skip to Main Content

Lake Como Writing Retreat

  • April 10, 2018

I don’t know about you, but when April comes each year, I start thinking about spring blossoms, new beginnings and travel. In particular, travel to Italy and the beautiful town of Varenna along Lake Como.

April is also a time for spring cleaning, not just of your closets, but a time to reassess all those projects you’ve been meaning to tackle. Maybe one of them is writing down some of those family stories you talk about across the dinner table; a childhood memory that’s starting to fade; or a funny incident that happened in high school. Our writing retreat, “Italy, In Other Words,” is the perfect place to put pen to paper and memorialize those thoughts for future generations. If you don’t write it down, it may be lost forever. And can you imagine a more inspiring place to write than by the shores of dreamy Lake Como?

You don’t have to be an experienced writer to participate. Of course, we’ve had plenty of guests who’ve been teachers or writers or worked in publishing, but we’ve also had participants who were nurses, stay-at-home moms and even a postal worker. You just have to have a desire to learn and a willingness to collaborate. Kathryn Abajian, a college professor of creative writing, will help you craft your thoughts into expressive prose that you can feel proud of by the end of the week.

But we won’t harness you to a desk all week. Oh no, mornings are for workshopping, but afternoons you’re free to wander on your own, read, write or take part in the short excursions I’ve planned for you. Come with us to the internationally renowned gardens and exquisite rooms of the 13th century Villa Monastero, where Nobel prize-winner Enrico Fermi once lectured in physics.

Join me on a jaunt to the ruins of an 11th century castle, high above the town.

Another afternoon, we’ll take a boat across the lake to Bellagio, where you can shop for silks, leather goods or myriad other items with the “made in Italy” label. Stay for dinner and enjoy a delicious meal with us on a patio  shaded by flowering vines, before heading back to Varenna by boat.

Other afternoons, you may just want to sit at one of the many cafes by the lake, waiting for the muse to strike, while enjoying a gelato or a spritz.

Or just meander up and down the cobbled streets soaking in the views:

There is no shortage of beautiful places that can inspire you, like here:

or here:

or here:

And if you’d like to try your hand at watercolor painting (no experience necessary), I know a friendly, talented artist in town who will give you a lesson:

Over the years, I’ve hand picked some favorite restaurants for you to try, where the food is always top notch.

You’ll stay at the beautiful Royal Hotel Victoria, with your own private room and bath. The hotel is conveniently located in the center of town, within easy walking distance of everything and features some lovely outdoor patios for relaxing or grabbing a bite to eat.

If weather permits, take a swim in the pool or the lake.

Bring a friend if you like. Not everyone who comes wants to write, and we have a discount for non-writing participants, although space is limited.

More than anything, you’ll leave with the satisfaction of having made new connections with like-minded people, and you’ll have experienced the food, the culture and the environment of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Life is short, so what are you waiting for? Registration is underway now for “Italy, In Other Words.” Contact me or Kathryn to register, or visit

Italy, In Other Words – September 30 – October 6, 2018

Pizzoccheri in Bellagio

  • October 2, 2015
 Bellagio is just one of the many beautiful towns along Italy’s Lake Como, but it’s the biggest and the one that most tourists come to by boat from other destinations along the lake. Although the crowds can be overwhelming, there’s good reason that it’s so popular.  With narrow streets that are really stone staircases, lined with shops on either side, it’s ridiculously picturesque.

There are plenty of shops selling inexpensive trinkets but lots more selling high quality leather goods, jewelry and luxury clothing, including scarves and ties made of silk. This part of Italy was known for decades for its silk trade, a sector that still continues, but to a much lesser degree than in the past.


If shopping is not your thing, you can relax for a drink at one of the cafes by the waterfront or on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, where you can sip a prosecco and enjoy the view of the mountains, the swanky hotel and the hotel’s inviting swimming pool. Thanks Rhonda Callaway, for the great photo of the drink.


While you’re there, take a peek inside the hotel too, to get a gander at old world-style elegance.


You’re bound to get hungry while you’re in Bellagio, and there are many good choices. One of my favorites is Bilacus restaurant. The name means “two lakes” in Latin, since Lake Como splits into two legs at Bellagio. Get a table on the outside patio if you can, where flowers are abundant. Everything is delicious, but I’m partial to the fish caught in the lake, including trout, or choose lavarello, a delicate white fish I’ve never eaten anywhere else.


Another specialty of this region of Lombardy is pizzoccheri – flat noodles made using buckwheat flour. I had never eaten them before, and was eager to try them when I saw them on the menu of “La Punta,” a restaurant at the farthest promontory of Bellagio. They were served in the traditional way, with boiled potatoes and cabbage, bathed in a sauce using the local Valtellina cheeses. – oh, so delicious, but not exactly diet food.

Work off some of the calories another day by walking to Pescallo, a charming small fishing village nearby. Stay for lunch, and you’ll eat fish fresh off the boat. Avoid Monday though, when the restaurants are closed.
If you’ve still got energy, continue walking until you get to the hamlet of St. Giovanni, where you’ll see examples of a boat called a Lucia, a traditional boat used in the 18th century along the lake region.  The curved wooden frames held fabric that allowed for protection against rain and inclement weather. The boats are named for one of the main characters in Alessandro Manzoni’s book “I Promessi Sposi,” (The Betrothed), partially set in the region. It’s the most widely read book in Italy, and required reading for school students. It’s not only a love story betweem Lucia and Renzo, but about a struggle for power, foreign domination, religion, plague, famine and more – topics that are as relevant today as in the 1800s, when the book was written.
Head back to Bellagio as twilight descends though, so you can pull up a chair, enjoy a digestivo and a spectacular sunset after a well-spent day.
If you’d like to try your hand at making pizzoccheri, here’s a website that shows you how:

A Writing Retreat on Lake Como

  • February 6, 2015

 Have you ever wanted to write down that memory of your mom making jam from backyard berries, or the time you went deep sea fishing with dad? Maybe it’s not a food memory, but a travel adventure, or a life-changing event that you’ve been thinking about getting down on paper. Now, how about doing just that in beautiful Varenna, Italy this fall, with expert guidance from a talented writing coach and author (Kathryn Abajian) and afternoon excursions by none other than me, Ciao Chow Linda?

Sound tempting? Then come join us this September 20-26 in Varenna,  a picturesque town on Lake Como, surrounded by the foothills of the Alps.
Its narrow streets will beckon you to meander and explore. Maybe you’ll get inspiration from its picturesque charm and come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of before.
You can stroll down to the water and enjoy a drink or a meal at one of many restaurants and cafés overlooking the lake, while waiting for the muse to strike.
We’ll be staying right in town, at the Villa Monastero, a noteworthy attraction in its own right,  that dates back to before the 12th century when it was founded as a nunnery. It later fell into private hands and today is the setting for international scientific conferences — and this year, our conference — “Italy, In Other Words.”
Some of the rooms are open to public viewing, and visitors walk among the spectacular botanic gardens that you will have all to yourself after hours.
As a participant in our writing workshop, you’ll feel like lady or lord of the manor, overlooking the lake and mountains in the distance.
Inspiration is bound to strike you in this unforgettable setting.
The writing and instruction workshop is held for five mornings, and also includes two personal consultations, all conducted by Kathryn, a retired college professor.  She has given writing workshops in California and in Abruzzo, Italy, and is also the author of a book entitled “First Sight of the Desert.”
Bedroom furnishings vary, from modern to rooms furnished with antiques. Those who sign up first will be offered priority. Most rooms have a view of the lake.
Afternoons are free for writing or exploring. For those interested, I’ll take you to a few places of interest, including the ruins of this 12th century castle nearby.
The area is known for its taleggio and gorgonzola cheese, so we’ll most likely take a short trip to visit someplace where it’s made, or aged (and sample some, of course.)
You might want to join me for a boat trip across the lake to Bellagio, a scenic village oozing with charm, and a great place for some shopping.
You’ll find lots of restaurants tucked into the little streets and staircases in the town.
  For those interested in watercolor or cooking lessons, they’re optional, but can be arranged too.
We can’t talk about Italy without mentioning its food, and the food in Varenna is top notch. Here are a few samples from my visit last year – eggplant parmigiana:
 Fresh trout from the lake:
 And torta della nonna (recipe here on Ciao Chow Linda)
Want more information? Go to or contact Kathryn at for more details. Hope to see you in September.