After a marriage break-up, Ciara O'Toole found her wings piloting seaplanes over one of the world's most beautiful lakes, says Anita Guidera
CIARA O'Toole didn't dream of becoming a seaplane pilot. Nor did she imagine ending up alone in a newly purchased villa in the celebrity hotspot of Lake Como after an unexpected marriage break-up.
But the pretty 37-year-old marketing executive from Dublin wouldn't have it any other way.
Had her marriage not ended, she would probably never have discovered her passion for flying or experienced the adrenaline rush of piloting a seaplane over one of the world's most beautiful lakes.
Six years after first setting eyes on the sapphire-blue Italian lake that has captivated the hearts of such A-listers as George Clooney, Richard Branson and Versace, Ciara remains besotted.
"It has all the best of Italy in terms of the food, the people and the climate but it also has something more. It is quite a unique place," she explained.
In early 2007, Ciara and her then-husband impulsively bought a villa and decided to relocate to the sleepy hillside village of Molina, overlooking Lake Como. But within months of the move their marriage had unravelled and Ciara found herself alone and facing some tough decisions.
"There is no blueprint for this situation. It ended very suddenly, but for a year I came over a lot and we talked and tried to work it out but in my heart I knew it was over.
"I decided to stay on. I had to do everything from scratch. I had to learn the language before I could make friends, then I had to make friends," she said.
When she turned up at the Aero Club Como, mistakenly thinking it was the car tax office, she decided to take flying lessons -- and ignited her love affair with seaplanes.
"Looking back I think I was in a frame of mind that made me open to riskier things that I wouldn't normally be open to," she says.
"The first time we went up was thrilling. I was terrified but I still thought, 'I am going to do this.' It was kind of like a drug and I was hooked."
Last week she returned to Aero Club Como and flew a Piper Amphibian-capable of landing on land or water -- for the first time.
"I had done most of my training in a Cessna 172 seaplane so this was a different experience. It was like flying a toy. It was such fun. Seaplanes are my first love. The experience is always different, depending on the day, the wind and what is on the lake so it is always exciting."
Running her own marketing company, The Cat's Pyjamas, Ciara lives between Dublin and Como but continues to seek out ways to spend ever more time in the Italian village she now calls home.
She has just completed a chronicle of her colourful adventures in a book, appropriately titled Going Solo on Lake Como, and is now in the process of finding a publisher.