Paola is an Italian international food writer and pharmacist living in Como, Italy. I met Paola when we partook in her delicious cooking class while staying on Lake Como last year and appreciated her warm welcome to the region and insight into Italian cuisine and culture. As a passionate local of Como in the Lombardy region of Italy, Paola kindly agreed to offer some insight into her corner of Italy.
Given the social distancing and shut down measures in place that are directly impacting many people and businesses, I hope that her perspective can bring a deeper understanding of, and connection with, Como and its culture, even if from afar. I loved our time on Lake Como and want to spread the word about its beauty and welcoming demeanor, especially to those who are eager to visit Italy when travel is again possible.
Name: Paola Lovisetti Scamihorn
Profession/ Job/ Title: International food writer and pharmacist with a master’s degree in medical and pharmacological research
As a local, how would you describe Lake Como/the Lombardy region of Italy? I was born in Como (Lombardy, Italy) on the shores of the beautiful lake which bears the same name (Lake Como). Lake Como has always been a popular retreat for aristocrats and the wealthy since Roman times and offers many artistic and cultural gems. Famous people have or have had homes on the shores of Lake Como as it is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.
What is one thing you would like visitors to know about Lake Como? I have wondered many times what makes Lake Como so special and irresistible to foreigners? Mamma Mia! …There is not just one thing that makes Lake Como so special, but it is a mix of different elements such as natural beauty, historic villas, romantic spots and dolce vita, that make my lake unique.
In your opinion, what can’t visitors miss on a trip to Lake Como? The beauty of the picturesque settings is certainly owed to the charming villages along the shores, the beautiful villas, the snow-capped mountain backdrop. The choice is, therefore, difficult, but there are some villages that I am particularly fond of, including Torno, Bellagio, Tremezzo and Varenna.
- Torno is located on the east shore of the lake. It is characteristic with its small harbor and colorful houses overlooking the lake. Torno is easily accessible by boat from Como, a pleasant and relaxing ride of 30 minutes.
- Bellagio is a village located at the point where the two branches of Lake Como meet. In the past it was a favorite destination of the nobility and the upper middle class of Lombardy, so there are important hotels and villas. The town of Bellagio is a classic, traditional small Italian town, with its winding, narrow alleyways, steep-stairways and immense plethora of eateries and wineries.
- Tremezzo, on the western side of the lake, is characterized by the beautiful hamlets that make it up. I certainly suggest a visit to the villages of Rogaro and Volesio, for me among the most characteristic ones. On the lake, instead, we find the most modern part of Tremezzo (late 800 early 900) where the Grand Hotel Tremezzo stands out, the historic Hotel on Lake Como that was inaugurated on 10 July 1910. A modern Grand Hotel for tourists from the early 1900s and a “historically contemporary” Grand hotel for today’s guests. The restaurants and bar satisfy the requests of every fine palate. The aperitivo on the terrace overlooking the lake is a must.
- Varenna is a picturesque village that rises on a small promontory on the lake. Its colorful houses, which seem set in the rock, add a peculiarity.
Foreigners like to experience the Dolce Vita on the lake by enjoying simple things, that most of the times we take for granted, such as a cappuccino, an aperitivo in the piazza or on a terrace overlooking the lake, a simple and rustic meal in a trattoria or just visiting the local food market, an explosion of colors and flavors.
Lake Como’s cuisine is distinct and modest, it is precisely this simplicity and uniqueness that fascinates tourists. The lake flavor is predominant, but rustic mountain ingredients are not lacking, nor delights from the foothills. They represent the poor and genuine tradition that is represented by the polenta taragna, made with buckwheat flour, or polenta uncia: topped with butter, garlic and cheese, or tocc polenta, a unique and rich dish made with corn flour, butter and cheese. These dishes are particularly enjoyed in winter when richer meals are more desirable.
What’s something that most visitors to Lake Como wouldn’t think to do or see but you would suggest they do or see?
- A visit to the Silk museum where you can reserve a private guided tour. Como has been the home of pure silk for years and our quality silk is one of the best in the world.
- Como has a large covered market where local producers sell their healthy, fresh and seasonal products. The market experience is a stimulating “assault” to the senses: the scent of aromatic plants and spices, fresh fish, cheese – not counting the dozens of colorful fruit and vegetable stalls!
- And why not a cooking class to learn how to prepare healthy local dishes?
- Wine tasting of local wines. Lombardy, in the area of Sondrio, has a well-known wine production. You have probably heard Sforzato, Inferno, Sassella. In Como there are several “enoteche” where you can enjoy a tasty glass of red wine accompanied by local cheese and bresaola. A must in Como for wine lovers. In addition, you can take a trip to Valtellina and visit the wineries to have a wine tasting while sampling delicious local foods.
I also asked Paola to share her perspective on Italy’s nationwide quarantine in response to the coronavirus, with specific reference to the current situation in Como and how this has impacted her daily life. The city of Como is in the Lombardy region where, at present, there is the highest rate of cases in the country. Paola kindly offered the following thoughts to those of us living near and far so we can have a better understanding of the economic and social restrictions, and how she is adapting during this challenging time.
Italy’s nationwide quarantine was imposed in March 2020 on the entire country, while in some areas it had already started on February 21. Italy was preceding other western countries, including Spain, Germany, France, United Kingdom and the United States. The economic restrictions, which have only left open grocery stores, banks, and pharmacies, are expected to remain in place until April 3, although it will most likely be extended. Como is practically a ghost city right now. The roads are empty, and the city is quite silent, instead of traffic and pedestrians, the most common sounds are the church bells, birds and – unfortunately – ambulance sirens. The situation in the hospitals is dramatic and there are only a few available beds left. There are not enough doctors and nurses, volunteers are welcome, especially in Lombardy, the most affected area. Work and family life are primarily at home, but people are united in sharing this sacrifice.
Being at home, I am still working. I am a food writer, therefore my work is mainly based on writing from home, so this has changed little for me. I have just completed my new book “Honestly Healthy: Salads and Smoothies for every day meals” and I update my blog with new recipes. The worst part is that I cannot give cooking classes. I miss the personal contact with my guests. In addition, I read and communicate with friends and relatives by video or phone, a thing that I rarely used to do since we would often meet in town. Cooking is one of my passions, so I spend a lot time in the kitchen with my kids, experimenting with new recipes and preparing deliciously healthy meals. In this physiologically difficult time, we need healthy comfort food to lift up our spirits and boost our immune system. Trips to the grocery store or pharmacy are my rare excursions.
Physical activity was part of my daily life before lockdown, almost every day I would go to the gym for a workout and take nice walks along the lake admiring the beautiful landscape. Now I try to do my best at home. Fortunately, at home I have some weights, elastic bands and simple equipment. I downloaded some workout programs and exercise every day. It’s not the same as before, but it is important to have some daily physical activity: Mens sana in corpore sano. Being physically active is an essential ingredient for a healthy body and soul.
Please stay home and follow all the rules, especially keep social distance, this is the only way to prevent the spread of the virus.
Lockdown should be the time to reflect on yourself and what it is really important in life. By slowing down, we can appreciate things that previously we did not even notice in the daily rush; we can channel emotions into actions that will improve success in the future.
You can visit her Passion and Cooking blog for stories, recipes and photographs that reflect her way of life in Italy or better yet, to plan a cooking class with her in Como (hopefully in the not so distant future).
I also want to mention that we were fortunate to have connected with Paola thanks to the marvelous Hotel Villa Aurora that is situated in the peaceful town of Lezzeno on Lake Como.
Many thanks to Paola for sharing her local insight. I look forward to the good news that her classes have resumed and the city and lake are open for business.