I love Italy: The gelato, the papagalli, the dolce far niente – somehow my head got tangled in these clichés like a fork in a heap of spaghetti.
|Sail and motor boats quay at Colico, the Northernmost village on Lake Como’s shores.|
Funny thing is: On my frequent trips to Bella Italia, I often find this cliché reflected in the reality around me.
|Getting to Milano overflying the Alps. Do you recognize this picture? It’s my blog’s title picture.|
And it starts right in the North as soon as you cross the Alps and get to the North Italian lakes which are i. a. Lago di Orta, Lago Maggiore, Lago Lugano, Lago di Como and the largest one, Lago di Garda – listed from West to East.
Lago di Como
Me and George Clooney like Lago di Como best. He has proved his love by buying Villa Oleandra in Laglio for 10 million Dollars from John Heinz – the man who has made billions by preparing salsa from pomodori. And I prove my love by introducing this deep blue jewel to you.
|Overpowered by nature: Sumptuous green mountains along deep blue waters.|
All the above-quoted lakes are longish and stretch from South to North. Lake Como is different – it’s in the shape of an inverted Y, i. e. it looks like ⅄.
Although there are many charming places along the shore waiting for your visit, I’ll introduce those at the extreme points, starting with Como at the tip of the lower Western part, continuing with Bellagio at the angular point, going all the way up to the most Northern point which is beautiful Colico and returning South to the Eastern most point where the town Lecco is found.
Since you reach almost many places on the lake even by train – at least on the Western shore – in one to two hours from Milan, your stay can vary from a one-day trip to….a lifetime; but realistically speaking, depending on your plans, I’d say one week.
There are many towns and villages to be visited – given their size, the term ‘explored’ would be an exaggeration. Whereas ‘enjoying’ is exactly what you will do: Strolling along narrow streets and alleys while the tastiest ice cream is melting on your tongue, sipping one of uncountables espressi or latte macchiati in a small café, seeking some cool in one of the churches – and having the nicest view of the lakes deep blue water at every corner of the street.
This is exactly what you can do in Como, the town that generously shares its name with the lake.
Getting to Como is really easy – there are trains from Milan almost by the hour – and they take a bit over an hour. If you just flew in, you don’t need to go downtown, you can catch the train right at the Malpensa airport’s train station (not so if you came to Linate airport, then you have to go first either downtown or to Malpensa). Check your connection and all relevant info on trenitalia’s website, it’s really good and reliable.
|Looking through one of the historic center’s narrow alleys at San Fedele.|
The old part of Como is on the lake and really small. I stayed at a B&B ten minutes walk East of the center which was nice since I experienced real Italian life.
|Como is cute and molto italiano outside of the historic center’s limits, too.|
Besides strolling and shopping and eating and drinking, you can visit smaller museums such as the Museo Civico and the Pinacoteca; I would save that for rainy days (and this is coming from me, the biggest art aficionado under the sole).
|Como’s cathedral – not as huge as the one in Milan, but for such a small town quite impressive.|
There are nice buildings to be seen just walking – like the Duomo, the cathedral, the over 1000 years old church San Fedele or the over 800 years old Porta Torre, the portal on the historic quarter’s Eastside.
|Along the Largo Gianfranco Milio towards the Porta Torre, the fortified tower, built in 1192.
(Nicolago, Comotorre, marked as public, details on Wikimedia Commons)
The most attractive attraction, of course, is the lake with its elegant promenade and the harbor where the cruise ferries are waiting for their passengers.
But before we set sail, let’s walk South along the lake where there is the Tempio Voltanio, a museum housed in a neoclassic building from 1927, dedicated to Como-born Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery.
|Beautiful Tempio Voltanio right next to the lake.
(Photo: Daniel Case (talk), Tempo Voltiano from southwest, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Keep walking around the lake and you’ll get to the Passeggiata di Villa Olmo, a promenade between the lake and some of the most beautiful neoclassicist mansions and villas – until you get to the Queen of them all, the Villa Olmo.
|Looks like a castle, but is only a Villa…..Villa Olmo.|
For those less culture and arts-oriented folks, there used to be a Lido, a public swimming pool, a few steps from the Villa Olmo. This has been closed last summer due to construction work around the villa. Now the tanners and swimmers have to go about 3 km / 2 miles further up to the Lido di Cernobbio. If you don’t feel like walking, there is the bus N6 taking you from Como to Cernobbio.
Of course, there are many different options – from a cheap B&B to a luxurious five-star hotel – to spend the night in Como. Hotel Tre Re is a good option: Close to the main pier, this building was originally a private residence of the Vitani family. Later it became a convent and was eventually transformed into an elegant yet affordable hotel.
|Here you see the swath in the lush vegetation where the funicular is going up from Como
(Photo: Rehman Abubakr, Como-Brunate funicular – June2016, CC BY-SA 4.0)
An activity not to be missed when visiting Como is a short ride by funicular uphill to the
village of Brunate.
Not only is Brunate a very charming, picturesque village, it also grants the most breathtaking views of Como and the lake.
|Chiesa Sant’ Andrea Apostolo is greeting Brunate’s visitors on their arrival.|
As soon as you get off the funicular station, you’ll spot, next to many small restaurants and shops, the Chiesa Sant’ Andrea Apostolo, first mentioned in the 14th century.
To get the best view, you have to do a bit of walking, and yes, as it always is with views, it’s all uphill.
Turn right into the small path at the Hotel Vista Lago Brunate and keep walking straight up about 15 minutes till you get to Chiesa San Maurizio.
|Chiesa San Maurizio right in the center of the San Maurizio neighborhood. The trail that goes up to the Faro Voltiano begins right across the parking lot.|
Here you turn left and keep on walking up a forest trail till you get to the Faro Voltiano, the Voltiano tower, but more importantly to the observation deck – and at this point, I won’t disturb you any longer, but let you catch your breath after the walk – which will be taken away by the views!
|Breathtaking view from the observation deck around the Faro Voltiano on the mountains and sumptuous greenery….|
|….as well as on the lake and Tavernola village (and many, many mountains in the backdrop).|
If you cannot part and want to spend the night in Brunate, the Hotel Vista Lago is your best option….I mean, the name says it all, doesn’t it?!
Crossing the Lake
Although you could move around in buses and on the Eastern shore even by train, one of the nicest and unmissable things to do when vacationing by a lake is – going on the lake…of course by boat.
|At the harbor of Como. Taking a ferry across the lake is certainly one of the summery highlights of a trip to lake Como.|
There are various options like cruises with stops at various places (only during high season starting end of May) or trips between towns.
There is a website where you can check hours and prices: On the one hand it’s pretty informative, telling you facts about the lake’s length and depth and suggesting attractions at the different villages. On the other hand, though, it’s a bit misleading. There is for instance written that from Como to Colico, it’s four hours.
So I’ve made myself comfortable, took out my book and my phone and my water, expecting to relax for four hours on board. Well, after about two hours, the boat landed at…Colico and I had to jump and quickly pack all my stuff to hop off board before the ride continued. It took about two hours.
|Taking a trip into a picture postcard.|
So I suggest you use their page for getting a rough idea of where to go and what to do and once you’re there, you walk to the pier ahead of your trip and ask the people who sell the tickets what your options are; if you are in Como only for one day, you just go to the pier when you please since you won’t have too many choices, anyways. Don’t worry, you’ll certainly be able to go on a boat trip – and you won’t regret it, it’s dreamy…just ask George.
|Villa del Balbianello on the lake’s Western shore, short before you get to Bellagio.|
One of the most picturesque – and also most visited – places on the lake is Bellagio, located at the angular point of the lake’s ⅄.
|The lakefront promenade of Bellagio, one of the most visited towns on Lake Como.
(Photo: RiccardoT, Bellagio dal traghetto – panoramio, CC BY 3.0)
|Basilica of San Giacomo
(Photo: RaminusFalcon, ChiesaSanGiacomo, CC BY-SA 3.0)
It’s amusing and relaxing to stroll up and down the lakefront promenade or taking a drink at one of the cafés overlooking the lake – and of course, watching people walk by.
After this break, it’s time to hike up to the historic center which is located at a higher level.
Up here, the main attraction is definitely the Romanesque Basilica Of San Giacomo.
Needless to say that at Bellagio, too, there are some ancient aristocratic villas. One of the most impressive ones is certainly Villa Serbelloni. Built as a castle, it eventually became a country residence and was transformed into a villa at the end of the 15th century. Only in the 19th century, the structures were remodeled into a hotel. Today, it also serves as a venue for conventions and study tours. Its impressive park stretches all over the town’s promontory from where you have a grand view onto the lake’s two branches.
|Majestic Italy: Villa Serbelloni, nestled between cypresses.
(Photo: trolvag, Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Como, Lombardia, Italy – panoramio, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Another imposing, Neo-classical building is the Villa Melzi, built in the early 19th century for Count Francesco Melzi vice-president and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Italy.
|Artists such as Stendhal and Liszt as well as Royalties like Francesco I and Ferdinand of Austria were guests of noble Villa Melzi.
(Photo: Paebi, Bellagio Villa Melzi, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Besides these two jewels, you shouldn’t miss the other modest housings like Villa Trivulzio, built in the 18th century and located in a grand English-style park, or Villa Trotti, built in an eclectic neo-Gothic style, adorned with Moorish decorations.
Yes, there is definitely a reason why especially during the Summer month the streets and alleys of Bellagio are pretty busy.
If you choose to stay in Bellagio overnight and just found a diamond mine then you might consider treating yourself to a night at the Villa Serbelloni.
All those who are currently not rich can stay for instance at the also very posh Hotel Du Lac, located right across the pier, overlooking the lake.
|Arriving at sublime Bellagio.|
Colico is probably the most relaxed place on Lake Como, hidden all the way in the North, close to the small lake Lado di Mezzola.
|Colico’s pier is far from being an industrial harbor.|
Actually, Colico is much less picturesque and posh than the other places, but it’s totally worth the visit for the serene, beautiful surroundings where you can hike and cycle for hours.
|Getting ready for the grand tour around Lake Como.|
|Colico’s outback. All you hear are the birds chirping and the cicadas clittering.|
Then, once back to town, you can stroll along the promenade, sit for a while on a bench and just lay your eyes on the majestic mountains in the backdrop of the green-blue lake where colorful sails move indolently across the still waters: VACATION!
|Colico – this picture says it all.|
Colico is also the best place to take a dip in the lake since it has some natural beaches – whereas at the other places you have to go to a Lido which is nice, but also a bit costy. Here in Colico you just look for a place on the grass under a big tree, take out your book – or take a nap. On the shore’s Northern part there is even a stretch of sandy beach in front of the meadow, but since here the water is easily accessible all the families are staying here, so it’s packed and noisy and you might get hit on the head by a ball.
|Aperol Spritz – the taste of Italian Summers.|
Right in front of the pier are a couple of restaurants and an ice cream parlor and it’s nice and very Italian to hang out here especially in the early evening when it’s Aperitivo-time. Order a nice drink like for instance an Aperol Spritz (my favorite – and I drink it only when the outside temperature is at least 27°C resp. 81 °F) and they will give you a place full of niblets with it – that’s Italia! If you are still hungry, you can order – who would have guessed? – a pizza which is really good and – considering the location – at a surprisingly reasonable price.
|Nick nack along the shore. The ‘real’ market is taking place Sundays on the main road.|
Sunday is a great day in Colico since there’s a market along the Via Nazionale from the train station all the way into town. It’s not at all touristy, it’s rather like an open-air department store: They are selling household appliances and underwear, tools and Italian leather goods, jeans and sweets.
Accommodations in Colico range from a campground with access to a beach on the lake to upper-middle-class hotels in the town’s center.
Hotel Risi is located right on the shore and their comfortable rooms are reasonably priced:
It might be easier to travel on by boat from Colico during high season, till the end of May it’s basically impossible.
|Everything – even the old train station – is scenic in Colico.|
Ooops, does this mean you get stuck there? Even though that wouldn’t be the worst place to get stuck, you don’t have to worry since there are regional trains going from Colico i. a. to Milano by the hour. And they do stop in Lecco, which is good since this Southernmost point of the lake’s Eastern leg is absolutely worth a visit before going back to the world’s hustle’n’bustle.
|Taking a walk along Lake Como.
(Photo: Giovanni Marinelli, View of Lake Como from Lecco, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Lecco has almost 50,000 inhabitants which is a little over half of Como’s population. However, Lecco deems less dreamy. However, at the historic center can be found a number of sober yet elegant buildings from the 18th century. This Neo-Classical style from the era of the Viscounts dominates the architecture of all of the Lombardian settlements around Lake Como.
|It’s not the city as such, it’s the sensational setting amidst the Bergamo Alps and the Valsassina Valley that makes a visit to Lecco worth a while.
(Photo: No machine-readable author provided. GôTô assumed (based on copyright claims)., Lecco-4-16-04-2006, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Among these ancient palazzi, Palazzo Belgioioso, built in the 18th century, is one of the most impressive and houses today the municipal museums. Another one is the Villa Manzoni, which belonged to poet’s Alessandro Manzoni’s family until 1818 – Manzoni spent periods of his infancy and youth at this mansion – and is now communal property.
(Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/renaud-camus/ Renaud Camus, Villa Manzoni, CC BY 2.0)
Since it’s only 50 km / 31 miles from Lecco to Milan, I don’t assume that you will spend the night there. But if you choose so, Hotel Alberi is a good, comfortable and relaxed option:
Back from the dreamy lake to reality and need some ideas and guidance for Milan?
No problem, check out this post.
Only have a couple of hours there until you travel on? Here’s a 24 hours itinerary.