Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Varenna, Lake Como & Emero Gaudio - A View From The Top

By Rail - It's A One Minute Stop On The Wandering Nomad's Road Less Traveled
It must be stated from the outset that I have a soft spot in my heart for Varenna, Italy. Even though we landed in and enjoyed the sites, food and architecture of the very cosmopolitan Milan, our eyes blinked and our hearts leaped at  the first site of Lake Como from the "left side" of the train as we rounded the last bend heading into this small lakeside town of eight hundred. Varenna, strategically located on the shores of Lake Como, was to be our first real experience of the Italy we had read and dreamed about.  And to arrive at this small, less visited part of the Italian Lake District by train,  we felt like actors in a 1940's romance novel. We knew we were not in Kansas or Tampa any more!

Back in Milan, still not acclimated to the ways of this great country, we apprehensively searched for our train to Varenna. Then I remembered the advice of travel guru Rick Steves specific to Varenna. Destination Varenna appears nowhere on the computerized Arrivals/Departure screens in Milan's Central Station. And the train station in Varenna is actually called  Varenna-Esino. And the train stops literally for one minute. And, if you do not get off quickly, you will end up in the next town. And you will have to backtrack. So, like the good readers of Rick Steves we are, we did pay attention and got off at the right place. Stupendo! The adventure was officially underway.

So now what? Here we are, two Americans who, despite many hours of self taught language lessons, had come to the realization that Italians don't actually talk like they do on the CD, and we still have to get to our hotel. So, like all Nomads worth their salt, we pressed on, found a taxi, amazing in such a small town, gave him the name of our hotel in letter perfect Italian of course, and headed out for our first Nomad Night in the land of amore. In a few minutes we arrived at the end of a small gravel road and a large gate. After retrieving our luggage, we pushed the button to request entry. The gate opened and we came face to face with a mode of vertical transportation that I had read about and seen in photographs but never actually seen up close and personal. Yes, to get up to this small mountainside boutique hotel, you must take not one, but two funiculars. A funicular is essentially an inclined rail car or lift used to traverse very steep slopes.  Ascending to the hotel in this thoroughly romantic mode of travel, Lake Como and the surrounding mountains came into view. As an architect and nomad, I found this mode of travel to be utterly sublime. It was as if some elegant time machine arrived from up the mountain to take us to another place far far away. Molto cool!
And it was far far away. This small boutique hotel of only twenty three rooms  is in a repurposed orphanage and monastery built between 1400 and 1800 by the Pirelli Tire family.With thirteen rooms perched on the side of a steep, cascading mountain, surrounded by ancient cedar trees, killer views of Lake Como and clear, cool mountain air that can be enjoyed from your small private balcony or from the hotel's main terrace, we felt like we were, indeed, masters of our very own domain.The hotel also has ten rooms at a lower elevation for those who just can't stand being on top of their own little world. 
If You Are Gonna Sleep In An Ancient Monastery - It Should Be Thoroughly Modern, Right?
In architecture, fashion, cars, art and food, the Italians have contributed to the betterment of world culture for centuries. And they have continued this tradition of excellence in modern design as well. Hotel Emero Gaudio has adroitly overlaid and inserted a simple modern design motif, comprised of white walls, tile floors and minimalist furniture, into the rough hewn stone walls and arched walkways of a 600 year old hand made masonry monolith. This duality of design is not some aesthetic trick but rather a merging of modern and ancient forms to create personal and public spaces of serenity and elegance. And the bathrooms? I have posted before about the need Americans have for large stuff and that certainly applies to bathrooms. All one needs to do is walk through a "Parade of Homes" McMansion and see what falso opulence and garish design can accomplish for people with too much money and too little restraint. For those who are so inclined, the Emero Gaudio will not be your kind of place. The bathrooms continue the clean lines found in the rooms. Small and efficient, they are more than adequate to meet the needs of tired and/or dirty Nomads in need of life's basic needs for cleanliness and refreshment. And the price for these elegantly styled, comfortable rooms with a view to die for? A mere $135 euro per night. Even with the sorry state of the dollar, it's a steal.
And the design quality does not stop with the rooms. We have all heard the expression, usually expressed by architects, that a building has "good bones". Because of the original massive masonry structure, this characteristic is everywhere apparent to this Nomad. The public spaces have a character that continues the interplay of ancient stonework and modern plaster, tile work and minimalist detailing.
And Then There Is the Terrace

If the rooms are well appointed spaces of repose, then the main terrace is the crescendo  that gives one a sense of being on top of the world. First, the terrace is used for meals and simple relaxation with a glass of local vino and cheese. Our first night at the hotel, we chose to take our evening meal on the terrace. The food and the service were first rate, as we enjoyed the end of our first full day in this beautiful place. According to hotel staff, the terrace is a popular venue for various social functions such as receptions, weddings and other small group gatherings. But the real reason for the terrace? The view. With an incomparable vista of beautiful Lake Como and the snow capped Alps beyond, there is  no better way to enjoy the day with the one you love. Amore indeed!
As the sun set and the day  transitioned to evening, we retired to our room, tired from the day's travels, secure in the knowledge that we would wake up the next morning in a new hotel/monastery, on the side of a mountain with a breathtaking view of the incomparable Lake Como in a small Italian hamlet with all vestiges of jet lag completely vanquished. 
Next up. Day two - Varenna and the big lake.
Buono Sera,
D.L. Stafford
Travel Quote of The Week - “When you come to a fork in the road….take it” – Yogi Berra . Now that's some advice that any Nomad can take to heart.
Video Artist of The Week - Paul Simon. This singer/songwriter  and impresario of every genre of music imaginable is always worth a listen. The irony of You Can Call Me Al certainly makes one think and smile at the same time

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