The fisherman, silhouetted against a cool sun, cast out his line and caused a barely perceptible ripple in the middle of the wide, watery mirror that is Lake Como, Italy.
Across from my vantage point – a rock wall above stranded and bobbing boats – I could see the slowly rising mountains and the tiny white spires of nearby Menaggio… or would it be Bellagio? Or Tremezzina? Through the haze and the distance, town names become irrelevant. Peace rules over Lake Como, the water recognises no borders and the mountains house all as equals under nature.
Loneliness is a wonderful thing if you can find the right place to be lonely in. Varenna, in late Autumn, is one of those places. The hotels have closed their doors by this time, likely at the approach of the alpine chill that will lay over the area for the next few months. The restaurants are sleepy and calm, returning to a more community-centric operating speed. There’s no rush to bring out the cappuccino, no frantic bustle to serve flip-flop wearing hordes, just calm.
It’s days like this when you can really appreciate a tourist spot. Without a press of people pushing you along, you have the time to stop and smell the mountain breeze. You can study the cobblestones beneath you, marvel at the brightly coloured buildings teetering over you and dance down the streets without fear of being seen. You can pretend the world is yours for a day.
And so I did. On that beautiful day in “holy off-season” I wandered the streets of Varenna like the last man on Earth, exploring the deserted ruins of a time long past. The relics of twenty-first century tourism were there for me to see but I was viewing them in their most harmless state. With almost every store, café and hotel out of action, I was able to appreciate the charm of the buildings that housed them and how their sharp-edges and bright colours contrasted beautifully against the rolling green hills behind them.
The town of Varenna is a patchwork of squat, vibrant houses and steep, salt-stained staircases nestled up against the bottom of a mountain. From inside, it is a romantic maze of twists, turns and hidden gems, while from the lake it is a postcard-perfect Italian scene, complete with church tower, flowers and boat sails. It is a place to be appreciated with quiet awe.
In the lonely silence on that late Autumn day, I found time for the necessary moments of meditation and mindfulness. Sitting on private moorings behind a deserted hotel, I dipped my feet in the crystal-clear and almost painfully cold water and held them there as long as I could. I sat, I remember, for a long time and just watched that fisherman out in the lake. He was as blissfully alone as I was. I stayed quiet. I didn’t wanted to disturb him.
Written for the recent 2016 Rough Guides Travel Writing Competition – “My Best Day on Earth”.