The Gap Life Diaries | The Italian Lakes: Good enough for George Clooney, good enough for me.
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The Italian Lakes: Good enough for George Clooney, good enough for me.

As you all know well by now, I love going to new places. However, I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I’ve never been a big fan of the so called “stay-cation”. Rather than visiting my own country, I’ve always preferred to hop on a cheap flight and go to a European city for the weekend, I think because it always feels more exciting, more cultural, more…like a holiday, basically.

Now that I’ve been in Italy for a while, I’ve started to consider the place so much like home that I treat it much like I did England, at least when it comes to my holidaying habits. Sure, I’ve been to Florence and Cervinia to visit friends, and on day trips to the wine country or Milan, but whenever it comes to planning a weekend away, I’d just rather go somewhere else.

I tell you this because, this weekend, I realised that I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Last Tuesday was a bank holiday (meaning nobody worked on Monday either because, well, we’re in Italy) and I’d desperately wanted to make the most of the break and go away. I’d been looking at flights to pretty much anywhere in Europe, but essentially gave up because I just couldn’t afford anything (€400 flights, Ryanair? Seriously?). The Greek had already planned a weekend away to watch Moto GP in Tuscany with his favourite Man Friend, so I was all alone. In the end, it wasn’t a bad weekend at all. Actually, it was full of friends and cooking and organising and market shopping and Mexican food, so I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

However, at the end of my long and relaxing four-day break, when The Greek returned home, I started talking to him about how sooner or later I’d quite like to have a weekend away too. Nothing expensive, nothing crazy, just to escape the city for a couple of days. “How about this weekend?”, he asked. And quicker than you can say “no research whatsoever”, we booked a not-too-extortionate hotel on a hill above the Lago d’Orta – a place I’d only really heard of from my wedding planning days. Of course, I was more than a little bit intrigued to find out what all the fuss was about.

Well…..

Yeah. It’s basically the most picturesque place on earth.

To add to the fun, we’d decided to make this a motorbike adventure, despite a rather pessimistic weather forecast and the fact that the furthest I’d ever actually been on a motorbike was the Turin branch of IKEA. Although the first few minutes on the motorway were mildly terrifying, it was actually an incredible idea. Well, except for having to wear a leather jacket in 34 degree heat, and consequently feeling like a roasting chicken for two hours. That was less good. But riding along the lake front on a motorbike as the sun set did make me feel a lot like I was in a film, which I have to admit made me feel very cool.

We dropped our jackets off at our place for the night, the Hotel Panoramico, and once I’d managed to convince my hair that it didn’t really want to turn into a Persian rug, we headed off to what The Greek laughably kept referring to as the city.

In reality, it’s one square with some pretty, colourful houses and a few boats, with a single street which is barely wide enough for a car. Luckily, we weren’t after a metropolis, so we sat down and had the most delicious dinner at the Ristorante Venus, looking out over the ridiculously beautiful Isola di San Giulio.

If you’re planning a trip to the lakes, Sher She Goes has some great recommendations about where to stay in Lake Como.

As we enjoyed a post-dinner stroll down the (only) street and went on a hunt for some ice cream, The Greek brought to my attention a flash of lightning in the distance. As we watched the bad weather come swiftly closer, I started to regret our choice of vehicle. What ensued can only be described as a race against time* as we drove up the hill to shelter and away from the oncoming storm.

Safely back at the hotel, we watched from the balcony as the threatening storm came closer and closer…and then went away without even a drop of rain. Somewhat of an anticlimax, that.

Early the next morning, the sun was still out and we headed down to the city again for a nice, refreshing, iced coffee. I left The Greek for 2 minutes to order while I found a cash machine, and came back to find a coffee with a shot of Baileys in it. At 10am. I have no words.

After a short boat trip to the island of San Giulio, where we snooped on all the rich people’s roof terraces and boat garages (it’s a thing, I swear), we headed off again, this time towards a place right on the top of a hill, simply because the man at the hotel reception had mumbled something about a rollercoaster and we couldn’t resist.

As it turned out, this particular rollercoaster – AlpyLand – 1) was much more terrifying than it looked, and 2) had the most incredible view over another of the famous Italian lakes: Lago Maggiore.

Needless to say I do not have a photo from the ride, because I was far too busy holding on for dear life, but here’s one from beforehand:

After that little dose of adrenaline and having admired the view a little bit more, we decided to seek out some lunch. We were already half way to Lago Maggiore by now, so just decided to carry on in that direction. A little while later, after getting only ever so slightly lost, we pulled in to Lesa, a little village on the lake front, and sat down to a nice enough plate of spaghetti at pretty much the first outdoor seating area we came across.

Soon, it was time to knot-proof my hair and don my leather jacket again to get back on the motorway, direction: Torino. We’d actually only been away from home for just over 24 hours, but the weekend felt so long and so… holidayish.

I just can’t believe I’d never done something like this before – having no time is just not an excuse when amazing places like these are this close.

So what did I learn from my little mini-break?

Well, firstly, that sitting on a motorbike for two hours makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus the next day. Also, that some places really can live up to the hype, that you should never trust the weather forecast, that spontaneous plans always turn out to be the best ones, that you should never leave the Greek alone to order a coffee, and that, despite the hideous organisation and ludicrous quantities of paperwork, I’m definitely even more in love with Italy than ever before.

Cheesy, I know. But true.

*The phrase “race against time” has been used for dramatic effect, and we were definitely not going excessively fast. Calm down, Mum.

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