Lake Como glints like a polished sapphire under the summer sun. All around it, the emerald embrace of Alps and hills shelters the waters. As the ferry leaves the ochre and orange houses of Varenna, the sounds of life fade into nothingness, replaced only by the guttural squawking of passing birds.
I don’t do boats very well, but the ferry linking Varenna to Bellagio is an exception. A small, serviceable boat, it is not big on cruiseship luxury — despite attracting the summer crowds, its main function is to save local villagers hours of twists and bends on the road — but makes up for it with perhaps the best views of the lake from its rather Spartan seats.
A last look towards Varenna takes in the jumbled streets running down the promontory to the lake, the riot of colours of the (former) fishermen’s houses and, tall and spiky, the dirt-white silhouette of the belfry of San Giorgio. Then there’s only the heart of the lake, that small stretch were it widens into a semblance of the sea before forking into three narrow legs, north to Colico and south to Como and Lecco. It is water and trees, birds and plump, white clouds, piercing sun and a periwinkle sky.
And just before I have time to grow tired of the hundred shades of blue that lie above and below me, a tiny cluster of red roofs in the distance resolves into the taupe and pale pink houses of Bellagio. Here comes the graceful bulk of the 19th century Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, a masterpiece of yellow grandeur on the finger of wooded land that protrudes into the lake; the serene proportions of the Neoclassical palazzos that line the waterside promenade; and behind them, the proud cypresses that cast their shade over the smaller village houses.
With the heave and a sigh, the ferry reaches the jetty, white on black stilts. The journey ends but another, up the steep, cobbled lanes and sculpture-studded gardens of Bellagio, promises to begin.
The ferry service from Varenna to Bellagio starts at 7am (7.55am on weekends) and ends at 10.35pm (12.50am on a Saturday). It costs €3.50 for adults and €2 for children. For further information and to check the timetable, visit www.navigazionelaghi.it/home_e.html