Northern Italy has some of the best food and the best scenery on the planet so when visiting Lake Como I thought why not combine the two and do our very own degustation cruise. I chose the shortest and the cheapest public ferry route out of Como. For around 9 euro you can take the one hour round trip and get on and off as you please.
Italians usually eat out in four stages first “antipasti”, often cold cuts of meat with olives or the like but it can take any form. Next comes the “primi” usually a pasta or pizza with a simple combination of one or two flavours. Then “secondi” a protein based dish at the core of the meal and finally the “dolce” which is Italian for sweet. In four quaint towns on the lake we would search out our four stages of any Italian meal.
Cernobbio – The Antipasti Stop
After walking up the hill to take in the view and winding through the walking back streets of Cernobbio we found a small Osteria named Cantina Frasca. Lake Como is only minutes from the Swiss border and all of northern Italy takes influence from German and French culture. We ordered the Capra Caldo which combined a Swiss style rosti topped with warm melting French chevre (goat cheese) served on lettuce with the very Italian sticky Balsamic vinegar. The crunch of the potato balanced the smooth cheese and the acid from the vinegar matched the cheese perfectly.
Moltrasio – The Primi Stop
On this mid October day it was cool in the shade and perfect in the sun. There are some great gourmet food options in Moltrasio but none with the sunny aspect and perfect lake view of the lido. A lido is kind of an Italian beach playground that in summer is full of sunbeds, swimmers and an array of beach games. In October it was quiet apart from the busy pizzeria. Our choice the classic “quattro stagioni” pizza topped in parts with one quarter each of olives, ham, artichoke and mushroom. My sensible wife stuck with good red wine but I had to roll with the Italian summer vibe and order an Aperol Spritz. A Spritz is one part soda, one part Aperol and one part prosecco and a summer staple in Northern Italy.
Torno – The Secondi Stop
As we pulled into the dock at Torno we could see diners perched on the waters edge at the one obvious choice for Secondi. We walked straight into the courtyard and asked for a table in the sun. The waiter looked at us and with a shrug turned and walked away vaugely motioning to an empty table in the shade. This lazy careless service is a sign of a lazy careless kitchen so we looked at each other, turned and walked away. In such a perfect location a restaurant can survive without effort and this kind of restaurant has no place in our day or this blog.
This turn for the worse was a blessing in disguise. It led us away from the port and up the hill in search of great food. We walked for over an hour with no good food in sight. Down cobbled paths to secluded beaches, past lush gardens and ancient walls. When you travel without a plan or booking it can reveal things no tour guide will ever show you. Real secrets of beautiful places without a soul in sight can appear out of the blue.
By the time we made it back to the port we had pretty much given up on finding any good food in Torno until we stepped into the humble unassuming “Bar Italia” to quench our thirst. This was a homely locals place with a warm fire and the scent of home cooked food filling the air. We ordered “Chicken Cacciatore with Polenta”. Soon after our enormous plate appeared with a huge slap of dark and speckled polenta surrounded by a rich warming tomato sauce. On top half a chicken that had been baked in the sauce. The polenta with a hearty broth flavour and the sauce full of fresh herbs was another unexpected delight.
Como – The Dolce Stop
With heavy stomachs we took in the view of Como as we pulled back into the starting point of our degustation cruise. After a walk through the historic streets crowded with Saturday shoppers and strollers we settled in at the bar of “Aida” Gelateria Pasticceria for dolce. I chose a shortbread tart filled with custard and topped with the freshest of raspberries and blackberries. And we shared a “bombolini crema” or custard filled fresh donut. All accompanied by my coffee of choice when in Italy the macchiato, an espresso shot with just a splash of milk to take the edge off.
To me the whole point of travel is to dive head first into other peoples lives. Eat like the locals do, don’t stick to a plan or follow a guide through a homogenised version of each place you go. You can do that on the couch at home online. It is only by letting go of plans and seeing where your senses guide you that you can truly experience the joy of travel.
Words by Wade Ranson. Photography by Michelle Ranson and Wade Ranson.
The Cantina Frasca website www.osteriacernobbiocantinafrasca.it
For ferry routes and times on Lake Como www.navigazionelaghi.it
Get to Como
Como is one hour by train from Malpensa airport in Milan. Check Trennord train times at the following link. http://www.trenord.it/en/timetable/timetable.aspx