Lake Chelan (Chelan, WA)

Over the past few years, good friends of ours have invited us over to their cabin on the shores of Lake Chelan. Prior to a wedding in 2009 and our friends’ invitation two weeks later, we’d never been here.

In the summer, it is a very popular playground for water sports, rarely raining here as it does in western Washington, about 10 inches per year. Part of the North Cascades National Forest, it is 50 miles long, 1.5 miles at its widest point and almost 1500 feet at its deepest, the largest lake in the state. Increasingly, the area is becoming known for its excellent wines.

The most populous areas are Chelan and Manson at the southeastern end of the lake. Any boat ride toward Stehekin, the northernmost town, will take you past spectacular mountain scenery, one which was carved out many times by glaciers, at one time over 6,000ft under the Cordilleran ice sheet. The scenery is rugged with gneiss, granite and basalt outcroppings lining the shore and composing the mountainsides.

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Lake Wanaka (NZ)

From Franz Josef, we hopped on another all-day bus ride to Lake Wanaka, a resort area that serves as the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. With an afternoon arrival, it was all we could do to check in to our hotel (Oakridge Resort Grand Mercure) and walk into town before sunset. It was the quiet season here since most outdoor activities take place when the weather isn’t so cold.

Glacial lakes are abundant in New Zealand. Situated in a broad valley carved out by a glacier during the last Ice Age and flanked by mountains on two sides, some over 6,000 feet above sea level, Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in the country. On the day following our arrival, we took a private boat tour to Mou Waho, one of the islands in the lake, a nature reserve with a hiking trail to Tyrwhitt Peak. Along the way, our guide described the flora and fauna of the island, frequently pointing out many of the native plants, including the manuka bush, source of the prized honey. During tea break, a buff weka, one of the endemic ratites of NZ, approached us as our guide predicted it would.

A buff weka approached us during tea

With less than 24 hours to spend in Wanaka, we had to board another bus to Queenstown.

Lake Wanaka after sunset

Bellagio, Lake Como (Italy)

Bellagio's cobbled pathways and stairs

Bellagio’s cobbled pathways and stairs

A sleeping pill gave me a good night’s rest while still battling jet lag. We were awakened at 7am by the peal of church bells. A wonderful buffet breakfast in the hotel of cold cuts (including Parma ham), granola, yogurt, pastries, cheeses, bread and blueberry tart was served. Delicious.

As we were on our own today, we took the ferry to Belaggio, the most commercialized and visited town along the lake. The “streets” are essentially cobblestone lanes crisscrossed by cobbled stairways, lined with businesses. Because the Lake Como area produces some of the finest silks in Italy, we purchased some scarves as gifts. A wine shop that we entered (Enoteca Cava Turacciolo) was advertising a wine tasting later that afternoon, which we would be unable to make. Legs of prosciutto di San Daniele were hanging from the ceiling, another air-cured ham like its Parma cousin.

Wines and prosciutto di San Daniele (Enoteca Cava Turacciolo)

We next hopped on the ferry to Menaggio, a short ride to the western side of Lake Como. Most of the shops were closed because of pausa pranzo, the afternoon lunch break. Lucky for us, a gelateria was still open where we enjoyed the lemon and melon flavors.

Ferry boat to Menaggio

Varenna, Lake Como (Italy)

We savored our first panini at Centrale Stazione while waiting to catch the train to Varenna, a town along the eastern shore of beautiful Lake Como. The Italian breads are so good! Sandwiches are prepared simply with no sauces. The fillings “speak” for themselves.

From the Varenna-Esino station in Varenna, we made our way to our hotel (Villa Cipressi, known for its gardens) where our tour was officially to start.  A message posted by the reception desk requested that everyone on the Rick Steves tour should assemble at 5:30 at the Hotel du Lac for wine, snacks and introductions. We couldn’t unload our luggage in our room fast enough to take the walk along the lake, a picturesque and very quaint pathway lined with private villas, tourist shops, restaurants, a gelateria and ferry dock where the path terminates. We had our first gelati (coconut and hazelnut). Even in the afternoon, the air was still hazy and laden with moisture that contributed to the high humidity.

At the appointed time, we met our guide, Robin, and the other tour members, a small group of about 25 people, mostly couples but a few singles, too. The orientation concluded with a walk to the ferry terminal where Robin explained in detail the options we had to explore on our own tomorrow, then handed out our ferry passes. We could feel the excitement building as our Italian holiday was officially to start.

Robin, our tour guide, gives us an orientation and hands out tomorrow's ferry tickets

Robin, our tour guide, gives us an orientation and hands out tomorrow’s ferry tickets

Lake Como is a beautiful lake, 30 miles long and, at its deepest point, 1,350 ft, the third largest lake in Italy. It is narrow and shaped like an inverted letter Y. The Mediterranean climate here insulates it from temperature extremes. The northern portions of the lake encroach on the Alps.