4 minute read
Two weeks ago, I was preparing to join twelve strangers for a sociable group tour of Lake Como, Bellagio and Milan. It had been over a decade since my last solo trip, and truth be told, I felt slightly apprehensive and completely out of my comfort zone. It seemed like a lifetime ago that I flew around the world without any inhibitions, filled with a sense of excitement and liberation.
I wondered how differently I’d feel this time around. My life circumstances had altered dramatically, and I wasn’t that carefree spirit anymore. I was however, having backpacked my way around the world and had two beautiful children, a lot less naïve! Life experience had made me that little bit more worldly. And I quickly realised – if ever there was a time to seize the day and embrace an experience – this was it.
I met the nine seasoned Solos travellers and three newbies when we touched down in Milan. There was a sense of anticipation in the air as we boarded the coach to the hotel, but you wouldn’t believe the difference as we began our journey home four days later. The sound of laughter and chatter echoed through the air, and unbreakable bonds had been made.
It struck me how quickly the chemistry was felt between the group during those first 24 hours. Chemistry that immediately melted away any anxiety and gave me a much-needed dose of familiarity and comfort.
Most of the guests had met on the plane out, which kicked things off in all the right ways. But it was the days that followed that really left their mark. The late-night walks home from the restaurant, arm in arm, the chatting over breakfast about the lessons life had taught us, and looking ahead to the next trip because we just didn’t want it to end. Because as it turned out, it was just the start.
The 4-day culture trip began with the magnificence of ‘the most beautiful lake in the world’, followed up by a private boat to the ever-so-chic Bellagio, and then finally exploring the history and boutiques of the fashion capital of the world – Milan.
Perfectly sandwiched between the hotel and the water, the streets of Como were peppered with independent boutiques, quaint little cafes, and an abundance of charming Italian bistros. Beautiful florals spilled out onto the streets and beneath the brightly coloured shutters as I strolled through with an overwhelming sense of calm. I felt so safe, which, as a female traveller, was pretty liberating. Armed with a scoop or two of gelato, and pausing to peruse every other corner, it was impossible to resist the urge to indulge.
TOP TIP FOR COMO TOWN – You’ll find the best gelato in Como at ‘Gelab Gelateria’ and for dinner with a view – dine on the rooftop of ‘Ristorante Funicolare’ where you’ll experience delicious Italian cuisine, impeccable hospitality, and incredible views of the lake!
As we strolled Villa Carlotta’s famous 17th century gardens after taking a private boat to Bellagio – I very quickly warmed to this incredible place. Breathtaking architecture and grounds adorned with ancient trees, palms and azaleas, it struck the perfect balance between man-made elegance and raw beautiful nature.
Hopping off the boat for the second time in Bellagio town, this was the perfect place to people watch whilst sipping on an Aperol Spritz and basking in the beautiful Italian sunshine. And if you’re partial for product – the cobbled lanes are filled with quirky little boutiques, jewellery stores and designer labels.
TOP TIP FOR BELLAGIO – For the best slice in town, head to ‘Bellavita’ pizza. Trust me – the queues are worth it! And so is the view at the top of the steps as you perch on the bench to eat.
After listening to the coach driver and tour guide animatedly chat like an old married couple (got to love the Italians!), we were led around the breathtaking sights of the city before enjoying an afternoon to explore. Some delved deeper into the history, whilst others shopped up a storm or sampled the local wine.
TOP TIP FOR MILAN – Brush shoulders with the impeccably dressed Italian elite at the ‘Camparino’ Bar, where you can enjoy a Campari Spritz in the birthplace of Campari.
An added bonus
And just like that, it was over. As we said our goodbyes to the hotel staff, I soaked up the last seconds of Italy, as the town clock chimed, and the sun glittered across the lake. I realised that the beauty of the destination was just an added bonus to a Solos trip. But it’s truly the people that made it for me. After all – that clink of the limoncello aperitifs only happens when you’re in the company of friends.
I always like to take a little piece of a place home with me whenever I travel. But this time – I’m taking the memories. Every single person brought something different to the table. And I feel really grateful to have got a seat.
Now where to next?