Baby, it’s cold outside! But not inside the Tivano, one of the snug boats — or battelli — that ply their way up and down the glorious Lake Como.
Who knew clouds could be so beautiful, I thought to myself as the Tivano made its way from the city of Como to Colico, at the top of the lake, in the shadow of the snow-capped Alps.
During my five days here, I just couldn’t stop taking the boats (around £10 to £15 for an hour or so’s journey).
Serene: The view from Varenna on the eastern shore of Lake Como, where boats offer an ideal mode of transport
I looked and looked at those clouds: some hooked on top of the snowy mountains that ring the northern end of the lake; some trapped in the ravines that lead down to the water’s edge, alongside pure white streams; others hanging in mid-air over the lake, like a trailing white scarf dropped from heaven.
We think of Italy as a summer destination, but Como is, if anything, lovelier in winter. The oaks and beeches on the mountainside turn orange and yellow, while the cypresses remain a rich evergreen.
While you admire the palm and olive trees by the water, the snowline of the mountains creeps down the slopes, but rarely hits the lakeside.
I even swam in the lake earlier this month — chilly, admittedly, but a useful boost to the system after too many glasses of local Lugana wine.
After hours spent chugging up and down the lake in those boats, it turned out that the best view was from the dining room table of the Hotel du Lac in Varenna. My table had an unbeatable view, straight down two of the great channels of the lake, one leading towards Como, the other to Lecco.
I sat and stared from that table for hours on end, eating smoked trout and lavarello, one of the lake’s whitefish.
One day, the sun was so bright I had to half-pull the curtain across my view. On others, the rain came piling down.
It can get very wet in Italy — thus the terrible recent floods, the worst for ten years, in Venice, and the deadly inundation of Sicily.
Charming: The town of Varenna with its pretty multi-coloured houses
But here in Como, the rain has its own safe beauty, moving in great sheets across the water.
The views across the lake are so far-reaching, and the lake so enormous, that you can see the changing weather — rain followed by sun — approaching and shifting direction, minute by minute.
Hotel du Lac is now closed until March, but there are plenty of places that stay open throughout the winter.
For example, Hilton Lake Como, in Como itself, very near the lake, has double rooms from £115.
And the boats run on the lake throughout the winter, too. They are so reliable and frequent (and their employees such a lovely, friendly bunch) that there’s no point in having a car.
Just spend the day hopping between the towns that hug the shore.
Varenna is one of the prettiest. It has two exceptional churches bordering its town square: the 11th-century San Giovanni, a pocket chapel painted with early frescoes, and the grander, towering 14th-century San Giorgio, with a gleaming, black marble floor and 15th-century paintings.
The grandest place of all is Como itself, at the southern end of the lake, well-served by trains from Milan.
The cathedral is a short walk from the station and the boat piers. Its construction began in the late 14th century, just on the turning point between Renaissance and Gothic, and there are charming chunks of both styles.
To get a real feel for the lake, take a boat all the way from Como, at the southern end, to Colico at the northern end.
The slowest boats take two hours and 40 minutes. The quick do it in one hour and 40 minutes.
As you head north, and particularly after Varenna, the boat empties, as do the lakeside towns and the lake itself, a few sailing dinghies apart.
Meanwhile, the snowy mountains and Alpine wilderness get closer and closer.
It is one of the great journeys in the world.