Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Bellissima Northern Italy - Milan, Bellagio and Stresa

For those of you who know my husband, he is a planner. But the part you don't know is that he is very discreet in his planning. I had no idea he had been planning this trip of a lifetime to Northern Italy, and he was so excited that he actually called me at work to ask me if I could get the time off. I went silent. I had never taken 2.5 weeks of vacation from my job even though I have been there 34 years. Yes I would have a lot of catching up to do at work, but it was worth this trip of a lifetime. I wish I had brought a camera, but have gotten into the habit of using my phone to take photos. The first four days of our trip were in Milan, Stresa (Lake Como and Lake Maggiore) and Bellagio. 
Although not the reason we went to Europe, you've probably heard about the first Starbucks in Europe that was all over the news and opened shortly before we arrived in Milan. It's like no other Starbucks. A work of art. 
Our love affair with beautiful Italia began at the Grand Hotel et de Milan. Upon arrival in Milan at 9 a.m., we arranged for an early check-in and therefore had an hour to browse shops in the Monumentale area which is where Starbucks is located. We loved this limoncello display in Peck's and their wine cellar is also very impressive.
We bought a ticket for the roof top tour of the Duomo, and so happy we did. It took thousands of workers, a new canal system and over six centuries to complete the construction which started in 1386. This is a must see while in Milan.
After taking a shower, we walked to the Duomo (Milan Cathedral). Bless that man that was dust mopping the alter in the church. I was trying to take a photo without him. He must be in everyone's photo :-)

This photo was taken in front of our hotel on Montenapoleone after a tour of Milan in this vintage Fiat on Day 2. What it lacked in comfort was made up getting cozy with our tour guide Luca who was awesome. We felt like celebrities with people taking our picture..lol. I didn't take pictures but our tour took us past Sforza Castle, the Montenapoleone luxury district, the Brera art district, the Scala Opera House, Milan Roman Area and much more.

After a sunny ride in the Fiat, I refreshed at Teatro Alla Scala.
This fort was a free attraction and a popular place to visit in Milan. 

Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie is where the "The Last Supper" is displayed. It is a "fresco" mural which was done by painting water-based pigments on freshly applied plaster. The word fresco comes from the Italian for "fresh". There are certainly advantages and disadvantages of fresco painting. 
We had dinner one evening at Cracco's in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II, and I MUST find a way to duplicate this risotto. It tasted like sun-dried tomatoes, so I will start with that. Joe's margherita pizza was amazing also. Our son's co-worker from Italy recommended Cracco's, and I'm so glad he did. 

Of course we had to try the limoncello in Italy. I've only had it once before.
The beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II which is one of the oldest shopping centers. 
The day we were leaving Milan to travel to Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, they were setting up for fashion week outside our hotel. I wish we could have stayed to see more, but we did get to see the "interesting" clothing in the windows of the stores and some of the models walking the cobblestone roads. We are now off to Italy's most beautiful lake - Lake Como.
We were transported by bus to Tremezzo and visited Villa Carlotta which is known for it's lovely setting and splendid 17th century gardens decorated with sculptures, stairways and fountains. 

 While in Bellagio, one must buy a silk scarf as a souvenir. 
We are off to Lake Como.
On the Lake Como cruise (very popular way to get around), we passed George Clooney's house. We were told that Brad Pitt is a frequent visitor, but recently Jennifer Aniston has also been seen hanging out there (with Brad).

The Milanese have second homes at the lakes where they escape to on the weekends. It's about an hour drive from Milan to Lake Como. This photo was taken from our balcony on Lake Maggiore at Belle Epoque hotel in Stresa. Lake Como has a Mediterranean micro climate with a lot of rain due to the mountains, and also lots of sunshine.   

We traveled by boat to Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore and the exquisite Villa Borromeo on a tiny, private island. Count Vataliano Borromeo began the construction of this Baroque palace and gardens in 1632. We then took a boat to Isola Pescatori where we had lunch before returning to lovely Stresa. 
After spending the morning in Isola Bella, Joe and I decided we'd like to experience a change in elevation. The Mottarone Cable Car departs every 20 minutes from the Lido in Stresa and is one of the best ways to view Lake Maggiore. The first stage of the cable car took us to Alpino where, a 5 minute stroll from the cable car station, you will find the Alpine Gardens. Covering nearly 10 acres, the Alpine gardens are well worth a visit and are a welcome break from the heat in the summer. We wandered around the terraces, reaching a view point where we could admire the lake and the surrounding mountains. There were Alpine and Sub-Alpine species from the West, but also from China and Japan. The second stage of the cable car took us to Mottarone where, a 10/15 minute walk took us to the summit. From there we had a 360° view which includes 7 lakes and the beautiful Mount Rosa. And we stopped at the little "country" cafe for a selfie with pinnochio. 
After a 10 minute walk back to our hotel, we are back to palm trees and relaxing for the rest of the evening. We even ordered pizza room service this evening. We enjoyed the walking we did in Italy, some days 16,000 steps. We ate non-stop (it seemed), and after all that walking for two weeks, I lost four pounds.
Don't you think retirement looks good on Joe? :-) He retired in June, and this was his well-deserved retirement trip. 
Each morning started with cappuccino, and this particular day, we were packing our suitcases in Stresa and headed to Verona for two nights.
Beautiful morning sunrise in Stresa. 

In my next post, I will take you to Verona and Bologna. 

Did you know that most families in Milan have downsized and are having only one child? 

Truthfully nothing is like the Grand Hotel et de Milan where we stayed and which has old world charm, a great bar, excellent breakfast room, impeccable caring service, kind hearted people and an easy going feeling of a beautiful home away from home. The hotel in Milan was a beautiful rose in the nicest neighborhood in all of Milan and directly across the street from Via Montenapoleone (the famous street of Fashion designers). Verdi lived in this hotel and it has a long history of illustrious guests. 

Debbie@Mountain Breaths
Debbie@Mountain Breaths

Hello, I'm Debbie.I enjoy hiking, kayaking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the Adirondack Mountains (thus Mountain Breaths). I live in Upstate NY with my supportive husband and have three precious sons..


  1. I say you don't need a camera.The phone takes FAB pics.
    I think everything Joe does is pretty sweet.
    This trip is the icing on his 5 star hubby cake.
    All the pics are lovely..you both look so happy.

  2. Looks like you had a blast! Such a fun surprise:@)

  3. I don't how you managed to capture this fantastic photo journal so succinctly, but you did, Debbie. Absolutely dreamy, each and every location.

  4. Wow! Definitely a trip of a lifetime! Joe did an amazing job of planning and choosing such magnificent places to visit! All the photos of the two of you are so cute :) Thank you so much for all the eye candy and the virtual trip!

  5. Deb... first of all your photos are fantabulouso!! The food pics had me drooling. How sweet of Joe to surprise you! What a wonderful post. I sent your link to my Mr. Can't wait to see pics from the rest of your trip! Have a great weekend. You should use the pic of the two of you in front of the LOVE sign for your Christmas card!! Ciao!!

  6. I just love this part of the world! So glad you took the tour to the top of the Duomo in Milan - some day they won't allow that anymore and I just thought it was so amazing - such detail everywhere.
    The risotto sounds out of this world. I hope you develop the recipe.
    Sure looks like some of the MC's got to vacation with you!
    Can't wait to see more. I have been off Instagram for a while so missed a bit, but can't wait to see the rest. You could live in Italy for years and never see it all.


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