The Alps' towering peaks are made even better when viewed from the comfort of a Sea Ray.
I closed my eyes and breathed in the afternoon sun, its warmth weighted by the smell of ripe citrus and turned soil. What unbelievable good fortune. To idle along the villa-adorned edges of famous Lake Como at the foot of the Alps is a dream excursion, but to do so aboard a luxuriously appointed Sea Ray 305 Sundancer made this dream-turned-reality truly fantastic.
A light chop lapped the hull, and I could easily have been lulled to sleep, but the shore slid past as a riveting real-life fresco: the 16th century San Martino church, which clings to a tiny fold in the steep cliffs above Tremezzo; the fragrant wisteria dripping from the Villa Balbianello; the glossy Venetian water taxis; a hydrofoil ferry that skimmed across Como’s surface like a giant water bug. And towering above it all, the magnificent Alps, their massive, jagged edges softened by a thick early-winter snow, cast orange by the glow of the warm, sinking sun.
There’s sometimes still a bit of stereotype about Americans when we come to Europe, and not all of it of the tacky tourist variety. We’re recognized for an innate confidence that we’ve earned on battlefields and in our factories. Our drive toward innovation is celebrated and enjoyed, and increasingly our design aesthetic is gaining favor across multiple industries. One of these, of course, is boats, where Sea Ray continues to gain international fans for its sleek lines and smart ergonomics.
The 305 Sundancer fits into this narrative perfectly, with a form factor offering the ideal ratio of style and utility. It provides ample size for weekends or even a week aboard, but also the performance and smooth good looks to appeal as a large day boat to host guests for a day on Europe’s beautiful lakes.
The boat’s slick hardtop, wetbar with fridge and faux teak deck add panache for all day parties in the cockpit, while a Euro-style cabin offers a refined escape when a chill wind blows down from the mountains. As the soft cheese and old vine Pinot came out on the cockpit table I realized that, yes, the 305 Sundancer perpetuates exactly the right kind of American stereotype.
It’s hard to believe that just days prior I was riding a motorcycle across the illustrious mountains above, wet and shivering from the cold. The falling rain had already begun to float when my Ducati’s “Ice!” light flashed its warning. Gingerly, I worked the throttle with freezing, claw-like fingers. “Think warm thoughts,” I had said aloud in my helmet and imagined I was sitting in the sunshine on a beautiful Sundancer, drinking in all the goodness that is Como.
“Soon enough,” I’d thought, not wanting to daydream myself out of that exciting moment in the high Alps. Plus, I knew our guide, Manuel, would soon have us in front of a woodstove eating warm strudel. He seemed to have a built-in divining rod that points to such things, and always when you need them most.
Europe’s rugged Alps are most frequently traversed via switchback-laden, single-lane roads that nearly tie themselves into knots. One of the most massive ranges of the world, the Alps are scattered across 750 miles and eight countries; Austria and Slovenia to the east; France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to the west; Monaco and Italy to the south.
Mont Blanc in France boasts the highest peak, poking a hole in the sky at a lofty 15,781-feet, with the Disney-famed Matterhorn not far below at 14,692. And in their foothills lie sky blue glacier-fed lakes just begging to be enjoyed aboard an agile cruiser like the Euro-specific 305 Sundancer.
The motorcycle leg of my adventure came courtesy of Edelweiss Bike Travel, known best for its top-shelf, luxury motorcycle adventures not only in Europe, but every corner of the globe. The “Royal Edelweiss Dream” tour treats its guests not only to great riding, but also first-class hotels in high-end hot spots like St. Moritz, Florence and Lake Como.
The six strangers I’d met less than a week ago in Innsbruck, Austria, had since become my good friends, and each night at a new hotel, we’d gather to celebrate the day. We’d laugh, eat, toast, and laugh some more. And finally, we’d fall asleep like a pack of playworn puppies.
St. Moritz, Switzerland’s mountain playground for the international jet set, was no different. Well, except for Hotel Waldhaus Am See and its Devil’s Place whisky bar, which houses the largest selection of whiskys in the world—some 2,500 thousand bottles in all, 800 of which are extremely rare. We were shown one bottle of Macallan from 1861 that’s worth several thousand euro. People come from all over the world to sip it neat in St. Moritz, leaving the Devil’s Place with breath to melt the snow.
The following morning we had begun our descent from the mighty Alps, happily returning to the task of untying the tangled roads. As we raced our way down the rambling foothills, or Pre-Alps, as they’re known, I was excited to see daydreams of Lake Como about to be made real.
My heart quickened as the gleaming blue lake came into view. And not only because George Clooney might be swimming off his villa’s dock.
I was simply hungering to have the water beneath me, to push off from the rigidity inherent to the lives we lead on land. It’s such a healthy escape. We spend so much of our time separated from the environment by walls and windows. On a boat you are immersed in the environment, and in the weather. Your senses are awake. The smells and sounds, the wind and rain, the heat and cold, you are impacted by the world around you. You’re fully engaged in the moment. And for that, you are more alive.
We approached Lake Como from the north and snaked our way down its long, sinewy east edge. There’s a new feel here where the mountains tumble, flatten and the long plains stretch south. The kitschy Alpine mountain charm is quickly replaced by a sophisticated, Old World Mediterranean air that is heady and irresistible.
Como, Italy’s third largest lake and by far its most famous, collects the massive Alpine snowmelt as if it were a long, deep chalice, edged by jewel-like villas, palaces and colorfully-painted hotels. From the southern tip, we tiptoed back up the single-lane road that edges Como’s peninsula until we reached Bellagio, the “Pearl of the Lake.” The warm afternoon served as a welcome reward for riders whose fingers and toes were numb just hours before.
The next morning brought not only more warm sun, but a sense of wonder. Bellagio is fantastic—a steep-sided village of century-old buildings laced together by stone lanes and cobbled stairways. The lake, dotted with swans and pristine charter boats, beckons on Bellagio’s lower edge.
And here at last I could enjoy the Sea Ray, the fantasy that had warmed me on those Alpine passes. Our Sundancer cruised past a few of the more famous villas: Richard Branson’s Villa La Cassinella, Clooney’s Villa Oleandra, the Villa La Gaeta where many scenes from the James Bond movie Casino Royale were filmed. All the impressive villas have names, just like boats. Some of the most splendid have been donated by royals and aristocrats to be enjoyed as parks and museums. Perusing them is a lesson in decadence, and forces an appreciation for another time.
The 305 Sundancer delivers on its promise, and then some. Very roomy for its compact length and brimming with comfortable amenities and beautiful finishes, it’s a pleasure to drive, very maneuverable and quick. But all I wanted to do at that point was lay back on the cruiser’s portside lounger and drink in the sun and dazzling sights.
As the sun sank low, I stared up at the Alps and reminisced about my cold, wintery ride. The grin was for my good fortune. Riding an Italian bike across those majestic mountains was an exhausting, unforgettable, action-packed adventure. But relaxing in the sun on this Sea Ray as the beauty of Lake Como revealed itself? Now that felt like a dream made real.