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A Star Wars Lover's Dream Vacation to Italy

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como

Photo Credit: Martin Moxter/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

What seemed like a lifetime ago, I planned the bucket-list birthday trip of many an Xennial’s dreams for my Star Wars-loving boyfriend. We were not only going to “a galaxy far, far away” on the extended double date of a lifetime with another couple, but we were going to the beautiful small planet of Naboo before making a multistop trip to five more lands together.

And by all of this cryptic language, I mean this awesome girlfriend planned and booked a week and a half in Lake Como and Cinque Terre. The vacation even had its own nerdy/cool itinerary title for the four of us: May the 4th be with ThoMcKeevLins.

We were going to start in Milan via a nonstop Emirates flight from New York and hit the ground running, going from plane to train and maybe automobile north to Lake Como, where I’d rented a house in one of the picturesque towns that dot this huge lake. The Malpensa Express was going to take us from the airport to the local line from Cadorna to Como San Giovanni. From there, we were to make our way to the town named Como — a good hub for the sightseeing we’d do around the area — where we’d rented out a three-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex not far from the ferry terminal, historical city center, and accessible to the Brunate cable car and lighthouse.

Like many other Star Wars fans, it was half of our quartet’s dream — my boyfriend and our friend — to stand at that iconic balcony and take a pensive picture up against the railing, staring off dramatically into the far shores of Lake Como.

Booked in advance was our headline attraction: Villa Balbianello, the historic grand estate in Lenno whose design stole the scene in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Like many other Star Wars fans, it was half of our quartet’s dream — my boyfriend and our friend — to stand at that iconic balcony and take a pensive picture up against the railing, staring off dramatically into the far shores of Lake Como. It would have been a heck of a way to usher in another birthday for him, celebrating his childhood as he crossed the bridge of being closer to 40 than 30.

On another day, we’d planned to take the train over to the Swiss side of this border area, spending the day in Lake Lugano sampling chocolate in the town, exploring the rebuilt cathedral of San Lorenzo, and adding another country to our “done” list.

After a few days ferry-hopping from town to town with a six-day motorship pass, it was on to five more: Cinque Terre.

Often confused for the Amalfi Coast on the southern side of Italy for the similarity in their bright homes that dot down verdant hills like so many colorful sprinkles, Cinque Terre is actually a string of seaside villages on the Italian Riviera, the northern region. This part was as much for me as the first destination for him, because full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of multistop trips.

Sure, it's great to unpack once and hang your hat with some finality, but when there’s a UNESCO World Heritage destination only a few hours’ train ride away and an opportunity for affordable immersion, why not make the most of the long flight it took to get you overseas?

So back on board we were to go, departing from Como to end in Spezia, where we’d rented a condo on one of Cinque Terre’s only beachfronts. The rest of the villages had dramatic harbors and high-rising views, but only this one had a beach … just in case my breakneck itinerary necessitated a little R&R. But to be honest, that part was for the rest of the group. Personally, I’d planned to eat enough of the region’s incredible seafood, pesto, focaccia, and other Ligurian specialties to make it mandatory to hike the famous route between the villages, first in one direction, then the other. That meant getting a two-day trekking card, which is required to traverse those trails. But in the interest of maxing out experiential value for time, we also planned to buy a three-day unlimited train pass. I knew there was no way we were going to hike home after dinner.

It was all perfect. It was all planned. We were set to jet in May, scheduled to arrive by the 4th. And then … lockdown happened and borders closed.

For the final leg of our dream vacation, we were going to end where we would only have gotten to see in a bleary, red-eye flight blur: Milan. I was excited to blow my designer-loving friend’s mind in the fashion and finance capital, but more so, I couldn’t wait to go back to any Spontini for another slice of the rightfully Insta-famous, ultra-thick-crusted, uber-cheesy pizza my father and I fell in love with during our first and only family vacation.

It was all perfect. It was all planned. We were set to jet in May, scheduled to arrive by the 4th. And then … lockdown happened and borders closed. Suddenly, all the freedom we’d always had to travel was heartbreakingly gone as Italy fought to get COVID under control and we in the States prepared for its touchdown. We hoped for 2021, but that was unfortunately not to be, either. Once again, our plans have been paused.

But with vaccines in play, we hope again. We plan again. And when we finally get to Naboo and the “Five Lands,” it’ll be even more otherworldly and wondrous than ever before.

Because for a time, this dream itinerary through northern Italy was even more unimaginable than travel to a mythical galaxy. And when we board that plane, settling into too-tight seats with too little legroom, we’ll say with appreciation and relief, “Oh, my dear friend. How I’ve missed you.”


Read our other stories in our Travelpalooza series.


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