Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Europe (
-   -   Trip Report--Italian Riviera/Lake Como (

almesq Sep 16th, 2019 10:32 AM

Trip Report--Italian Riviera/Lake Como
Just returned from 11 day trip to Italy--spent 6 nights in Rapallo as base and then 5 nights on Lake Como. Will try not to make this too long, forgive me if I get too wordy, but wanted to give back since I got so much great info from here when planning the trip.

Took flight late Monday night, arrived Milan around 12:30 on Tuesday. Had rented car with Europcar through AutoEurope, so after clearing immigration and getting bags (which took very little time), made our way to rental car desk. After waiting a bit to see agent, took care of paperwork, went out to garage area and picked up car, loaded up and off we went. Everything went smoothly with rental car pickup, presented pre-paid AutoEurope voucher, was given the precise car we rented with no delay. Used Google maps to navigate, and easily made our way to Rapallo. Flight arrived at gate at about 12:30 and by 4 pm we had arrived in Rapallo. Very easy drive, no issues. When we picked up the car, they gave us the option to rent a Telepass for an extra 30 Euro (plus whatever tolls we used). Given that we had a few long trips planned (down to Rapallo, to Tuscany for one day trip, then up to Lake Como), we decided to do it, and was well worth it. Just zipped through the tolls in the Telepass lanes instead of having to wait in the full service lanes, some of which had long lines. Highly recommend this option if offered.

Chose Rapallo as our base for Italian Riviera due to easy travel connections, and we were very happy with our choice. Stayed at Excelsior Palace Hotel in Rapallo and really enjoyed the hotel. Got settled in a bit and headed out to grab a quick bite and check out the town to stay awake for a bit and ward off the jet lag.

DAY 1—Portofino
Did the walk from Rapallo to Portofino, took about 2 hours. Lovely walk along the water, through Santa Margherita Ligure. Set out from hotel about 8 am, arrived Portofino around 10. Portofino is beautiful. Strolled around the town, walked up to Castello Brown for the most amazing views of the town—well worth the walk up the hill and the modest entry fee. Headed back down into town, in and out of shops, looking at the boats, soaking it in. Had lunch at I Gemelli, very good. Friendly service, wonderful food, had a table outside right on the water. After spending some more time walking around, took the boat back to Rapallo, which was a nice trip. Got back to hotel and decided to relax a bit by the pool/beach club at the hotel to ward off the remaining jet lag and rest the feet after the long walk in the morning. Dinner at Hostaria Vecchia Rapallo, great food right in the heart of Rapallo, followed by gelato at La Carapina, right across the street from the restaurant. Gelato was great, became our go-to gelato place for the week.

DAY 2—Cinque Terre
Again, chose Rapallo because of the ease of transportation. Took train from Rapallo to Monterosso, quick and easy. Did the hike on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza (originally had planned on doing the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia, but had been checking status and that trail was still closed, so did this one instead). Enjoyable hike but not easy, first 30 minutes or so entirely uphill and up steep stone steps. Luckily there was a bit of cloud cover, but still a good workout. And the payoff was the view of Vernazza from the trail—truly gorgeous. The walk took a bit under 2 hours, giving us time to check out the town a bit before heading off for Manarola. Had read about a place in Manarola we wanted to try for lunch, so after spending some time in Vernazza, took quick train ride to Manarola. We had purchased online the Cinque Terre card, which gave access to the trails and the CT train for unlimited trips between the towns, and worked out great. Hopped a train to Manarola, and walked through town and up cliff to Nessun Dorma for lunch. Crowded spot—food is very good (no real kitchen—serve things like bruschetta, salads, meat/cheese plates, etc.) Perfect for lunch and the real draw is that it is on the cliff overlooking the town giving the classic view of Manarola. Great lunch, after which we headed back into town to check it out. Afterwards, hopped train for quick ride to Riomaggiore (again, the trails between Vernazza/Corniglia/Manarola/Riomaggiore remain closed for some time). Between the prior day’s walk and the hike to Vernazza, we didn’t have it in us to climb the hill up to the sanctuary, so after checking out the town a bit, headed back to the train and made our way back to Rapallo. Dinner at Nettuno Ristorante/Pizzeria. Had intended to try Bella Napoli, right near hotel, for pizza but turned out they were closed this evening so headed to Nettuno for pizza. Hotel concierge suggested it, saying that restaurant was a bit touristy but that the pizza was good, and both were true. Enjoyed the pizza. Strolled around town a bit more after dinner and of course more gelato! Also went to browse in a store called ParlaComeMangi, great store with local foods, wine, etc. Loved browsing and checking out some things to pick out to bring home for family and friends. (They also ship back to US which is very helpful, especially for wine.)

DAY 3—Panzano Tuscany
During our last trip (Florence/Bologna in 2016), we went to Panzano to have lunch at Solociccia (Dario Cecchini) restaurant, which was excellent. Originally on that trip, wanted to eat his steak meal in his shop, Officina della Bistecca, but decided not to make reservation as we were doing something that morning so didn’t want to be tied down to the reservation. So this time, made a reservation for the Officina to have the full steak meal. In looking around his website, I also noticed he had a butcher for a day workshop, which included the lunch afterwards. Being something of a foodie tied with the fact that I love to cook, decided to do this as well. Really glad we did it, was so much fun. Started at 10 am, and since we were a bit early, got to spend a few minutes talking with Dario then the person who was doing the class took us on a tour of the restaurant, kitchen etc. After that, went to a local farm to see how they raise the cows, then to the “fridge,” the cold room where they have the meat delivered and do all the butchering and we got to watch that as they explained what they were doing. Then back to the butcher shop where they put us to work helping to prepare the food for lunch and dinner that day (and also some food and wine tasting), followed by lunch. There were 2 other people in the workshop with us and they reserved great seats for us in the main room so we could watch them grill the beef, and they even brought out a few extra dishes for the 4 of us from the class. Was a fun day. Lunch was done around 3 or 3:30, then the drive back to Rapallo, arriving around 6 pm.

DAY 4—Genoa
Morning train to Genoa, again easy train ride from Rapallo. Went to the aquarium, checked out the old town, Via Garibaldi with some of the great historic villas, the Cathedral and just enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere. Being from New York, we had really enjoyed being in the smaller towns, and this was our “city day” for the trip. Not as quiet and peaceful, but a nice city to check out. Had a nice lunch by the water and just explored the city. Train back to Rapallo, relaxed for a bit by the pool (was a really hot day and did so much walking that it was nice to be able to cool off and relax for just a bit). Dinner this evening and Bella Napoli for pizza, which was excellent. Easy walk from hotel, friendly service, great value. Really enjoyed it (so much that we went back the next night also—so many great pizzas to choose from).

DAY 5—Rapallo
Weather reports had said heavy rain for the entire morning, so figured it would be a good time to relax a bit at the hotel, hit the spa for massages. Had been doing about 8-12 miles walking each day (except for our driving day to Tuscany), was a good way to recharge a bit for the rest of the trip. Rained all morning, but by the time we were done and ready to go, the sun was out so we went out to explore Rapallo. Took the cable car up to Montallegro, walked up to the sanctuary and walked around the trails a bit, checking out the great views. Back down into town a bit, then dinner again at Bella Napoli, and back to hotel to pack up as we were leaving the next morning for our drive to Lake Como for the next part of our trip.

Will continue the report of our Lake Como stay in a later posting on this thread.

Trophywife007 Sep 16th, 2019 03:37 PM

Hi Almesq: I've only had the chance to skim your report but It looks interesting from what I've seen. You must be the first person in history to actually receive the car you reserved. A great start for sure! Can't wait to get the chance to read in more detail. Thanks for writing.

almesq Sep 16th, 2019 04:06 PM

Yes, had some concerns about that, Had rented once before in Italy, with Avis also through AutoEurope. The car was fine, but the pick-up and drop-off were a mess, Avis totally messed it up. But this time it was easy, no problems at all and the car was fine. Will post the next part soon. Thanks for reading!

almesq Sep 17th, 2019 07:01 AM

Left Rapallo in the morning for the drive up to Lake Como, arriving just before lunch time. Stayed 5 nights at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, which was absolutely fantastic. Beautiful hotel, great grounds and facilities and outstanding service. Room was not ready so went to the “beach club” restaurant for lunch and then checked out the grounds a bit. After settling into room, since we had been driving/sitting all day, took a walk on the path up the hill behind the hotel for amazing views of the lake. Then checked out the area around the hotel, taking a nice walk along the lake, through a park. We had asked the hotel to make a reservation at Bilacus restaurant in Bellagio for dinner, so after checking out Tremezzo, hopped a ferry across to Bellagio. Walked around Bellagio, up and down the great stairways/alleys, looking at the shops, etc. Bilacus for dinner was excellent, and the hotel had arranged a great table outside on the terrace overlooking one of the main stairways in town. Food was great, as was service. After dinner, a quick gelato then back on the ferry to Tremezzo. Lovely first day on Lake Como.

DAY 7—Bellagio
Since we had just taken a quick look around before dinner the night before, went back to Bellagio in the morning. We like to walk and check things out besides just the town, so took a nice walk down to the San Giovanni area, went to the nautical museum, which is really a collection of a lot of antique navigational tools, maps, etc. gathered over the years by the owner. Was interesting to look around, then went into the main town area for a quick look around, then walked back to Bellagio through the gardens of Villa Melzi. It was a nice, peaceful walk along the lake, but really there is not much to see in the gardens. Back to Bellagio, checking out main square, more shops, then lunch at Baby Yaga, which was good. Walked out to the tip of the peninsula to check out amazing views of the lake, across to Varenna and Menaggio, after which we walked around a bit more before catching ferry back to Tremezzo. It was a bit overcast and cooler on this day, so after getting back to hotel went to check out the infinity pool in the spa, which overlooks the lake and has amazing views. They keep the water in this pool very warm (just under typical hot tub temperatures), so was a nice day to warm up and relax for a bit before dinner. Dinner this evening at La Darsena, short walk down the lake from hotel. Very nice place, with terrace right on lake, food was excellent as was the service. After dinner, got some gelato at Gelateria Tremezzo, very close to hotel, which was outstanding, our second favorite of the trip along with La Carapina in Rapallo.

DAY 8—Varenna
Took ferry to Varenna. First headed off on walk to Fiumelatte to see the waterfall/shortest river in Europe. Along the way, took the detour for the walk up to Baluardo di Varenna for amazing views, then continued on to Fiumelatte, which was beautiful. It’s just past the cemetery which overlooks the lake. The walk was lovely and the river was really nice, well worth the walk. Walked back into town to look around, check out the shops. It was a hot day so of course had to have some gelato before heading out for our walk up the hill to the Castello di Vezio. It’s not a very long walk (under an hour) but it is steep, and lots of stairs and uneven cobblestones making walking difficult. Good workout, and really enjoyed the castle. Really not much at the castle, mostly ruins, but you can climb up to the top of the tower for some outstanding views. (I know I say that there are great views from everywhere on the lake, but it really is difficult to have a bad view, it’s just gorgeous). Made our way back down (also not an easy walk due to the steepness and uneven footing). After walking around the town a bit more, back on the ferry to Tremezzo for a quick stop at the back pool at the hotel to cool off as it was a hot day and we had done quite a bit of strenuous walking. Hotel has 3 pools—the one floating on the lake, the spa infinity pool and the pool in the back in the gardens. The back pool was our favorite, one of the most beautiful pools I have seen and a very popular spot. This is also where they have their pizza restaurant, T-Pizza (which we tried one day and I must say it is one of the better pizzas we had on the trip. They have a real wood burning pizza oven, and it was really good). After freshening up, back on a ferry to Bellagio to La Fontana restaurant. Had read good reviews, and it did not disappoint. Family-run place, owned by 2 brothers who were there doing everything—seating people, taking orders. Very nice, friendly, outgoing—made it a great experience. And the food was wonderful. So good we went back a couple of nights later. (Make a reservation—it’s small and popular). People were coming without reservations and they did their best to accommodate everyone, but nice to have a table waiting for you.)

DAY 9—Como
There is one fast ferry in the morning from mid-lake to Como, so took that one (8:20 boat), which was great as it was only a 40 minute ride. The slower boat can take as much as 2 hours. On arrival in Como, walked over to the funicular to Brunate, and then walked up the hill to Volta’s lighthouse and climbed up the lighthouse. Walk up there took about 30-40 minutes, nice walk, again very steep, uphill and uneven footing, another good workout. Views were again outstanding and from a different direction, overlooking Como town and up the lake and across to the Swiss Alps. After heading back down the hill and taking funicular back down to Como, walked around Como, checking out the old town, Cathedral, shops, etc. It’s a much bigger town and less scenic then the towns mid-lake where we were staying, but still nice to check out. Made sure to catch a fast boat back to Tremezzo. Another hot day, so went to cool off in the pool. On our Europe trips, we usually don’t make time to relax, we are going full speed all day every day, but this really was a nice mix—being out and about, lots of walking during day, but leaving an hour or two at the end of the day to relax and cool off in the pool. And seems lots of other people had the same idea, the pools at the hotel were very popular. We were tired from a lot of walking throughout our trip, so decided on an early meal at T-Pizza next to the pool for really great pizza and an early night in.

DAY 10—Tremezzo/The Lake
Our last full day. We had arranged to rent a boat in the afternoon to spend time on the lake, so wanted to get some walking in. Took a nice walk down the lake to Giulino and Villa Belmonte to see the memorial cross marking the spot where Mussolini and his mistress were killed when trying to flee to Switzerland. Interesting reading about the story and checking this spot out and was a nice walk (about a half hour each way). After that, headed off to Menaggio, where we had arranged out boat rental at AC Boat. That was not until 1 pm so arrived early to check out Menaggio, which was a bigger town than the others we had seen in the mid-lake area. Checked out the shops, the main square, then went to a nice salumeria to pick up some meats, fruit, bread, and sat by the lake making a little lunch for ourselves. After that, picked up the boat, which we had reserved for 3 hours. This was one of our favorite things, just being able to go out on our own, check out the lake. Absolutely beautiful and very peaceful. Went down the lake, stopped in front of Villa Oleandre (George Clooney’s house) for the obligatory photo op—where there were also a few other people in their rental boats doing the same. Rode around the lake for the afternoon, back up to mid-lake and north as we had not seen that part of the lake. Great experience. Back to hotel, starting to pack up our stuff for trip home and get ready for dinner. Back to Bellagio for our last meal, to La Fontana again, which was lovely.

DAY 11—Travel home
After breakfast, took another walk up the lake, wanted to stretch out as much as possible since we had a long flight coming up. Checked out, got into car, drove back to Malpensa airport (easy drive), dropped off rental car, checked in and waited for our flight.

This was our fourth trip to Italy, but first time in this region. Really enjoyed it, Italian Riviera was beautiful, and Lake Como is just breathtaking. Lived up to everything we had heard. Amazing scenery, beautiful small towns, and glad we took the opportunity to relax a bit as well.

Hope this information is helpful, as there is always so much great stuff on these forums. Happy to answer any questions.


HappyTrvlr Sep 18th, 2019 05:16 AM

You focused on two of our favorite places in Italy. It was wonderful to read your detailed report.
If you return to Bellagio, note that if you had kept walking at the end of Villa Melzi gardens, you would have come to Alle Darsena di Loppia, a good restaurant in this little lakefront hamlet.
We spent a week in Panzano. Dario’s butcher shop served us wine and appetizers when walked in to shop. That was a first! Glad you enjoyed your tour and meal there.

Sberg Sep 18th, 2019 07:04 AM

Thanks for the great report. Bookmarking for a future trip!

Trophywife007 Sep 19th, 2019 12:29 PM

Hi again, almesq:

I like your style of staying in one spot and then doing day trips to places of interest nearby. I also note that you seem to choose a nice standard of lodging. (I dream of staying at the Grand in Tremezzo.) Did you find your day trips sufficient for seeing the Cinque Terre? Or could you have enjoyed more time there? Are there no similar hotels in the Cinque Terre that would suit?

Thanks again for writing!

almesq Sep 19th, 2019 12:53 PM

Thanks Trophy. We do like to save all year with the hope of being able to stay in such special hotels, and the Tremezzo was great. As to Cinque Terre, we certainly would have loved to spend more time there. However, given that the other trails that we would have liked to walk were closed anyway (and most of them are closed until at least 2020 or 2021, results from bad storms last year), we opted to go with the day trip. This was our first time to this part of Italy, and we wanted to make sure to get a good sampling and hit different towns, so that limited us to one day in Cinque Terre. We did consider staying one night in CT, but ultimately opted not to (and in looking at some hotels there in the planning stage--most of which are much smaller properties--some had 2 night minimums anyway). While I would never say we really "saw" all of the CT in one day, since it was such a short ride to and from our base in Rapallo, we did get a whole day there and at least got a taste. We were able to do the 2 hour hike, walk around in Vernazza and Manarola, have lunch. So of course didn't see it all, but we really did enjoy our day there, and getting to and from there from Rapallo was so easy. Just leaves us more to explore in the CT on our next trip!

Trophywife007 Sep 19th, 2019 01:21 PM

Thanks, I look forward to your future reports!

TDudette Sep 21st, 2019 01:39 PM

Very enjoyable TR. Thanks for sharing all the details. Beautiful hotel in the lake area! What's next?!

ps--someone has asked about the number of days to give Genoa...Did you see it?

almesq Sep 21st, 2019 01:59 PM

Thank you! I did see that and commented on it, one day in Genova was enough for us.
Not sure what’s next, so many places, so little time!!!

Leely2 Sep 21st, 2019 02:09 PM

Great report, thank you!

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 06:26 PM.