Arriving at around 9am at Bari left us some time to explore the city a little before catching our train to Milan due to depart at 12.45. Having stopped to enjoy some coffee and fruit juice, we meandered around the old town exploring its narrow streets, cool in the hot morning sunshine for a little while. We were struck by the profusion of little shrines lovingly decorated and dedicated to a variety of saints related to the area.
Heading slowly into the newer parts of the city which grew up nearer the station we were struck by the handsome wide boulevards lined by palm trees, giving welcome shade in the heat.
On our way we looked out for fruit & veg shops and ‘alimentari’to buy provisions for our long train journey to Milan, covering almost the entire length of Italy. A journey that was to take around 9 hours!
We reached Milan in the evening but in time to check in to our airbnb host, Stephania, who welcomed us to her beautifully presented home around 30 minutes walk from Milano Centrale station.
A little time in Milan then up to Lago di Como
For a long time I have wanted to see some innovative buildings in Milan called ‘Il Bosco Verticale’ (vertical forest) situated a short distance from Porta Garibaldi station. Since our train to Como departed from that same station it was an ideal time for an explore.
These two blocks of flats, completed in 2014 were designed as a template for sustainable high density city living. Their defining feature were a series of balconies on each floor especially strengthened to take the weight of fully grown trees. These are watered by an irrigation system utilising rainwater collected in huge undergound tanks. Solar pv panels supply power to the buildings and at the base of each building a large secure compound for bicycles of those living in the building.
The trees not only have a significant cooling effect on the apartments in the building, but they have been found to significantly improve air quality in the immediate surroundings. As reported in a number of archtectural publications, the residents love living there. You can read further about the buildings from this link to the RIBA international awards website
The whole area is very attractive with lots of trees and specially planted areas managed as wildflower meadows.
Not far from this oasis of greenery was the amazing area around the Garibaldi station which is also worth exploring, including an artwork installation that incorporated trumpets and corresponding listening tubes installed down the sides of an atrium area going down some 5 floors. We first saw this on a previous trip in 2009 when we passed through Garibaldi station so we were able to say hello again.
Also there, was the first ever “Eataly” store to be set up, featuring a huge variety of the glorious food available from Italy over three floors. This now international chain celebrates all the best ‘slow food’ that Italy has to offer and apparently there is now a branch in London.
Catching one of the many local trains running to Como was very simple, especially since the TrenItalia app we use generated virtual tickets to use on the train on our mobile phone.
However, Abi & Guy had located a campsite for their mobile home at Dongo some 30km up the lake from Como itself, so we needed to catch a bus to get there. Normally this would be no problem since on weekdays there is an hourly service and frequent ferry boats ply up and down the lake.
We discovered that the online ticket site for the lake ferryboats had sold out on tickets for the day, so a bus it had to be. We then discovered on Sundays that the bus frequency drops down to one bus every 2 hours. And there were an awful lot of people who were gathered in a melée outside the station.
Once the bus arrived there was a real scrum to board, but Molly’s crowd-weaving skills came to the fore and she managed to get in to the bus to claim our two seats. Being a little less assertive I was some way behind in the crowd, but just managed to climb aboard before the last few standing places were taken.
I pitied the poor bus driver who had to manage all of this as well as turning a bit of a blind eye to the supposed maximum capacity of the bus. Off we went, passing lots of frustrated potential passengers as the bus whizzed by, filled to the gunwales and unable to squeeze anybody else in.
A few days on the shore of Lago di Como and Lago d’Orta
We arrived at Dongo approximately on schedule and got off at the road that led to the campsite where Abi and Guy had booked 3 days with their motorhome. The campsite led directly into the Lake Como and it was lovely to be able to swim in the clear water of the lake, being able to float and gaze upon the mountains surrounding the lake.
Lake Como has a reputation of beauty and it didn’t disappoint. One can understand why it is such a tourist honeypot. Fortunately, this time of year was not considered high season and it didn’t seem over crowded at all.
Abi and Guy had a paddleboard with them, packed away in the ‘garage’ of their motorhome. Once inflated, it meant we could all enjoy the sensation of precariously balancing on a floating platform whilst paddling on the lake. Abi and Guy had both acquired the skills so were quite proficient at stand up paddling, but I never got above paddling whilst kneeling. Molly, after a few practices learnt how to stand whilst paddling without falling off!
We had a lovely two days at Dongo, before moving on to another lake not far away, that had been recommended to us by friends of Liz (from Rezzo) whom we stayed with a few weeks before.
Lago d’Orta is smaller than Como, and is much less well known, although arguably more attractive. We stayed at Petanasco, a small village approximately half way along the lake to spend a couple more enjoyable days exploring the area.
Orta, nearby, is a beautiful old town, situated on an isthmus jutting, thumblike into the lake. It is also the major terminus for the various ferryboat routes that serve the towns and villages up and down the lake. We spent a happy day exploring its old narrow streets and walking up to the top of the hill that lay behind and above the town.
We also managed to take advantage of the ferryboat that serves Orta, as well as calling in to Isiola San Giulio a tiny island that boasts a nunnery, a school a few homes and a small souvenir shop all linked by a single street that circles the island.
After three relaxing days at Lago d’Orta it was time to head off northwards and make our way in the motorhome northwards through Switzerland and to France.