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This week we return to the lakes of Northern Italy, to talk about Italy’s most well-known and glamorous of lakes – Lake Como. We learn what a ‘real lunch’ is, about hikes and huts, as well as the other side of Lake Como (literally).
In this episode, we talk to Isabella Panzeri, who runs tour company Orizzonti Lake Como specializing in outdoor activities and local food specialties (sunset aperativo sail anyone?) After years of traveling and living abroad, Isabella returned to, and fell deeply back in love with, her hometown on the lake and now she wants to share it with others, in many of the ways others on her travels had shared with her (hint – it often involves food!)
What you’ll learn in this episode
- The Villas alone are worth the trip to Lake Como, from Villa Balbianello with its curious round-topped tree (a location used in many movies) to Villa Carlotta with its huge, diverse, and very beautiful gardens
- Lake Como has a microclimate that is surprisingly humid/tropical, with its weather being very similar to that of the Mediterranean which you might not expect in an alpine location. This also means the gardens, like those at Villa Carlotta include lots of tropical plants
- Varenna and Bellano are great places to base yourself – they are both not only beautiful but because they are in the center of the lake and have fantastic transport links, you can so easily visit the rest of the lake. They are on the train line and many ferries that go every half an hour (every 15 minutes in high season)
- A quick lunch in this area is what most of us would consider a long lunch experience! The real lunch experience will include some antipasto, a couple of pasta dishes, a couple of main courses, dessert, wine, digestives. Go hungry to these agroturismos or mountain huts – and of course, a nice mountain walk before and after helps!
- There’s nothing like experiencing the lake on one of the gorgeous Venetian-style wooden boats. Aside from being able to access the towns and villas easily, in the most glamorous way – on a practical level, it’s not so easy/enjoyable taking the ferries in high season as it gets incredibly busy
- Isabella runs sunset aperativo sailboat tours – with gourmet treats! It’s not only peaceful, as the lake activities have by then died down and most of the motorboats are gone – but so romantic that they’ve had quite a few proposals!
About our guest – Isabella Panzeri
She studied foreign languages and business management, far away from her little town and studied furniture design at Politecnico di Milano for 5 years. After her degree she made her Australian dream come true and lived there for 2 years on a working holiday visa. Her travels took her all over, including around Europe, Thailand, Bali, the US, and New Zealand (where she found the best inspiration for the shape of her business). Upon returning home (as this article describes) she experienced her hometown with new eyes and decided she had to do something to call all the people she’d met on her travels to come and see her incredible hometown.
All her travels and experiences led to her designing what is now her Local Travel Boutique on Lake Como. Having always found wonderful people and connections on her travels, she wanted to be that same wonderful companion here in her hometown.
Isabella runs Orizzonti Lake Como with her business partner Frederica Pozzi – Gastronomy Expert & Travel Consultant.
Orizzonti has grown to specialize in outdoor activities and local food specialties, including organizing some special experiences, such as night hikes in the mountains with dinner at a hut or night cycles from Lecco to Milano (departing at midnight and arriving at sunrise at Duomo). Both with official guides and necessary assistance and stops with food to keep going. Orizzonti has been an official travel agency and tour operator since 2019 and is also a DOCG Local Travel Boutique and Advisor (like a DOCG wine).
They mainly create outdoor activities and experiences in order to Meet, Learn and Live Lake Como. They don’t want people taking only pictures back home, but also stories and curiosities to tell.
You can find Isabella on these channels:
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/orizzontilakecomo
Places mentioned in the show
- Lecco – Isabella’s home town – with centuries of history like that of the Duchy of Milan with the Visconti family and from the times of Spanish and Austrian domination
- Como – historic, grand city which was popular to visit on the Grand Tour and retains it’s popularity and glamour today
- Villa Balbianello – a famous movie location, this elegant villa starred in the movies Casino Royale and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
- Villa Carlotta – 17th century villa with a small collection of restored rooms and much larger and stunning gardens (enjoy the views from the balcony of boats darting across the lake from town to town)
- Bellagio – the pearl of the lake and probably the most popular spot and can get very crowded and is pricey to stay
- Varenna – an old fishing village with its central location and great transport lakes is a good place to stay
- Colico – the northernmost town
- Bellano – a beautiful town on the eastern coast of the lake with an impressive lake promenade and ravine in the historic center
- Mennagio – located in the center of the lake with gorgeous waterfront
- Gravedona – lovely town in the north part of the lake
- Wayfarer’s Path (Sentiero del Viandante) – an ancient route to countries beyond the Alps along the eastern side of Lake Como. Around approx. 40 km, goes from Abbadia Lariana to Piantedo in Sondrio province.
- Mandello del Lario – town overlooking Lake Como
- La Selvaggia – agroturismo serving up amazing ‘proper’ lunch with local specialty food, wine and digestives
Food & Drink
- bresaola – air-dried, salted beef
- pesce in carpione – means preserving fish (pesce, in Italian) by cooking and then marinating it is usually served cold and is amazing as both a starter and main course. Using little Agoni fish
- ragù di cinghiale – wild boar pasta
- lavarello – a lake fish
- cassoulet – sausage stew – more prevalent in winter
- digestive drinks:
- Grappa – produced from the leftovers of pressed grapes. Normally clear in colour although it can be flavored with various fruits such as blueberries, apples and pears etc and with a high alcohol content
- Amaro – an Italian liqueur infused with herbs with a bitter-sweet taste.
- Disaronno – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disaronno
- Amaro Montenegro – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaro_Montenegro
- sagra – an Italian food festival
- panino alla nutella – little sweet treat filled with nutella (hazelnut paste)
- affettato – sliced, cured meat – when served on a platter is Affettati misti
- FAI – the Italian National Trust. Founded in 1975, FAI takes care of special places throughout Italy
- Taxi Boat Varenna – go on a tour in their beautiful, elegant water taxis
- The Grand Tour – the 17th and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip through Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank.
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find out more about how to make the most of a short visit to Lake Como and visit Northern Italy’s lesser-known Lake Orta.
- Listen: discover episode about other sites and towns near Lake Como – Episode #072: Magical Lake Maggiore, Episode #041: Beautiful Bergamo – gateway to the Alps, Episode #055: Picturesque Piedmont – lesser known region of wine and truffles! and Episode #064: Stunning South Tyrol and The Dolomites
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.