Ginger tablets . . . check. Acupuncture wrist bands . . . check. Pre-flight check list . . . check. Two experienced pilots in the cockpit, one my husband . . . check. An excited, but nervous passenger in the backseat . . . check. And off I go, queasy stomach under control and iPhone camera in hand, flying on a Cessna 172 on straight floats to play the role of a paparazzo for a day. It’s time to get up close and personal with the lifestyle of the lucky of Lake Como.
THE CHARM OF COMO TOWN
Taking off from the seaplane base in Como town, we leave the hustle and bustle of the city, a city many travel sites tell visitors to bypass and head instead to the idyllic villages. Como is not without its redeeming qualities, however; it is worth a look-see. For me, the don’t-miss-attraction is a walk on the promenade around the lake, winding past waterfront shopping and restaurants, a charming church and park, the iconic Aero Club Como founded in 1913, and centuries’ old villas. You can see the ferries docking, the seaplanes soaring, women in four-inch stilettos strolling, lovers’ eyes locking, gelato melting onto sticky little hands, all a celebration of life in lakeside Italy.
LAKE COMO: THE WALKING MAN
I know that Lake Como is shaped like a walking man, Looking at him, we will leave Como, flying from his foot on our left and up his leg to Bellagio at his pelvis. At this point we will keep flying a little ways up to his navel, turn around to see the backside of Bellagio on his other leg, and then return to his original leg and fly south back to Como.
Villa Troubetzkoy in Blevio
PRINCES AND PAUPERS IN EXILE
My first I-have-to-have-it-photo was of Villa Troubetzkoy in Blevio, which is a few kilometers from Como. It was built around 1850 by the immigrant Russian prince of the same name, who served six years of forced labor in Siberia for the attempted overthrow of Nicholas I. The villa is currently under restoration to fulfill the needs of its current owner, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple and a prince of business in the U.S.A. Our two friends, my husband, and I were fortunate enough to book an Air BnB rental directly above Villa Troubetzkoy. (See the property that overlooks the top of the cylindrical elevator that is above and to the left of Villa Troubetzkoy at the center edge of the lake.) We had the advantages of the royal villa — the exclusive neighborhood, the panoramic views up and down the lake, the sparkle of sunlight by day, and the shimmer of moon glow by night — all for 200 euros a day for our two-bedroom villa. Royal living at a peasant price.
SEEKING GEORGE CLOONEY
Continuing to fly north, a peasant can snap a photo of George Clooney’s home, Villa Oleandra in Laglio, but she can’t afford the $19 million dollar price tag this for-sale property demands. I will not be lounging out front, sipping a Bellini, nibbling on smoked lake trout spread on crostini, and watching the speed boat zipping in front of the villa. Pretending to be a member of the paparazzi corps is all I can do. I have second thoughts about being a paparazzo wannabe since Laglio’s City Council approved a regulation to protect Clooney’s privacy from the likes of me. On second thought, the regulation does not apply to the air. Paparazzi and love-sick fans are forbidden to snoop in the immediate vicinity of the villa by land and by lake. I am polite, however, so I only snap a quick photo, and we fly on by.
CLONES AND CASINOS (IN FILMS)
We are not the only creatures who have flown in this area. North of Villa Oleandra at Lenno is the stunning Villa del Balbianello where clones and droids took to the skies when lake scenes for Star Wars, Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002) were filmed here. Bond, James Bond, also flew high at the book office when Casino Royale (2006) was shot here. Today, for 17 euros you can tour this romantic 12th century villa and its gardens to learn about the Italian Intelligentsia who called it home before it became popular as a movie set. For a couple of magical hours, it can become your home, too.
BELLGAGIO’S ELEGANT WEST SIDE
Now on to Bellagio, the Pearl of the Lake. Looking at the west side of the village from the air, I think Pearl looks like a lazy lady lounging along the shore. She is not lazy, however, as Bellagio is a major tourist draw. People flock to her beautiful location at the point of land that splits the lake into two branches. (The less gentile say Bellagio is located at the walking man’s crotch.) Architectural gems from the 15th century on, lush gardens, gourmet restaurants, and specialized shopping are the Sirens that sing in this part of Italy. It’s a good thing our seaplane doesn’t have a parachute, so I won’t be tempted to answer the Shopping Siren’s call. There are terrific deals on local silk products, perfumes, and leather goods in select Bellagio boutiques. Shopping, however, is not my mission for this day.
BELLAGIO’S TRANQUIL EAST SIDE
“Ooo-ing” and “Ahh-ing” over views like this to photograph is my mission. After flying north past Bellagio and practicing a few thrilling rough water landings and takeoffs, my husband piloted the plane to the east side of Bellagio. Here is Pearl’s quieter side. Villas dot the hills and terraced gardens step up from the sea. We give a sigh of contentment and do a 180 around the point and head back south to Como.
A FAILED PAPARAZZO
Lake Como is indeed one handsome walking man. His famous clientele seeking rest and recreation in his magnificent mountains are the paparazzi’s meal ticket. Looking back on my photographs, I realize I will never hunger to be a paparazzo. I am too nice, proven by the fact that I didn’t shoot George Clooney’s villa with a long-range lens. Also, my iPhone 6 takes a greater number of lousy photographs than great ones, especially through dirty airplane windows. I am happy anyway.
THANKS FROM THIS LUCKY LADY ON LAKE COMO
A special “thanks” goes to the United States-based Seaplane Pilots’ Association (SPA) for organizing the Lake Como Trip that brought us here to take this flight. I now count myself among Lake Como’s lucky. I just spent one hour in a seaplane with the man I love, flying over some of the most beautiful and historical sites in the world. How can a day be luckier than this one?