Updated: Jul 6
It's hard to pick the favorites of my Lake Como trip, but I have three standouts that I want to share with you! So many incredible memories were made on the recent retreat I took through The Cottage Table Experience. Daune's superpower is gathering people together to have an extraordinary experience - and indeed we did in Italy!
01. Sunday Hike to San Martino
San Martino is Lake Como's most famous mountain church perched on top of a cliff above the town of Griante. Daune and Keith planned an amazing day for us to hike up to this incredible spot as a group. The views at the top are the best in Lake Como and with the perfect weather we were having it did not disappoint.
To get there, we walked through small villages and met some very nice Italians along the way, and then ascended the path toward the church. The church is open 2x a year for a special mass, so we assumed that we would just be enjoying the outside, but when we reached the top and looked around the doors opened. A family who happened to be there (at the same time on this day!) was there to clean it, clear the cobwebs, and scrape away the candle wax.
The church, San Martino, we hiked to is below the arrow
As walked toward the hiking trail, we spotted this beauty!
There were 12 shrines along the hike up the church marking the trail
Perfectly perched on top of the mountain
The inside was incredibly beautiful and well worn (and loved)
Sidenote: I was not raised in a religious household, and really never gave religion much thought when I was growing up or as a young adult. I had a mix of Jewish, Catholic, and Christian friends and would go to church on occasion for weddings or funerals and some holidays. It was only after Anna, Mark's mom died, that I felt pulling toward a more "spirtual" place. This vast unknown to me seemed light and peaceful, and I became more curious. Over the past 10 years I have opened my heart to the possibilities of something so much bigger than just living day to day on this earth.
The entire time I was in San Martino I felt JOY. I couldn't stop smiling. The mom (of the family who was cleaning) came over to me and asked if I wanted to ring the bells! Yes, please! So at noon, I went over to find the family and after the children rang the bell I took my turn. I just started to cry tears of wonder and awe. Here I was in such a beautiful country, in this church, ringing these bells surrounded by this family and my group from the retreat.
This experience is so hard for me to put into words. I felt a presence that was much bigger than me. Such beauty and strength, and I felt an emotional response to being up on this mountain in this church with an incredible group of people that I will never it.
02. My Favorite Sculpture
A few months ago Daune sent us a message and asked if would like to take a sculpting class in the studio of Villa Melzi with Abele Vadacca. I said yes because I knew Renee and Jeanne would love to do this, and maybe I could learn something from them. I haven't made anything out of clay since my college days!
On the path toward the studio - inside the gardens of I Giardini di Villa Melzi
We walked into this beautiful studio and were greeted by Abele and his apprentices. With some basic instruction, we set to work each with a mound of Italian clay. I changed my mind a few times about what I wanted to make, and then on the 3rd time, I decided to create a bust like Renee and Daune. I was beginning to think that this sculpting was not for me, and I'd rather spend the money to ship it back on a new leather bag instead.
Abele was going around to see what we were making and if we wanted any help. He'd close his eyes and work his magic on our pieces. We were all entranced with him! And then something miraculous happened. After Abele's help, and some more time to work on my clay, I began to love my sculpture! So much that I am now worried I may never see it again. Each piece needs to dry, be fired, and eventually shipped to the States in a few months. Fingers crossed for my precious cargo!
Here's a little internet research on Abele Vadacca.
He is currently in charge of the restoration of the Cathedral of Milan. He is famous nationally and internationally for public and private artworks. Last year he worked on the marble portrait of Duke Fulco Tommaso Gallarati Scotti, exhibited in the prestigious gardens of Villa Melzi.
Abele is an Italian sculptor and painter. Winner of an Academic Chair, he devoted himself from an early age to marble art. He attained from the ancient Masters, the classical abilities and techniques of the Old Continent.
Our group and our clay were all in good hands!
03. The Trail to Nonna's Pasta
One night a small group of us went exploring on a trail behind our Villa that led to a tiny village. Our destination - was supposedly the best pizza place around (I love pizza - so yes, I was in). The winding path through the back gardens, stone walls, and terraces was so beautiful. I kept stopping to take it all in and really felt I was back in time to the simpler life when time moved slower, and things weren't rushed.
What we didn't know was that on Tuesdays the famed pizza place was closed! This village was empty, and no one was around to ask if there was another restaurant. But I heard the sound of kitchen utensils and quiet chatter. The door to the Hotel Lauro Ristorante was slightly open so I peeked inside and walked toward the back where I heard the noise.
And there they were, a couple of Nonna's making homemade pasta! I asked one of the women working (it turns out she is the main chef, the Nonnas were her helpers) about the pizza place, and she said it was closed but that they would be open in 1-1/2 hours. So we waited. Of course, wouldn't you. Only restaurant in town, and it's your Nonna's cooking? I could have waited all day - it was that good!
While we waited I sketched and listened to the water and watched the swan swim around
They must of thought I was crazy when I asked to take a photo in the kitchen!
Between the six of us, we ate almost everything on the menu, including a few different desserts and delicious wines. We shared stories, laughed, dreamed up new travel plans, and savored every minute we had that night.
These are the best nights when the unexpected exceeds your expectations - it was a dinner I'll never forget, and I'm not sure I'll ever have a better ragu or broken peach cake.
I am already counting the days until the next time I am in Lake Como, and I hope it's another 20 years, but this week with Renee + friends was definitely worth the wait.
Sending you love + light!
PS. For more gorgeous photos and an insight into Jeanne Oliver's favorite moments from Lake Como read her amazing blog post here.
PPS. Just a few days left for Early Registration Pricing on my latest class inspired by this trip, Bella Flora - learn more here.