Lake Como, in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region, lies in the shadow of the snow-covered Rhaetian Alps. Shaped like an upside-down Y with three slender branches that meet at the resort town of Bellagio, this lake is the most spectacular of all the Italian lakes. It has been a summer time destination for many since ancient Roman times and one can easily see why.
The lake and its surroundings are a beautiful playground to the wealthy; a vibrant and rich array of colours, smells and tastes, all combining to provide the quintessential ‘Italian’ experience to all those who visit. The gorgeous water-side towns that surround Lago di Como are the perfect combination of man-made and natural beauty, with villa gardens overflowing with colourful and luxurious vegetation, contrasting so well with the green hues of the lush surroundings, mostly consisting of fruit trees, olive groves, and vineyards..
The best time to visit is during the late spring and summer months when it’s nice and warm enough to permit for a dip in the lake itself, and a chance to get some sunbathing done, with a glass of wine in one hand, and a good book in the other. Don’t worry if you don’t like reading, just looking at the surrounding alpine vistas whilst taking in some well deserved Vitamin D is sure enough to relax even the most tight wound of individuals. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in the area in October 2016, and although it was officially shoulder season during my visit, with less crowds and very quiet evenings, we were blessed with sunny, warm days and clear skies!
Lake Como is surrounded by a plethora of vibrant towns and hillside villages and you could literally spend years discovering the nooks and crannies of every one, but here are just the five best towns (in my own opinion), that the place has to offer.
Always the star of the show, Bellagio has to be number one on the list! Ideally located at the tip of the Punto Spartivento, aka, ‘the point which divides the wind’, this gorgeous and luxurious town is the most visited in Lake Como. With cobbled alleys and porticoes, pastel coloured houses, red terracotta roofs, and the majestic snow capped Alps as a backdrop, Bellagio offers panoramic views like no other.
There’s a multitude of cafes and gelaterie you can enjoy, as well as some fantastic restaurants and bars by the water’s edge where you can have an aperitivo and lunch near the ferry doc. The easiest way to arrive is by ferry, which also gives you the opportunity to tour other parts of the lake, and see the town from the water! When in Bellagio, don’t miss a visit to the two most famous villas; Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni where you’ll get to see some old world charm and elegance, as well as enjoy lovely lakeside views, lush greenery and just a very serene and relaxed atmosphere. There’s a little train near the ferry doc which takes you on a tour around the town for a small fee. You could take a leisurely stroll through Bellagio’s cobbled alleys and lanes and do some souvenir shopping. The craftsmen and artisans of Bellagio specialise in the creation of lovely hand made glass jewellery, as well as lots of gorgeous olive wood sculptures, bowls, games etc. You’re also likely to find lots of locally produce food, olive oil and wine. So get ready to do some shopping!
A personal favourite here. Although Bellagio is the flashy, luxurious star of Lake Como, Varenna is definitely the understated beauty. I absolutely adore this little medieval town!
Traditionally a fishing village, Varenna, along with Menaggio and Bellagio, makes up the central Lake Como triangle. Brightly coloured homes and villas sit close to each other on the waterfront, lined by a pretty boardwalk which you can walk along and take in the beautiful lakeside views. Rustic and quaint, Varenna is a very peaceful place and in truth, you could just spend a day just sitting by the water, watching the boats come and go. There’s a lovely selection of restaurants ideally located for some glorious sunset views, so if you have the time, have dinner there!
You could also hike up to Vezio Castle for a birdseye view of the lake, as well as see the permanent exhibition on the Lariosaurus (Como’s own little Nessie) and the aviary housing birds of prey. Villa Cipressi is worth a gander if you’re spending the day, as is Villa Monastero, which is now a cultural and scientific centre.
Directly across the lake from Varenna, and equally close to Bellagio, Menaggio is just as pretty, with a picturesque waterside lined with cafes and restaurants. Menaggio was once a walled city but today it’s a bustling resort filled with hotels, restaurants, live entertainment, shopping arcades and even a mini-golf course!
There are some great hiking trails (ranging from easy to difficult) which start off at Breglia, very close by to the town. The lakeside promenade is lovely, and just a fantastic place to have an al fresco lunch break, even so, make sure to climb up to the older part of the town if you have time, where you can see remnants of the former wall.
Tremezzo sits on the western side of the lake and offers panoramic views of the Cape of Bellagio. It has two main notable attractions.
The first is Villa Carlotta whose gardens span approx. 14 acres feature more than 500 different species of flora including azaleas, rhododendrons, Japanese maples, palm trees, cacti, bamboo and orchids, amongst others. The town’s second attraction is one of Lake Como’s hottest properties, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. If you’re willing to splurge you can book a room with a lake view, or even better, a rooftop suite with a private terrace and outdoor jacuzzi! The property also features a beautiful park, three heated swimming pools (one of which floats on pontoons on the lake!!), and a small private beach. Yes, Como is the playground of the rich, so if you can afford it, spend it!!
One of the less touristy towns of Lake Como, this little place remains off the radar of most travelers, making it a more authentic place to stay in and live like a local among its nearly 50,000 inhabitants.
Lecco is dramatically located between the cliffs of Monte Coltignone and Resegone at the very end of the lake and is best reached by bridge, rendering it ruggedly mysterious. Given its rail access to Milan, Lecco makes for an ideal final stop when visiting Lake Como. Mountain access is also easy from the area, so is ideal for serious walkers.
As I said, there are numerous places to visit along Italy’s most famous lake and this short summary is really just the tip of the iceberg. Other noteworthy towns around Lake Como include the town of Como itself, which is very often overlooked as just a base for exploring the lake. Bellano, Cernobbio, Argegno, Gravedona, Domaso, Lenno and Cadenabbia are all worth a gander, should you have the time. My advice would be to get a timed ferry ticket (24/48/72 hours – depending on how long you’ll be staying), and just touring the lake, getting off the ferries whenever and wherever you wish and just leisurely taking in the scenic views.
Lake Como is truly a beautiful place to visit with loads of character, old world charm, fine food and gorgeous lakeside views. If you are looking for a relaxing, romantic trip this is definitely the place for you!