you have the convenience of a train station right there in the airport. The station name is ‘Zurich Flughafen’, which translates to ‘Zurich Airport’.  It can’t be any easier than that to start your journey!

I will cover three routes from Zurich to Milano, Italy…a direct route, a scenic route, and an absolutely gorgeous route that requires an overnight stay (in Switzerland) that is well worth your time. And, there are bonus stops you can take advantage of along the way.

You will be using the Swiss railway website at www.SBB.CH. Their website is easy to use and is a joy compared to some other nations’ train websites.  Their route solutions will even include cable car and bus connections to get you to your destination…more on that later.

 

Fastest Direct Route

Click on maps to enlarge

This route is simply the one you will find when creating your Zurich Flughafen to Milano journey on the outstanding Swiss railway website. Click the map thumbnail to see the route.

This route will take you just under 4 hours to arrive at Milano Centrale station. But, one of the features of this route that we’ve taken advantage of is a Bonus Stop at beautiful Lake Como…and I suggest that you do this too, of course. See my articles on Go There: Bellagio and Getting There: Bellagio for the wonders of Lake Como and bella Bellagio.

 

Scenic Mountainous Route

Are you up for a train ride that seems to climb straight up the Alps on their way to Italy? Then the route that includes the Bernina Express is the route for you. This map will show you how you will accomplish this journey.

A view from your train, early in the trip

Traveling from Zurich Flughafen to Chur and then St Moritz happens in scenic valleys. The countryside is just as you had imagined it…pastoral green fields with Swiss chalets.

 

However, going from St Moritz to Tirano, just inside Italy, is a whole different experience. As you can see in the accompanying photos, you are in for high-altitude travel. We were right there among the peaks and glaciers.

The high-mountain lakes were still frozen during our late-May Bernina Express adventure

And on this late-May trip, we had this clean, efficient train car mostly to ourselves

And yes, those are skiers at the base of this run. And note the size of the cable car!

This route will take about 6 hours from Zurich Flughafen to Tirano, and then another 2:30 hours to Milano from Tirano. We opted to overnight in Tirano, completing our journey to Milano and then Venice the following day.

Tirano has more of a clean, Swiss influence than one of Italian quaintness, a product of its location sitting almost right on the border. But, at least delicious prosciutto and caprese salad were available.

BerninaSign-1.JPG

It seems that the Bernina Express has been delighting travelers for well over one-hundred years

Here’s your Bonus Stop – Depart the train along Lake Como when you reach the town of Varenna (the Varenna-Esino station) and then take the ferry to Bellagio for the night. Before you go, compare the online ferry schedule to the arriving train schedule to determine your ferry connection timing.  Bellagio is not the only Lake Como overnight spot. A stay in Varenna is a great option. Or Menaggio. Or Cadenabbia.

 

The Ultimate Swiss-to-Italy Route

We’ve done this journey twice and we highly recommend it.

The highlight is an overnight venture to the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland…specifically through the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the quaint hillside (maybe I should say ‘cliffside’) town of Murren.

Murren is one of those no-automobile towns which is only accessible by cable car. It was a shame to spend just one night here on both of our trips, as there is much to do in this area, especially if you are into a bit of alpine hiking. The scenery is breathtaking, as I hope you can gain from the accompanying photos.

 

That’s the Lauterbrunnen valley in the photo below. Not very spectacular, is it? Our destination is Murren, just on the other side of that ridge. We take a cable car from a point at the bottom-right edge of the photo, which then connects to a small train that moves along the hillside on the middle-right of the photo, terminating at Murren.

This is the view from our cable car, as we begin our ascent. That’s Staubbach Waterfall dropping from the cliff face on the right.

Wow! That’s the view from the hillside-hugging train as we make our way to isolated Murren.

We’ve arrived at Murren’s small train station. Left to right are in-laws Craig and Leslie, my wife Ellen, and me.

 

We are definitely in a quaint, charming, exhilarating, absolutely gorgeous Swiss town, nestled in the Swiss Alps.

The views from town are stunning!

If you’re hungry, this pretty fraulein can help you. Goulash, spaetzle and beer is on the menu. And the view from the deck is amazing!

A highlight of a visit to Murren is the cable car ride to The Schilthorn, made famous in the James Bond hit “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – debuting 50 years ago.  The views, the views, the views…on the way up, on the way down, and at the top!

Chalets dot the mountainside as we ascend to The Schilthorn.

Low clouds hide the mountain peaks, but we are flabbergasted, yes flabbergasted, by the alpine scenery! When was the last time you were flabbergasted?!

Here is our destination, The Schilthorn of James Bond fame.

Ellen seems to be on top of the World.

 

An early departure will get you to Milano before lunch. But wait, there is another Bonus Stop along the way. Your Milano-bound train will traverse the shores of Lake Maggiore, passing through the lakeside town of Stresa. A stop here for the day…or better yet overnight…will allow you to lunch at Ristorante Verbano on the Fisherman’s Island before a visit to Isolo Bella with its fabulous Palazzo Borromeo and gardens. I will cover a visit to these sights in a future article.

 

Earlier, I praised the Swiss train website. Here’s why: not only is it easy to use, but it guides you effortlessly from one route connection to another, no matter what mode of transportation is involved in your journey. For example, if you wanted to go directly from Zurich Flughafen to The Schilthorn, just plug that into the departure and destination input boxes and you will be presented with the entire solution to your journey, including connections for each of the 5 trains and 3 cable cars needed to make your fabulous 3-hour-and-40-minute trip. And, this Swiss train website does not limit you to trains within Switzerland. Plug in Paris as you destination and you will see solutions for your 5-hour trip to the Paris-Gare de Lyon station. Or, London in 8 hours. Or either Venice or Rome in 7 hours. It’s all there.

 

On whichever route you find yourself as you travel from Zurich to Italy, I am sure that this day of leisure and scenic beauty will be one that will help you to acclimate to a new time zone as you start your next Italian adventure.  I’ll see you on the train…that’s me sitting across from you…and oh, I’m not dozing…I’m just resting my eyes.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Go There: Bellagio

Index of Blog Articles

At the end of your slow-boat ride on Lake Como is your destination: Bellagio.

Beautiful, lush, lakeside Bellagio

Last week, I explained how one should approach Bellagio. This week, I present the town itself...bella Bellagio...the most romantic town in Europe. 

One of the things that makes Bellagio so unique are its ‘streets’. These are no ordinary streets, as no autos can travel them

The setting for Bellagio is unique, as it sits at the end of a spit of land which juts out into Lake Como, or Lago di Como. This location actually adds a good bit to its charm, as there is no through traffic to clutter up your visit...one has to either intentionally be driving to Bellagio, or one must be lost. Check out the map in last week's article to see what I mean about its location.

Getting There

To learn more about how to get to Bellagio, see my article from last week, appropriately titled, "Getting There: Bellagio". 

Here you can see a passenger 'slow boat' that I so espouse as it arrives at Bellagio.

One of the 'slow boats' that ply the waters of Lago di Como

Ah, the destination has been reached...we are now in Bellagio.

The 'Streets' of Bellagio

One of the things that makes Bellagio so unique are its 'streets'. These are no ordinary streets, as no autos can travel them. There are about a half-dozen of these ally-like streets that go from the lower, lakeside, outbound roadway of Bellagio, to the upper, inbound roadway. 

In this photo is the lakeside portion of the auto roadway that leads out of town. The roadway makes a bit of a jog to the left at the Hotel Metropole, our hotel for this stay.

The roadway headed through, and then away, from Bellagio. Our pink hotel in the distance

And here is the upper roadway...yes, that's actually the road coming into Bellagio, and we are driving it in a car that we rented for a day (see more in the article 'Stumbling Upon Something Magnificent').

In between these two portions of auto road are the pedestrian shopping streets, as you can see below. These streets echo the difference in elevation between the lower and upper roadways.

Shopping Bellagio

The Como area was once the silk capital of Europe. Mulberry trees kept the silkworms happily making silk, and the Italians were happily making silk cloth. Though this industry has all but vanished, there are still many items made of silk available in Bellagio.

Here we see some of the silk and its shoppers.

A tradition of days gone by was for young women to wear a bridal headdress made of intricately design hair pins -- I'm sure there is a more appropriate name for them, but that's how I know them. Just below is one of those hair adornments.

Today, these head pieces have been disassembled into its individual parts and they are available for purchase. Here you see Ellen and Debbie as they consider their purchase of serving pieces that have been fashioned from these pieces.

In the market for Italian-made shoes or shirts? You are in luck!

Food!

I always try to include photos of food from any place that we visit...this is important, don't you think? Here are a few selections from a number of restaurants we have visited on our trips to Bellagio.

And there are some beautiful settings for partaking of food. We especially like the lakeside setting of the first photo. And both of the ladies in our group thought that our waiter made the setting more attractive, too.

Hotels

Our hotel on one trip, the Albergo Metropole, sits in a perfect location in town. We had a room with balcony overlooking the lake. 

Centrally located Albergo Metropole

Our lakefront rooms were superb. You can see the ferry dock in the photo with Scott and Debbie, and across the lake to Menaggio in the photo with Ellen and me.

And the view at sunset left nothing to be desired. Here is an evening ferry from Menaggio nearing the Bellagio ferry dock.

Evening view from our room at the Metropole

Here is the link to the Hotel Albergo Metropole.

 

On a previous trip we stayed at the five-star Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. The guest register for this palace of a hotel is chock-a-block full of names of the past that you would recognize -- including yours truly, of course.

Here, you can see the layout of the GHVS, with the main portion of Bellagio being to the right. We swam in the pool -- brrrrr -- and actually found the lake to be a bit warmer!

Have you ever eaten in a more opulent breakfast room?

The breakfast room

Lunch or dinner on the terrace is exquisite.

Here is my wife, Ellen, and me after a scrumptious dinner at GHVS.  Did I mention that we danced to a small orchestra after dinner?

Here is the link for the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni

Sights of Bellagio

It is interesting to note that, though Bellagio sits at the base of the alps, it is in a sub-tropical climate. You will find several palm trees, like this one, scattered around.

 

I will leave you with several photos of Bellagio and its environs. Here you will see the view of the lake and beyond from Bellagio, the beautiful flowers, buildings, etc. Enjoy.

And here is an interesting view of a Pringles dispenser! Have you ever seen one of these? But what a great idea for those emergencies when you feel you need something lite and a bit salty. 

 

I will leave you with one final photo that sums it all up for us...

Want to make a trip to Bellagio? Drop me a line and I'll be happy to give you some more tips!

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

Getting There: Bellagio

Index of Blog Articles

Bellagio is worth getting to...but just how should one go about it?

You've no doubt heard of Bellagio. But we are not speaking of the beautiful Bellagio Hotel of Las Vegas, but the real Bellagio...the one from which the hotel was modeled, complete with lake, though no fountain and light show exist at the real Bellagio.

Just one of the many lakeside towns you will see on your slow-boat journey to Bellagio

The northern-Italian town of Bellagio has been dubbed ‘the most romantic town in Europe’, and we must agree. What a marvelous setting!

Lake Como and Bellagio

Bellagio sits on an interesting point in the lake district, about 45 miles north of Milan. What is interesting about Bellagio's location is the spit of land on which it is located on Lago di Como (Lake Como).

As you can see on this map, the lake is said to be shaped like a running person, with Bellagio sitting right in the...how can I say this in a decorous way...well OK, the crotch.  

There is no direct train service to Bellagio, so one must travel to Bellagio either by boat or auto. And, as one can get around through most of Italy using trains, with no need for renting an automobile, let's assume are not traveling by automobile. 

The quickest way to get to Bellagio is by taking the train from Milan to Varenna, and then by a short ferry-boat ride to Bellagio. But be forewarned -- this is not the best way to get to Bellagio, as I will explain below.

 

The Slow Boat

The most pleasant and most excellent path to Bellagio is by a slow boat from Como. The route of the slow boat takes you to between 10 to 16 stops on your journey and the ride will take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours to complete (the number of stops and journey time depends on your departure time). Be warned that there is a fast boat, which is shown on the boat schedule in red as 'Speed Service' -- don't take this boat unless you are going to be late for a dinner reservation at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (or better yet, change your reservation time). The speed service? It's a hydrofoil boat that takes only 45 minutes to complete its journey.

Since there is a boat that is a good bit faster than the slower boat, why extend your journey on this slow boat? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will be using just a few words -- and many pictures -- to explain why you should take the slow boat to Bellagio.

Your Journey Begins

Your journey to the town of Como will start in Milan. For us, we had taken the overnight-sleeper train from Rome to Milan, so we continued our journey to Como early in the morning from Milan. We wanted to catch to 10am boat, so we would arrive in Bellagio just in time for lunch.

These photos were taken as we worked our way through the train yard at Milan.

It's about 20 miles from Como to Bellagio, and our journey should take about 2 1/2 hours.

The lake opens up before you as our Lake Como journey begins

When you get on the boat, take the stairs up to the upper deck for the best views. 

This is why you are taking the slow boat -- beautiful town after charming town all along the lake

This boat is similar to the one we are on right now

Lago di Como is surrounded by mountains...and the auto road that ends at Bellagio can be seen cutting across the hill on the right

Another lakeside town you would love to visit, but we won't be stopping here

A lot of mountain, with just a hint of civilization

The clock shows that it is almost 11am; as we left at 10am, we are about an hour into our journey

There is still a lot of lake left on our journey

Many of the villas along the way have gazebo-like embellishments...a quiet place to sit and contemplate the depths of the lake - which happens to be 1,340 feet at its deepest point!

I wish we were on this boat together right this very minute, enjoying the scenery

That one tree looks like they got it at Hobby Lobby...how is it so perfectly shaped?!

This photo and the four below it show the most beautiful house on the lake...idyllic...you've seen it in many movies, like: A Month by the Lake; Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; and Casino Royale. The villa is called Villa del Balbianello. It had fallen into disrepair in the early 1900s and was bought and restored by an American. When the latest owner died in 1988, he left it to the National Trust of Italy. It is open to the public (see their website here).

Looks to be a little after noon...just about 25 minutes more and we will be at Bellagio

Ahhh...bella Bellagio -- we are at the Cadenabia stop and Bellagio is just across the lake and it's next!

As we approach Bellagio, we see one of the auto ferries that travels between Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna

As we near the dock, we can see our hotel dead center...we are on the top floor of the Metropole, second balcony from the left

And here is our journey's end...and we are just in time for lunch

It's time for a journey's end glass of wine with Scott and Debbie...

...and Ellen has one of her favorite snacks, a grissino, or breadstick

I hope that you are convinced that taking the slow boat to Bellagio is the ultimate journey, one at a pace that gives you time to absorb the charming sights of Lake Como. But, of course, you could have opted for the faster conveyance, below.

The 'Speed Service' of the hydrofoil


The Logistics

Here our friend Scott purchases our tickets as soon as we arrived at the boat dock in Como. It is a good idea to get your tickets early, as the boat does fill up quickly.

Below is the boat schedule, as posted at the ticket office. In the orange box, note the dates for this schedule are between the 1st and 28th of October, 2012. The schedules change drastically after the summer tourist season, so be sure you check online for the correct schedule as you plan your trip. 

In the green box is the schedule for the direction of the slow boat from Como to Piona, which is the way we want to go. In the blue box is the yucky hydrofoil Speed Service.

You can see the Navigazione Lago di Como boat schedule on their websiteAt right is the schedule as of today during the summer of 2016 (but be aware that it is only for service through October 2nd). 


So, now you know how to get to Bellagio. Next week, I'll tell you more about the town itself. But trust me, it is a place you will enjoy visiting. 

For a related article on an adventure starting in Bellagio, see my article of 07/28/2015 titled 'Stumbling Upon Something Magnificent'. 

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Stumbling Upon Something Magnificent

During our travels, we've had occasion to stumble upon some great things. When I think of stumbling upon something great, I immediately think of an absolutely beautiful day while visiting Bellagio. 

We still find it hard to believe what we stumbled upon that day, and I think you will, too.

We still find it difficult to believe what we stumbled upon that day, and I think you will, too.

We were traveling with our friends Debbie and Scott (see last week's blog) and they decided to spend a day boating on Lake Como while we rented a car to drive into Switzerland.

Bellagio is not a large town and we were surprised to find a small garage that had rental cars. Here is our nice rental, complete with stick shift (do you remember how?).

[click on an image to get a larger view] 

We got up extra early and we were just able to catch the last ferry of the day to travel from Bellagio to Menaggio, on the west side of the lake. Why would an early-morning ferry be the last of the day, you ask? A general transportation strike was set to start at 9:00am today, of course! It is Italy, you know.

With Bellagio receding in the distance, we made it to beautiful lakeside Menaggio, with its ubiquitous geraniums.

We took some time to have a light breakfast con Coca Cola Lite, of course... 

...and for co-pilot Ellen to check the map for our route into Switzerland.

Along the way, we were treated to the fantastic Italian lakeside scenery, like these white swans skimming across the lake.

These guys were hoping that we would toss a bit of our croisant to them.

And the sun continued to provide gorgeous views as we drove along the lake.

The lakes in northern Italy are surrounded by mountains like this one.

 

Oh no!  What's that blocking the road? It was the first of three buses traveling together that were making their way through a small town with it's very narrow roadway -- this is the main roadway along the lake, by the way. 

They each had to move forward and back a few times to make it around the corner. We had to fold our side mirrors in, and with about 3" to spare the buses made their way past us.

Driving along Lake Lugano, which is half-in Italy and half-in Switzerland, we made a turn and came upon the charming little village of Albogasio.. 

Ellen suggested that this would be a great place to stop to explore life-on-the-lake in Italy. She saw the church you can see at the very top of the town and she decided that it would be our goal. As there are no auto roads in this town (residents park on the small pier that you can see sitting above the lake on the left), we sought out a way up.

A time worn path made its way up the hillside.

As we worked our way up, we had views like this one, which is Melissa's and Max's favorite.

We loved the rustic nature of Albogasio, with gardens and lovely views of Lake Lugano.

As we continued up, it was obvious to us that this village has been here for a long time.

Ahhh, getting closer.

And now the entrance is in sight.

On the lake-side wall, we found coats of arms painted on the side of the church. Each represents one of the seven archdioceses of Milan.

And finally, the door to the church.

We grasped the latch of this time-worn door, and...

...we were staggered by the inside of this small church sitting high on the side of the hill above Lake Lugano!

We've been in many beautiful churches in Italy, but we were stunned by this dazzling site. We found that this church was built in 1628 and was filled with magnificent 17th century paintings.

The ceiling above the altar has a painting of The Coronation of the Virgin. 

The altar was adorned by these four silver bishops.

The two side chapels are also beautifully painted, like the one below. One chapel is dedicated to Saints Gioacchino and Anna, and the other to Saint Giuseppe. Notice that the scene below is all canvas with the exception of the alter with Christ's statue. The columns are not real, nor is the base on which the putti sit.

 

We were sad to leave, but we had miles to go on our day of adventure. Working our way down through the village, we found our way through the stone labyrinths...

...until we finally made it down to the road where we had parked.

This was just the start of a day of unexpected surprises. I'll tell you about the rest of our day another time. So, stay tuned.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve