Before moving to the town of Civenna on Lake Como in 2016, author and activist Barbara Biggs’ last address was Halls Creek in remote central Australia, where she worked for almost three years. Barbara spent her weekends hunting online for a modest apartment in Italy; instead, she now calls Villa Ponti Bellavista – a mid-century, six-bedroom villa 15 minutes from Bellagio – home. See villapontibellavista.com
SEE We’re about 10 minutes from Monte San Primo, the highest mountain on Lake Como. You can drive to the San Primo car park then walk 25 minutes to the Ristorante Refuge Martina. From here, it’s another hour’s walk to the peak to see all three arms of the lake. It’s always a good idea to check the weather – you don’t want to walk up and find you’re in the clouds. On the way down, stop into the mountain restaurant to try its very traditional, very rich polenta served with slow-cooked meats, rifugiomartina.com
DO This is a fantastic area for bike riding. You can hire bikes from Bike It! Bellagio and take a tour on your own or with a guided group. I like to ride along the Lecco arm of the lake, up to Canzo for lunch and then back home along Via Provinciale and San Primo. Because you’ve got an electric bike, you’re not huffing and puffing – although you still get a good workout. People are used to cyclists here, there’s even a 17th-century chapel just near us in Magreglio called Madonna del Ghisallo, who is the patron saint of cycling, appointed by the Pope in 1949. It’s got a fantastic view, a cycling museum and a church full of cycling paraphernalia, bikeitbellagio.com
EAT We usually go away from the lake to eat, and our favourite of the month is Antica Osteria Gocce di Sapore in Canzo, which is 20 minutes’ drive, owned by a sommelier and a chef. Last time I was there, I had an incredible dish of purple potatoes and little prawns in prosecco sauce, osteriagoccedisapore.it
DRINK When we’re not having aperitivos at our local watering hole, MM Cafe 64 in Civenna, we frequently go to Enoteca CavaTuracciolo in Bellagio which, once again, doesn’t have a view, but serves fantastic wine. The owner, Noberto, is so knowledgeable about wine, so we usually ask him to recommend something to drink. They keep a prosecco called Bellavista Alma Cuvee Brut Franciacorta, which is made here in Lombardia, and we often get a bottle for our guests, because we love prosecco and it shares the name with our villa, facebook.com/mmcafe64/, cavaturacciolo.it
AVOID Generally speaking, the better the view, the worse the food. We find that the restaurants on the lake don’t have great food, unless you go to the really high-end, expensive ones. You’re far more likely to find it in a restaurant without a view: it could be on a dirt track in an ugly building, but if it’s good food, Italians will find it.
THRIVE While our town tap water is good, the mountain water from the Barni town fountain is amazing. We fill up here for sourdough breadmaking and tea. Its four taps run constantly, and you can take as many empty bottles as you like. I’m a tea drinker, and it makes a great cup of tea. The fountain is just off the main road on the cycling route between Canzo and Bellagio.