After two years of pandemic-imposed travel restrictions, Lorenza Bacino enjoys an extended trip to Lake Como, the Cinque Terre and Sardinia with her teenage daughter…
It was with some trepidation that I embarked upon a month-long trip with my 16-year-old daughter as a post-exam treat.
She’d been involved in the decision-making from the start, using Tiktok and Instagram for inspiration and, despite my reservations, I was impressed by her choices and happy to revisit places from my own childhood travels with my parents.
We began in pretty Menaggio, midway up the western shore of Lake Como, opposite the more renowned Bellagio.
With a backdrop of craggy lush green mountains and low-slung clouds, it has a relaxed vibe and we found the main Piazza Garibaldi the perfect place to arm ourselves with a gelato ahead of a lakeside stroll to take in the magnificent views, and also the colourful and perfectly manicured flowerbeds along the promenade.
Our AirB&B was a steep climb up to the top of the town, and with buses few and far between, this was a little challenging in the intense summer heat.
On the plus side, the views across the lake in the early morning and evening were stunning and the Ristorante Pizzeria right next door provided an equally gorgeous perspective, with warm jasmine-scented breezes wafting in and delicious desserts to boot.
Bellagio oozes elegance and charm, like a mini lakeside Milan. We explored the bustling steep cobbled streets with their hidden artisanal shops where you find local watercolour paintings, printed silk scarves and other speciality shops.
If you fancy a swim in the cool clear waters of the lake, head to La Punta, past the restaurant of the same name, and descend the cobbled steps towards the water where you’ll enjoy stunning views across the three branches of the lake.
We enjoyed a refreshing swim together with the resident swans and ducks. If travelling with children and teens, don’t expect sandy beaches and easy access. It’s well worth finding access points whenever and wherever you can as the lake is fresh and deep and most luxurious in the summer heat.
The highlight for us in Bellagio was the magnificent Villa Melzi with its stunning gardens replete with classical statues.
The villa was the summer residence of Francesco Melzi D’Eril, who was the vice president of the Napoleonic Italian Republic between 1802 and 1805. These peaceful gardens are a welcome refuge from the narrow, crowded streets of the town centre. Breathe in their beauty and be still.
Instead of heading back towards the centre of town, continue your walk through the gardens and exit at the opposite end in Loppia. (Your ticket allows multiple entry throughout the day). You’ll come to some steep, stony steps on your left which lead to the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Loppia.
Turn left at the top to find a hotel and restaurant called Silvio where we enjoyed a wonderful lazy meal under the pergola and far from the madding crowd, gazing across the lake. It’s been run by the same family for more than a century and specialises in local cuisine and lake fish.
Charming Varenna’s Villa Cipressi botanical gardens are a must see. Access them via the Hotel reception and follow the sign-posted circuit to reach the Giant Magnolia, which is more than two hundred years old. QR codes give valuable explanations of the various plants, which include hydrangeas, palms and cacti.
The nearby Hotel Royal Victoria offers a shady veranda for a restorative drink and a snack. Descend the steps through the wrought-iron gates to a small pebbly beach and enjoy a cool dip before heading off. Climb the cobbled streets and seek quieter places to eat as we found visitors tended to throng along the lakeside without exploring further afield.
Top tips for Lake Como
Getting around: Navigating the Lake from the water is the best way to sight-see, and the very efficient ferry service from the quays offers an extensive timetable that will take you to all the towns we’ve mentioned here. There are hop-on-hop-off ticket options if you lack time.
Lido Life: The Lido di Menaggio was the perfect place to end the afternoon after a busy day sightseeing. There is a pool with sunbeds as well as easy lake access for those who prefer lake swimming. Dogs are welcome and there is a shady grassy area to relax on too. After 4pm is when you get discounts (€10 with a lounger). Enjoy a well-deserved aperitivo.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo: Five-star Grand Hotel Tremezzo on the Lake is truly elegant tourism and perfect for a special occasion. Porsches from Germany glide silently in and out, reminding you of Lake Como’s status as an expensive and exclusive destination.
Villa Carlotta: Villa Carlotta in the village of Tremezzo with its enchanting gardens was a definite highlight and deserving of a couple of hours of your time and attention. There is a stunning array of bamboos, rhododendrons, pines, palms and ferns. Trickling streams, reminiscent of a lush rain forest, provide welcome shade in the heat of the day. A glass lift takes you down from the gardens to the exit.
Colourful Manarola in Liguria’s Cinque Terre was our home on this leg of the trip. Our AirB&B was located near the Duomo at the top of the village, and was more tranquil than the bustling areas lower down towards the water.
There isn’t a traditional swimming beach in Manarola, in contrast to Monte Rosso’s large sandy beach, but the harbour has great deep-water swimming for the more adventurous.
A ladder provides easy access to the water, and craggy rocks offer jumping opportunities that are certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s full of young people enjoying the vibe but there are no life guards and you need to be a confident swimmer.
For a quieter more relaxing swimming experience, take the coast path to the right, up towards the Nessun Dorma restaurant, and continue just around the bend. There is a cove of deep clear dark blue water – the most gorgeous spot for a twilight swim as the sun sets over the mountains opposite.
My teen is a real foodie and she booked herself a pesto-making class at the very fancy Nessun Dorma restaurant, just on the cliff edge with beautiful views across the town.
Pesto is the region’s speciality and the experience proved an enormous success. “It just makes supermarket pesto taste awful,” she concluded.
Simone and his team transmit their passion, explaining the provenance and the story of the ingredients. She learned about the oxidisation process that changes the initial bright green pesto to a darker green. All in all, an interesting, informative and fun experience, she told me.
It was also hard work using the Carrara marble mortar and wooden pestle to achieve the desired creamy texture, using the best pine nuts from the area as well as a mixture of pecorino and parmesan cheese.
I joined in for a generous aperitif once the pesto was made. This included bruschetta and local white wine, as well as a tagliere of various prosciutti, cheeses and focaccia – the perfect way to scoop up the freshly made pesto. The Pesto Lab experience costs €60 per person. For more, see www.nessundormacinqueterre.com
Another highlight was a magical Sunset Boat Tour from Riomaggiore. These small tours take up to a dozen people, serve wine and focaccia, and spend a couple of hours cruising up and down the coast of the Cinque Terre, where loud music and jokes abound.
Enjoy a number of swimming opportunities along the way. You begin as strangers and I guarantee you’ll leave the boat with new friends from around the world.
We met Canadians, Americans, Irish and more on ours. My daughter thought it was “the perfect holiday moment” as she plunged into the midnight blue velvety waters for a sundown swim.
We booked with 5 Terre View which has a small office in Riomaggiore’s harbour and their boat is fully electric. For more options, visit www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/boat-excursions.
Top tips for Cinque Terre
Boat tours: We used Pelagos boat tours and the knowledgeable and passionate Captain Cosimo for a morning tour. We took a dip in the Punta Mesco area where no anchor is allowed due to the protected posidonia oceanica seagrass. See coves and caves along the way and a view of all five villages. The tour starts and ends in Manarola.
La Regina di Manarola pizzeria: At the top of Manarola you’ll find the quirky La Regina di Manarola pizzeria on four external levels with its distinctive décor. The pizzas are gourmet indeed and the desserts are ‘Massimo Bottura’ inspired. Expect to spend €25 per head.
Friends and family joined us for the final leg of our journey to Sardinia. The unassuming little town of Lotzorai is located on the central eastern coast, near Arbatax with its famous red rocks.
My Italian family has been visiting the campsite ‘Le Cernie’ for decades and I can understand why. The campsite extends under a luxuriant canopy of pine forest along a pleasant sandy beach, facing the island of Ogliastra, whose craggy rocks reflect the ever-changing orange hues of the sun’s rays.
The nearby picture postcard beaches of Lido di Orri’ and Cea with their resplendent white sands and emerald waters are simply sublime and only a short drive away, but my daughter saw no need to leave the campsite as she had all she wished for on the doorstep.
With an extended group of friends from all over Italy and further afield, a campsite raft provided endless entertainment for them all in the crystal sea, cycling, card games, beach volleyball at sundown and nightlife that included music and dancing on the beach till the early hours.
She was keen to come back from this trip fluent in Italian, and being here provided her with the full immersion experience she needed including Roman, Neapolitan and Milanese accents! The ‘gang’ expanded day by day as more teens arrived and were welcomed into the fold.
‘Le Cernie’ campsite is ideal for families and teens alike, with nearby sandy beaches and shallow waters as well as more rocky options suitable for snorkelling or scuba diving.
Accommodation includes mobile homes, caravans or simple plots for tents. Claudio’s restaurant within the campsite has the best seafood around and you need to book ahead.
Awaken to the smell of pine trees and the whisper of lapping waves – this place was the most perfect way to relax and round off our Italian summer experience.
Top tips for Sardinia
Santa Maria Navarrese: Santa Maria Navarrese is a nearby small town where you can enjoy traditional homemade ice-cream from the Mastro Gelataio next to the public gardens in the centre. For a glorious sunset dining experience, head up as far as you can go through town. You’ll reach the Sa Cadrea restaurant perched on the cliff edge at the top, with a large terrace overlooking the Gulf of Ogliastra. The sunset from up here is magical and the food and service very good too. Expect to pay at least €50 per head.
Nuraghe: No trip to Sardinia is complete without at least one visit to an ancient Nuraghe site. The most comprehensive one nearby is S’Ortali ‘e Su Monti. Our archaeological guide, Grazia, was passionate about her work and wove legend, fact and folklore into her narrative, bringing the stones to life for visitors. Book ahead and go early. It takes a couple of hours.
Getting there: EasyJet fly direct to Olbia or Cagliari from the UK or you can take the ferry over from the mainland. We travelled overnight from Genoa with Moby ferries which was a great experience in itself, arriving early in the morning in Olbia and picking up a rental car to take us to Lotzorai.
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All photos © Lorenza Bacino