Posted by: Kristie | January 21, 2010

Chaos in Como

Part of my travel style is to veer off the beaten path. I tend to be weary of really popular places, trying to travel more like a local than a tourist. So when we started researching Italy’s Lake Como, we (including my co-planner Shannon), immediately gravitated toward some of the smaller, lesser known towns and, of course, rental places. I had visions of quaint, pedestrian-friendly towns complete with charmingly crooked walkways and tiny little trattorias with George Clooney hidden in a dark candlelit corner.

So we found this too-good-to-be-true rental property located in the tiny town of Careno. Two bedrooms, ridiculously inexpensive, large balcony with a view of the lake and even touted that across the lake was George Clooney’s place. Can you tell George was a constant theme, and possibly the motivation for going to this area?

Julie, Shannon, Brett and I took the train from Cinque Terre to Milan, picked up our rental car and set off packed in like sardines with luggage on laps and scrunched up legs. We hoped to get to Careno before nightfall but between the tiny, twisted roads and missed highway signs, it was pitch black by the time we arrived. And even when we arrived, we weren’t even sure we were there. That’s the thing about these small Lake Como towns – they are not situated on the roads, but rather down or up hills.

Once we figured out that we were in the “town” of Careno, we found parking and Shannon and Julie went on a recon mission to find the apartment, so we all weren’t hauling our luggage aimlessly around trying to find the place. Fortunately it only ended up being about a 5 minute walk (albeit a bumpy, cobblestoned walk with barely any lights) from the car.

Needless to say when we arrived, we were thrilled to relax and put our feet up — yet, there was really no place to “relax.” The living room had absolutely no furniture except for a couple of stacked plastic white chairs for the deck. The lack of furniture and the tiled floors helped every single sound resonate throughout the place. There was no door to one bedroom, just a 60s-sytle shell/bead curtain. From that same bedroom, there was a door that led to this underground, grotto-type of space complete with random dusty furniture.

But I think our favorite part was detailed warnings about what to do if the power goes out if there are too many appliances on at the same time. And sure enough, nearly an hour after getting there, the power blew. I think the culprit was the microwave and toaster being on at the same time. WTF! Brett (thank goodness for boys) had to go outside, find the fuse box, do some sort of jiggling and the power was restored.

The only positive attribute was its deck – and one of the reasons we liked the place when we first found it online. But that did not make up for its creepy vibes, lack of any sound absorption and the ease of power fails. Once the power was back on, we pulled out good ol’ Rick Steves and started calling hotels. We found two rooms at Hotel Olivedo located in Varenna, one of Lake Como’s main towns.

We ended up just emailing the owners of the rental property, left enough cash for the first night and busted out of there as early as possible the next day. That also reminds me of another crazy point, we emailed the owners because we could not get a hold of them on the phone. What owners are not available on the night they have renters arriving?

Ultimately, it all worked out and we adored our new hotel rooms, salvaging the rest of the Lake Como trip. Sometimes going off the beaten path brings you hidden surprises and authentic experiences, and sometimes it’s just creepy.



  1. Power outage – are you sure it wasn’t the hot water heater kicking in while the microwave was on?

    I have to say, that dinner of whatever we had in the suitcases (chestnut pappardelle, good olive oil and the red pepper flakes, IIRC) plus wine from the (next-town-over) corner store was pretty memorable, and actually quite good.

    I’ll never forget that feeling of desolation, and the joy that we changed plans last minute and got a rental car – what with no ferry, limited and confusing bus service… I imagined starving, holed up there while the zombies came out of that creepy grotto to eat our brains before they shriveled. Don’t think I ever said that out loud.

    Oh yah, and the really nicely done bathroom that smelled like a sewer.

  2. […] This is the one time renting our accommodations went awry. Our original lodging was a two-bedroom house situated on the lake, directly across from Clooney’s place (not that this fact influenced our decision). It was a little scary, too isolated and just not a good choice. Read all of the gory details. […]

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