I just got back on Tuesday night from northern Italy where we spent a week on the shores of Lake Como. It is one of those places that is unrealistically picturesque with medieval villages hugging the shoreline beneath plunging pine and larch-covered mountain slopes.
The city of Como was about an hour’s bus journey from Cadenabbia where we stayed. The historic centre was a maze of narrow cobbled streets surrounding a smallish cathedral.
It is one of those places you go to just to wander about and occasionally stop at pavement cafe for a cappuccino or a glass of wine to watch the world go by.
It is a cliche to say that Italians are stylish - at least in the northern part of the country - but they are and while I’m usually comfortable in my scruffy-Paddy-abroad garb I didn’t like to stand in the one spot for too long incase someone threw a couple of coins at my feet.
Even the dogs were stylish – I saw a poodle with carefully quaffed fur tufted into a mohican on its head and tied off with a dainty red ribbon.
This stylishness was even more apparent in Milan, which is about an hour and half from Cadennabia.
It is a city I will have to go back to sometime as a morning and afternoon were not enough time to take it all in.
Despite my aversion to fashion and brand names I couldn’t help glancing into the shop windows and wondering briefly how that jacket would look on me or how much of my mortgage I could pay off for the price of a pair of sunglasses.
During our week away we also managed to make a couple of forays across the border into Switzerland - a county I’d never been to before.
Lugano is one of the country’s financial centres and again the prices in many of the shop windows would suggest that there is a lot of loose cash floating around... 30,000 euros for a watch!
Despite such ostentatiousness Lugano is a chilled-out little city that sits on the shore of a lake, surrounded by mountains and with some fine architecture.
The journey to St Moritz was much more impressive than the ‘exclusive’ resort itself. Before our bus had even left Italy and was climbing towards the Alps the style of houses changes from Italian-villa style – stone brickwork with a slate roof – to more Alpine structures - taller with much steeper roofs and more woodwork.
The twisting road up to the Maloja Pass often left me looking into a sheer drop just a minor skid away.
Icicles hung along the roadside and patches of snow began to appear, lying ankle deep at the summit of the pass which sits at 6,000 feet.
The skiing season doesn’t actually kick off for another few weeks so St Moritz was pretty dead with just a few disconsolate strays wandering about the place.
However, a walk down the hill and along St Moritz Lake shore was a great way of getting some clean Alpine air.
Back on Lake Como we spent a day jumping on and off ferries to lake side villages, each of them offering their own unique version of quaintness.
However, if you ever end up in a place called Verano don’t go to the Pizza restaurant beside the ferry terminal.
It took 20 minutes before we got a menu, another 15 before our drinks arrived and a full hour and 20 minutes from when we first sat down before our dry, half-covered pizzas actually arrived.