Looking for either inspiration or advice for a trip to to Italy? Check out my Lake Como Travel Guide for all you need to know…
Lake Como Travel Guide
The idyllic Italian lakes conjure up images of perfect postcard views, opulent villas and old sleepy towns. They are a retreat for celebrities. The playground of the rich and famous. Spend your evenings sampling that day’s fresh catch. Enjoy a bottle of wine with friends or a loved one as the low hanging sun burns a resplendent red. Here, life moves a little slower.
Lake Como is widely regarded as the most spectacular of the three main lakes in Italy’s Lombardy region. It’s hardly surprising, Lake Como’s is surrounded by steep, lush green hills. Along its 171km shoreline, small clusters of civilisation can be found: ancient towns, villages and communes; magnificent villas; and beautiful gardens. In the distance to the north, the snowcapped peaks of the Rhaetian Alps complete the picturesque composition.
What more could you ask for?
Planning a trip to Lake Como can be perplexing and there are many questions to ponder. Where should I stay? Which villages and villas should I visit? How do I get the lake? How do I navigate the lake? Wondering what the answers to these questions are? I’ve got some good news for you: Relax and read on… Whether you are looking to inspire your wanderlust or plan a Lake Como itinerary, I’ve got you covered.
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~ Como ~
Sitting at the southern most point of the lake is Como. It’s the largest settlement on the lake and acts as the administrative hub of the Lombardy region. Como was our first stop on our journey in from Milan. We weren’t there for long; only a couple of hours. First, we enjoyed a quick wander through streets, taking in piazzas and the Cathedral. We then got down to the serious business of food. First on the agenda was one of the two Ps: in this case, pizza. Pasta would have to wait. At Al Lungo Lago we enjoyed the lakeside breeze and views afforded by a street side table, a couple of traditional thin-based Italian pizzas and a couple of glasses of cold refreshing beer to wash it down with ( Al Lungo Lago). Afterwards we sat near the lake’s shoreline as we waited for the next passenger boat to arrive.
Como stands out from the other villages and communes further to the north. For one, its much larger and a bit more modern; signs for well-known shopping brands are present in the centre. The areas around the shoreline and the cathedral are particularly picturesque.
Additionally, and in contrast to the other villages on the lake, Como is home to a large cathedral. Como Cathedral dominates the skyline and was visible as soon as our train pulled into the station. The cathedral’s gothic design is impressive in both its detail and stature. Meanwhile, its interior is cavernous and surprisingly airy. The ornately decorated dome stops visitors and worshippers in their tracks, forcing them to crane their necks in awe. Away from the light, intimate scenes play out in front of burning candles and incense.
Nearby, piazzas create an unmistakably Italian scene. Buskers play, in the cafes people enjoy an afternoon espresso, the sun shines. The buildings lining the piazzas are finished with a faded honey yellow hue. The walls are adorned by wooden shutters with deep autumnal tones. Slim metal-grated balconies, which jut out far enough for a single occupant and the optional cigarette only.
Of course a stop in Como wouldn’t be complete without a little more indulgence. It won’t be surprising to hear that, as with most places in Italy, there are many opportunities for gelato. Gelateria Lariana is close to the jetty where passenger boats arrive and depart ( Gelateria Lariana).
~ Bellagio ~
Bellagio occupies an enviable location, sitting on the cape that splits the southern part of Lake Como in two. To the north is the lake’s northern arm, backdropped by the spectacular Rhaetian Alps. Across the water to the east you will find Tremezzo, Lenno and the lake’s famous villas. In the opposite direction sits Varenna, eye-pleasing and delightful. As a result of its beautiful seting and proximity to Lake Como’s other key sights, Bellagio made for the perfect base.
When I’d first heard the name Bellagio, my mind was taken back to the glitz, glamour and opulence of its namesake in Las Vegas. Upon arrival I quickly discovered that this Bellagio was anything but (and I mean that in the best possible way). Bellagio is quaint, cool and beautiful. I suspect visiting on the shoulder, in April, rather than the heaving summer months helped. In any event, it proved to be an inspired choice.
Things To Do
Year after year, crowds flock to Lake Como for the picturesque setting, the laid back charm and the ever so popular (and stunning) villas. Bellagio’s very own Villa Melzi is no different. The villa’s construction dates back to the 1800s. Its severe neo-classical design and creamy hues recognisable from the opposite shore. Whilst the villa itself is not open to the public, the beautifully maintained surrounding gardens are. These enchanting gardens spread out alongside the lake. Footpaths snake between rare plants, ponds, statues and chapels. It is a charming way to spend a lazy morning.
Otherwise, Bellagio is designed for leisurely strolls, spent admiring the old architecture and views across the lake. Once you’re done strolling, find a cafe and people watch. Soak it in and relax. Being a city dweller in the UK, I do enjoy getting out to quieter, calmer places. Bellagio was perfect.
On our first night in Bellagio, we ate our evening meal at Risotto Forma & Gusto; a small, homely restaurant a short walk away from our hotel. Pizza, pasta, bruschetta – they do the Italian staples very well. ( Risotto Forma & Gusto).
On the recommendation of one of the hotel’s staff, we reserved a table at La Punta for our final meal in Bellagio. La Punta is located at the northern-most shore of the cape on which Bellagio sits. The setting was beautiful and we enjoyed our meal outside on the veranda, looking out onto the lake and distant mountains. The menu was simple and fresh. I started with parma ham and melon (one of my all time favourite food combinations), followed by a main of fresh fish from the lake with a selection of veggies. ( La Punta).
We stayed at the Hotel Bellagio for a couple of nights. The rooms were clean and comfortable. At night it was peaceful. I slept like the dead. The hotel also included a complementary continental breakfast which, aside from being a tasty way to star the day, also helped to keep costs down. The views from the hotel terrace weren’t half bad either ( Hotel Bellagio).
~ Lenno ~
For our first full day on the lake, we decided to explore Lenno, Tremezzo and Varenna. The day commenced as any successful day should: with breakfast. After helping ourselves to a gluttony of cereals, cooked meats, eggs, toast and coffee, we ambled down to the lakeside ticket office. 10 minutes later, we hopped on to the first passenger boat heading south. The journey was slow and smooth. On the open deck we basked in the mid morning sun and admiring the views.
The commune of Lenno is home to arguably the most famous villa on Lake Como: the Villa del Balbianello, which has been used as a filming location for a number of films. James Bond fanatics will likely recognise the villa and its plush surrounds from the magnificent Casino Royale. Star Wars fanatics will also likely recognise the villa, although from the far less magnificent Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
The boat to Lenno was was busy and, as we docked, our fellow passengers were in a hurry to get to the villa. Accordingly, we decided to hang back and avoid the rush. Instead, we sat down for a quick coffee. Out of the number of lakeside cafes we chose a table Pasticceria Bar Sport. Why, you ask? Because it was the first cafe we stumbled upon. It also had a veranda with views of the lake ( Pasticceria Bar Sport). Awake from the coffee, we proceeded to walk the 700m or so to the imacculate Villa del Balbianello.
Boat departures vary in frequency and, by the time we made it back into Lenno, there were no boats on the horizon. It was a glorious spring day and rather than wait, we chose to walk to Tremezzo. The route, via Azzano, is approximately 3.5km long, flat for the most part (thank god) and with its own fair share of views, buildings and villages to admire. I worked up quite the appetite from all the steps and so we stopped off for some well earned pasta near Tremezzo, at Restaurant Azalea ( Restaurant Azalea).
~ Tremezzo ~
In Tremezzo, the Villa Carlotta that steals the show. And its with good reason too. Built upon a raised elevation, the villa is vertical and imposing. It commands attention. From up high, the balconies and windows treat visitors to wonderful views across Lake Como. Within its three storeys is a not inconsiderable collection of paintings, marble statues and neo-classical furniture. Entry is €10 for adults and includes access to the well maintained gardens.
Following the lead of Lake Como’s other famous villas, the gardens surrounding Villa Carlotta are well presented and scenic. The various terraces, sprinkled throughout the gardens offer more vistas across the lake and the rolling hills beyond. Needless to say, my camera had a good workout. My favourite photo taken at Villa Carlotta was of a rustic wall and door, framed by green crawling plants and a flower bed. To find this scene for yourself, first take the steps up to the main entrance of the villa. Next turn 90 degrees to your right and start walking. After 20-30 metres, the door will be on your lefthand side. Snap away.
~ Varenna ~
As we rode the passenger ferry across to Varenna it became apparent that the best had been saved until last. I felt spoiled by Bellagio, Lenno and Tremezzo: the picture perfect views, beautiful buildings and glorious blue skies. Varenna, however, was even more beautiful. This small, multi-coloured village sits on Lake Como’s eastern shore, with calm waters to the front and lush, rolling hills to the rear. Arriving by boat is the only way to appreciate the charm of Varenna. The approach is jaw dropping.
~ Travel on Lake Como ~
The best way to navigate the lake and to enjoy its ancient villages and splendid mansions is by boat. The public boat service is provided by Navigazione Lago di Como, who’s fleet of passenger boats and car ferries trawl up and down the lake. Depending on the village you are at / looking to get to, boats will arrive and depart approximately every 30-90 minutes. A full timetable can be found on the Navigation website, here.
For me, Bellagio was the perfect place to stay on Lake Como. Not only is it stunning, but as a result of its central location, boats arrive and depart with more regularity than at other villages. All in all, I would be happy to stay in Bellagio again.
~ Getting to Lake Como ~
Did you know that Milan has two airports? Neither did I. Well, that is until I’d booked the flights, not realising that we were flying into one airport and out of the other. Thankfully, this arrangement worked out very well indeed. We flew into Malpensa and headed straight to Lake Como. After a few days on the lake, we explored Milan, before flying home from Linate.
From Malpensa Airport
The Malpensa Express runs from Malpensa airport to Como via a change in Saronno. The train to Saronno take 20 minutes, with a further hour onwards to Como. A ticket covering the whole journey costs €9.90. Ticket machines are straightforward to use, with English language options. If you experience any difficulties with the machines, the staff are also helpful.
From Linate Airport
Whilst Linate is closer to Milan, it lacks the luxury of a train service. First, you’ll need to take either a bus or taxi into Milan itself. After arriving in Milan, hop onto a train towards the lake.
There are two options when travelling from Milan. The first of which is to take the train to Como. The journey time is around 1 hour and costs €4.90. After arriving in Como, have a quick explore and then wait for a passenger ferry to arrive. The final part of the journey will be by boat, northwards to Lenno, Tremezzo and Bellagio. Alternatively, a direct train runs to Varenna, which takes around 1 hour 15 mins and costs €7. Either book accommodation in Varenna or take a boat to Bellagio.
All in all, I had a wonderful time on Lake Como. Unsurprisingly, my love affair with Italy continues. Did you fall in love with Lake Como’s charm? Varenna or Bellagio, which did you prefer? Which was your favourite villa? Let me know, below.