Subject: Second reply- Lake Como Area-1st stop
Hi Mike,

To answer your additional questions:

>1. Have I chosen the best places to stay? depends on your interests,your age,and so on.As you say that you will stay in the area ... to see the mountains..., I assume that you're mostly interested in nature.If you have absolutely to stay in Merano(maybe for job reasons ?),that's alright. Actually, Merano is famous and in its own right, but to my taste this town is fit for old, retired germans that go there to pass the waters and to stroll the beautiful city streets especially along the river Adige.If you like to splurge in old fashioned,very comfortable luxury hotels,that's O.K.,otherwise I would choose some other place(also considering that Merano is set in its own valley and you would have to go to Bolzano,via ea vary busy road, and then in any other direction for sightseeing;and, the lower part of Val Venosta is not really special,unlike the upper section towards Resia pass.)You say you're a freelance photographer,and I guess you are more interested in discovering special landscapes than staying in 5 star belle-epoque palaces(am I right?).

As a base for your sightseeing I would choose either Bressanone(Brixen) or Bolzano itself. Bressanone is a gem of a South- tirolean town, with a long history, an interesting architecture, a great Abbey ( Novacella) nearby, a beautiful mountain just atop of town ( Plose), good hotels and nice food( don't miss local wines,Schiava or Pinot nero reds and Gewurtztraminer white).From Bressanone you can do ( in two days minimum) the most glorious dolomitical (if such an adjective exists) loop one could imagine.Go east on SS 49 to Dobbiaco( on your way you could stop in Brunico for a stroll in the main street,then just before Villabassa take a right and visit Braies lake AND if time permits, Prato Piazza , two real treasures),south on SS 51 to Cortina d' Ampezzo, but do leave SS 51 at Carbonin and take 48bis to Misurina lake and make a diversion for the 3 Peaks of Lavaredo( not to be missed),continue on 48 and sleep in Cortina. On the next day ,again on SS 48 west and then choose between going north to Corvara and then west to Val Gardena-Ortisei and ,after Ortisei, turn left and go backwards on to Alpe di Siusi (first option),or keep on SS 48 to Canazei ( here you could take a cableway to Passo Sella and then walk a pleasant 1 hour and a half or so back to the village through splendid oceans of summer flowers(( ehm..., I assume you will be there in the summer),and down Fassa valley to Vigo and then east through Costalunga pass, Carezza lake, Nova Levante, Val d'Ega,Bolzano and north to Bressanone.Of course two days are just for stay-in-the-car sightseeing with just short walks, but it's worth the long drive anyway. Should one want to stay in Bolzano, I intend Bolzano vicinity (one astonishingly rural special place with a breathtaking vista(especially at sunset looking east on Rosengarten---do you know the story of this name?-) and lots of Haflinger horses rolling around is San Genesio Atesino).Bolzano itself is interesting, but definitely too urban in comparison with the mountains around,although still green in comparison with Milan or Turin,if you see what I mean).

On or near Como lake's eastern shore , I would choose Bellagio ( not because it's famous, after the Las Vegas replica, but simply because it's really beautiful, and no other place on the eastern shore can compare).It's not on the east shore, but it's easily reachable from Varenna. Another option is staying on the western shore , maybe Tremezzo (again reachable by the same ferry),what would allow you to do the western shore coastal road ( keep close to the water taking a left after Brienno) which is great,down to Como and perhaps up to Lugano and east to Porlezza,Menaggio. A third option is staying up north,east of Colico,maybe in Val Masino ( halfway between the lake and Sondrio, turn left; here visit Val di Mello).

2:Have I chosen the best day trips in the area?

I think I have answered this question before.When staying near Como lake, I wouldn' do a day trip to Teglio/Tirano AND another to St:Moritz, but I would go TO St. Moritz via Tirano and Bernina Pass.Or, even better,instead of going from Merano to Como lake via Stelvio pass and Bormio ,as I wrote you earlier, if you still don't know St Moritz and the Engadin, you'd better go from Merano to Malles Venosta, west on SP 41 into Switzerland,S.Maria,Zernez,south to Zuoz where the glorious real Engadin begins and maybe stay for the night in Samedan,Celerina or Pontresina ( St. Moritz is really expensive),so you could get to your hotel just after noon,leave your bags and do an excursion to Bernina and maybe go up to Diavolezza glacier,spend the evening in St.Moritz and the day after visiting Silvaplana,Sils, Maloja,and going south to Italy.(This could be an option also for your last leg from Como lake to Chur,passing Silvaplana and then heading west to Julierpass and to Chur,but it's a long road).Let me stress that one cannot miss seeing this compact area from Maloja to Zuoz once in his/her life.

>3. Will I see some 'Towns' with an Italian flavor or will they be a mix?

I must say that many of the towns you will go through are really beautiful, but not really with an italian flavor ( except for Como and its lake). Bressanone,Brunico,Cortina, Bolzano are all very interesting, but either typical mountain towns or typical Tirolean ( or German-Austrian) towns, or both things. To us italians, they have something exotic, but again, they're really beautiful and you will like them.I wouldn't have spent one hour writing to you if I didn't like these places , for sure. If you want to see some real italian town, go south of Bolzano to Verona, or east of Como to Bergamo. Both are minor gems, that don't ask you to spend a week there like Rome or Venice would do, but can give you a real italian art and architecture experience.

Feel free to ask more specific questions,and have a nice time in Italy. I live half an hour south of Como and maybe I and my wife could meet you if you're there on a weekend. Ciao, Leonardo