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. The funny thing is: On my frequent trips to Bella Italia, I actually find these clichés reflected in the reality around me. Just like around the North Italian lake land.
Here is a complete guide to the wonderful Lake Como – truly a lake to like.
Bella Italia begins right in the North as soon as you cross the Alps. Here are also the famous 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 – a Lake to Like
Of these lakes, me and George Clooney, we like Lago di Como best.
He proved his love by buying Villa Oleandra in Laglio for 10 million Dollars from John Heinz. That’s the man who has made billions by preparing salsa from pomodori.
And I prove my love by introducing this deep blue jewel to you.
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 located at the extreme points.
I’m starting with Como at the tip of the lower Western part, continuing with Bellagio at the angular point. Then, I’m going all the way up to the most Northern point which is beautiful Colico. Finally, I return South to the Easternmost point where the town of Lecco is located.
Since coming from Milan, you can reach many places on the lake also by train – at least on the Western shore – your stay can vary from a one-day trip to….a lifetime.
But realistically speaking, depending on your plans, I’d suggest one week.
There are many towns and villages to be visited; given their size, exploring 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 uncountable espressi or latte macchiati in small cafés.
Cooling off in one of the churches.
And having the nicest view of the lake’s deep blue water at every corner.
This is exactly what you can do in Como, the town that generously shares its name with the lake.
How To Get There
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 even don’t need to go downtown. You can catch the train right at the Malpensa airport’s train station.
However, not so if you landed at Linate airport.
From there, you have to go first either downtown or by direct shuttle to Malpensa.
Check your connection and all relevant info on Trenitalia’s website.
It’s really good and reliable.
Buon Giorno, Como!
The old part of Como is on the lake and really small.
Besides strolling and shopping and eating and drinking, you can visit smaller museums such as the Museo Civico and the Pinacoteca. However, I would save that for rainy days – and this is coming from me, the biggest art aficionado under the sole.
There are nice buildings to be seen just by walking. For instance, the Duomo, the cathedral. Or the over 1000 years old church San Fedele as well as the over 800 years old Porta Torre, the portal on the historic quarter’s Eastside.
Como’s Ancient Glory
The most alluring 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. This neoclassic building from 1927, dedicated to Como-born Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery, is housing a museum.
Keep walking around the lake to get to the Passeggiata di Villa Olmo. This scenic promenade runs between the lake and some of the most beautiful neoclassicist mansions and villas. And at the end, there is the Queen of them all, the Villa Olmo.
For those less culture and arts-oriented folks, there is a Lido, a public swimming pool, a few steps from the Villa Olmo. If it’s too crowded, the tanners and swimmers have to go about 3 kilometers further up to the Lido di Cernobbio. If you don’t feel like walking, there is the bus N6 taking people from Como to Cernobbio.
Where To Stay
Obviously, there are many different lodging options – from a cheap B&B to a luxurious five-star hotel.
I stayed at the B&B Ai tre Leoni*, ten minute’s walk East of the center. It was a nice experience to stay in a non-touristy neighborhood and experience real Italian life.
If you prefer to stay closer to the action, for instance, the Hotel Tre Re* is an excellent option. Located 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.
An activity not to be missed when visiting Como is a short ride by funicular uphill to the village of Brunate.
Brunate is not only a very charming, picturesque village. It also grants the most breathtaking views of Como and the lake.
As soon as you get off the funicular station, you’ll spot the Chiesa Sant’ Andrea Apostolo, first mentioned in the 14th century.
Next to it are many small restaurants and shops.
To get the best view, you have to do a bit of walking. And yes, the trouble with views is that they are uphill.
So let’s go.
Turn right into the small path at the Hotel Vista Lago Brunate and keep walking straight up for about 15 minutes till you get to Chiesa San Maurizio.
Take a Good Look Around
Turn left and keep walking up a forest trail till you get to the Faro Voltiano, the Voltiano tower. Right next to it is the observation deck. And at this point, I won’t disturb you any longer, but let you catch your breath after the walk.
I’m sure it will be taken away by the views, anyway!
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.
There are various options like cruises with stops at various places – albeit, only during the high season starting end of May. Also, there are trips between towns.
On this website, 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 in the different villages. On the other hand, though, it’s a bit misleading. There is for instance written that going from Como to Colico takes four hours.
Are We There Yet?
Therefore, once aboard, I made myself comfortable, took out my book and my phone, and my water, expecting to relax for the next four hours. Well, after about two hours, the boat docked at…Colico! Thus, I had to jump and quickly pack all my stuff to hop off board before the ride continued.
Hence, it took about two hours.
So I suggest you use their page for getting a rough idea of where to go and what to do.
Once you’re there, you walk to the pier well ahead of your trip and ask the people selling 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.
One of the most picturesque – and also most visited – places on the lake is Bellagio, located at the angular point of the lake’s ⅄.
It’s amusing and relaxing to stroll up and down the lakefront promenade or take 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 of the lake’s two branches.
Another imposing, Neo-classical building is the Villa Melzi. It was built in the early 19th century for Count Francesco Melzi, then vice-president and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Italy.
Besides those two jewels, you shouldn’t miss the other modest housing like Villa Trivulzio. It was built in the 18th century and is 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 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.
Hidden all the way in the North, Colico is probably the most relaxed place on Lake Como.
Actually, the village of Colico is much less picturesque and posh than the other places. However, it’s totally worth the visit for the serene, beautiful surroundings where you can hike and cycle for hours.
An Italian Vacation
Then, once back in town, you can stroll along the promenade. Relax 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 is also the best place to take a dip in the lake since it has some natural beaches. At the other places, you have to go to a Lido which is nice, but also a bit costly.
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 northern shore, there is even a stretch of sandy beach in front of the meadow. But since there the water is easily accessible, that’s where all the families are staying. Hence, it’s packed and noisy and you might get hit on the head by a ball.
Eating, Resting, Shopping
Right in front of the pier are a couple of restaurants and an ice cream parlor. Obviously, 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 an Aperol Spritz and they will give you a plate full of niblets with it – that’s Italia!
If you are still hungry, you can order – who would have guessed? – a pizza that is really good and – considering the location – quite reasonably priced.
Sunday is the grand market day in Colico. There are stalls 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 beach access to upper-middle-class hotels in the town center.
Hotel Risi* is located right on the shore and their comfortable rooms are reasonably priced.
It might be easier to just keep travelling by boat from Colico. While during high season, that’s a great option, till the end of May it’s basically impossible.
Ooops, does this mean you get stuck there?
Even though it wouldn’t be the worst place to get stuck, there’s no need to worry.
There are regional trains going from Colico i. a. to Milano by the hour.
Also, they do stop in Lecco, which is good since this southernmost point of the lake’s Eastern leg is absolutely worth a visit.
Lecco has almost 50,000 inhabitants which is a little over half of Como’s population.
However, Lecco deems less dreamy.
Albeit, at the historic center, are some 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.
Among these ancient palazzi, Palazzo Belgioioso, built in the 18th century, is one of the most impressive. Today, it houses the municipal museums.
Another one is Villa Manzoni. This mansion belonged to poet Alessandro Manzoni’s family until 1818. Manzoni spent periods of his infancy and youth at this house. Today, it is communal property.
Since it’s only 50 kilometers 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
More On Italy
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.
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Note: I’m completing, editing, and updating this post regularly – last in January 2023.
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