Lake Como, St. Moritz and The Bernina Express
Experience more with so much included
Italypresents a great diversity of people; food and wines; iconic architecture; footprints of ancient and medieval civilisations and a huge variety of scenery ranging from almost desert to lofty mountains. There is no one thing or region that defines Italy but in the north, its lakes reflect the magnificent Alps,so high they appear to puncture the sky!
On this wonderfully varied tour we explore Lake Como, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, plus some stunning icons of northern Italy and Switzerland. Described by Wordsworth as a treasure the earth keeps to itself, visitors have been attracted to the lake for centuries in search of relaxation, culture and inspiration. Both Verdi and Rossini worked in lakeside villas here, together with countless poets. Its atmosphere is one of an eerie, near-silence, broken only by the rhythmic lapping of gentle waves on the lake shore whilst above, birds of prey soar on the numerous thermals generated by the gentle mountain breezes. The scenery is just awesome with the mirror-like, deep blue waters reflecting the surrounding hills and snow-capped peaks dotted with tall, typically Italian, ochre and magenta coloured buildings and opulent villas lining the lakeside itself. Majestic mountains rise almost vertically towards the deep blue sky with the lower slopes covered in lush vegetation, adding an invigorating aromatic backdrop to a most harmonious scene.
ARRIVAL AT LAKE COMO
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Milan from where you will be taken to your choice of hotel. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure, allowing you time to settle into the hotel and start exploring if you wish.
LAKE COMO & BELLAGIO
Lake Como, one of the deepest in Europe, has been beloved of romantics since the famous Roman chronicler Pliny wrote of its luxuriant beauty and it has inspired some of the best works by greats such as Verdi and Rossini. A favourite of Shelley and Wordsworth, the delights of Lake Como are many and varied and this morning you can enjoy one of its many highlights, a private boat and tour of the beautiful, 18th century Villa del Balbianello, one of the finest villas surrounding the lake. Originally built for a cardinal, it features a renowned collection of art and historic furniture, ironically much of it English, including an oak bureau from Nelsons flagship HMS Victory. The gardens are equally stunning, being a series of manicured terraces full of fragrant roses and colourful borders, dominated by a classic three arched loggia, and all creatively planted using the rugged topography to great effect.
The boat then takes us to the elegant and exclusive resort of Bellagio which, with its idyllic location on a promontory on the lake, is often described as the most beautiful town in Italy, and when you see it you will almost certainly agree! Once the haunt of European monarchs, today the attractive, pastel-coloured buildings, faded by decades of sunshine, line the lake shore and narrow cobbled streets and lanes climb their way to the hilly centre. Awash with colourful flowers Bellagio cannot be bettered for a long lazy lunch in one of the many lakeside restaurants, followed by a stroll perhaps amongst the many typically formal Italian gardens so beloved of romantics over the centuries, sprinkled as they are with fine, 18th century sculpture. Spend the afternoon exploring at your own pace before returning to your resort by boat when you wish.
(Subject to availableboat timetable)
THE BERNINA EXPRESS
Today, we enjoy a contrasting day of spectacular scenery and extraordinary Swiss engineering. Firstly we ascend up the Valtellina, a classic alpine valley with soaring peaks rising steeply on both sides toTirano, where we board the famous Bernina Express. One of the slowest express trains in the world, this remarkable Swiss train twists upwards in an amazing sequence of spirals, loops and tunnels to the summit at Ospizio Bernina, the highest through station in Europe. Here, you are surrounded by stunning vistas over snow-clad peaks and ice-cold glacial lakes which strikingly mark the watershed between Mediterranean and Black Sea river systems. We descend sinuously through pretty pastures and dense pine forests to the ostentatiously chic resort of St Moritz, home of the infamous Cresta Run toboggan track, where theres time for a spot of window shopping or perhaps afternoon tea and cake. Listen carefully and you may notice a rather unusual tongue: here, in this tiny corner of Switzerland, the locals speak Romansch, an ancient and little known Latin language. We return through yet more spectacular scenery to Lake Como for dinner.
LAKE MAGGIORE & STRESA
Today we visit nearby Lake Maggiore and its most attractive lakeside town, Stresa, which owes its origin to the days of the Grand Tour when Europes 19th century aristocracy, having crossed the border from Switzerland, experienced their first taste of Italy! Unmistakably Mediterranean in character, its shores, lined with oleanders and palms, backed by classic belle poque hotels create an ambience of classic gentility. Take a stroll along its impressive palm-lined promenade and enjoy the fine views across the shimmering lake to the Borromean Islands just offshore. You can also take the short boat trip to Isola Bella, an island transformed by a 17th century count, from a barren rock into an amazing terraced garden. This stunning display has long been visited by the famous, amongst them Queen Caroline of England, wife of George IV, plus Napoleon and Josephine. For the literary enthusiasts, you can relax at the bar of the Grand Hotel, featured in Hemingways A Farewell to Arms and also frequented by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin.
Today you are free to explore as you wish. Enjoy a delicious Italian coffee in one of the pleasant cafs. Alternatively you may decide to take the boat to the lakeside town of Como or visit the gardens of Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo.
This morning we travel to Lugano, capital of the Italian speaking canton of Ticino which was seized by the Swiss in 1512 and has steadfastly refused any opportunity to revert to Italy ever since! It is absolutely fascinating, an eclectic mix of traditional Swiss values and the more laid-back Latin influences from across the border. The trains run on time and shops are just as chic, but theres a distinctive Mediterranean feel unlike anything youll experience elsewhere in Switzerland. Tiny alleyways lead to unmistakably Italian piazzas, where you can relax over a typically Italian lunch, but like everywhere else in Switzerland, the traffic laws are obeyed without question – it really is a quirky blend! The town is a delight to explore being centred round the caf-lined main square, ideal to people-watch whilst enjoying a superb coffee. Alternatively, you can explore the myriad of twisting lanes of the old town or the dense network of shops with their displays probably unmatched anywhere in the world. Lugano is a lovely place to idly wander, before we enjoy yet more outstanding scenery on our return journey to our hotel for dinner.
This morning we travel to Monza, a hidden gem south of Lake Como. While the town is best known for its racetrack, nestled within Europes largest walled park, it has a lot more to offer.
The Gothic cathedral is a highlight, with the beautifully frescoed Teodolinda Chapel housing a priceless Medieval iron crown believed to have been made from one of the nails used on Christ’s cross, plus of course Monza Park. Commissioned in 1805 to exceed Versailles in size, this sprawling park includes several distinct areas: landscaped gardens and wild meadows surrounding the imposing Royal Villa in the south, a wooded area in the north, and course the home of the Italian grand prix, the legendary Monza Circuit, built in 1922, part of which is visible from the park itself.
We will have free time here to explore the town and park, or perhaps just experience this typically Italian town like a local would by enjoying a pleasant stroll, followed by a coffee in one of the pavement cafes dotted around the pedestrianised town centre. We return to our hotel in the afternoon
We return to the airport at the appropriate time for our flight home after a memorable and varied tour.