Lake Como suits incurable romantics but you don’t need to be in love to wallow in romance. I’m here alone in Blevio, on Como, and relishing its operatic grandeur already. The musical links on the lakes resemble that ‘five degrees of separation’ game. On Lake Como, Bellini composed Norma, Rossini Tancredi, and Verdi conjured up Act 11 of La Traviata. If wishing to hear their lyrics sung, the composers simply summoned neighbours such as Giuditta Pasta, the Maria Callas of her day. And now I’m enjoying the lyrical setting of her former villa, Castadiva, reborn as a luxury resort.
From Blevio, it’s an operatic ferry ride north to Bellagio and Villa Melzi’s waterside gardens, passing landscape as lush as a score by Liszt. The lake’s beauty lies in the sweet melancholy of snow-capped peaks, the deep conifer forests, the thin silhouettes of cypresses and the seductive curve of the shore. My spirits soar in spring when a southern warmth takes the chill off the Alps. April’s magnolias, azaleas and camellias will make way for wisteria, silvery olives, palms and pomegranates.
As the most glamorous lake, Como has been a retreat for weary romantics since Roman times, when Pliny’s villas saved the orator from what passed for stress in Ancient Rome. The Milanese smart set moved in long ago but since George Clooney bought Villa Oleandra in Laglio, Lake Como has been bathed in Hollywood glamour. From Pliny to Clooney is no leap at all, despite the power brunches on power-boats. The lake represents a realm of enchantment and repose, where even celebrities can potter in privacy.
The desire to escape from what the Edwardian writer Holbrook Jackson once called `the chatter and clatter and hustle and guzzle’ of high society is motivation enough. Today’s movie stars seek simplicity and so Clooney, like Pliny, wants to feel he can fish from his bedroom window or enjoy what Liszt called `the melancholy murmuring of the waves lapping against the boat’.