There is hardly a place in Europe that evokes images of beauty, glamour and tranquility more than Lake Como in Italy. Lake Como isn’t Italy’s largest lake, but there’s no denying it is one of the most attractive.
The lake (known as Lago di Como in Italian), is shaped like an upside Y, and is lined with lush gardens, luxury villas and pretty villages hugging the shore. Just like the Cinque Terre, it’s known for its breathtaking scenery. Situated in the north of Italy and close to the Swiss border, Lake Como is just an hour from Milan.
Visiting Lake Como means not only interacting with the beauty of the region, but also enjoying the flavors and tastes of the local food and the deliciousness of the traditional cuisine. It’s no secret that the Italian cuisine has a diverse variety of gastronomic dishes, starting from fish to cheese and ending up with meat-based dishes. As long as you know the right places, you’ll be enjoying the best Italian food experiences.
We recommend you try ‘Risotto with pesce persico’ a local fresh water fish which is pan fried and served on top of a white risotto or for meat lovers: ‘Polenta con uccelli scappati’, a puree made with corn flower and skewered veal and pork to resemble escaped birds. Not to forget the traditional Panettone. Let’s talk more about the traditional food in Lake Como.
Things to do at Lake Como
Now for the fun part, our tips on what to do in Lake Como: Visit lakeside towns and villages. From the regional capital, Como, with a population of 85,000, to tiny hamlets, Lake Como’s towns all hold their own charm.
If you’re short on time, we suggest you include the following gems in your itinerary when you visit lake Como.
A thriving city, Como is a shopper’s paradise with the full range of services you’d expect in a large centre.
Famous for its silk production, Como is the place to buy silk products, including scarves and ties, at reasonable prices.
The historic centre is dominated by the impressive Duomo which dates back to the 15th century. The focal point of Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
The pedestrianized piazza is lined with cafes and restaurants and is as good a spot as any to grab a bite to eat and people watch.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the piazza, Como’s waterfront is lined with parks and is the perfect spot to cool off on a hot day whilst watching boats of all shapes and sizes bob up and down on the lake.
To see the lake from above, catch the funicular (cable car) up to the quiet village of Brunate.There are nice views, a faded pink church to visit and lots of walking trails for the more energetic.
Lake Como Towns
Famous and Beautiful Places
Bellagio is also home to two gardens that are open to the public, Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni. Villa Casanova offers cooking classes and lunch experiences.
Menaggio - whilst it doesn’t have any significant attractions, the village of Menaggio has plenty of natural beauty. The lovely lakeside promenade is one of the prettiest on the lake and is busy with water sports in the warmer months. A large public swimming pool with a private beach, mini golf and an 18 hole golf course are just a few of the ways you can keep yourself occupied in Menaggio.
Varenna - to my mind, Varenna Lake Como is the real jewel and one of the best Lake Como attractions. Gelato-coloured houses cluster around a small harbour just a few steps from one of the best-preserved medieval centres of the region.Whilst it is popular with tourists, Varenna doesn’t seem as over-run as Bellagio (it’s just a 15 minute ferry ride away), and I’ve chosen to stay here on both my visits. Aside from the gorgeous lakeside setting, the main attraction here is Villa Monastero, once a Cistercian convent.
Tremezzo- Home to the beautiful Villa Carlotta, visitors flock to Tremezzo to wander the gardens and enjoy the art exhibitions on display in this magnificent villa. Also worth a look is the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, on the waterfront and with unsurpassed views across the lake to Bellagio. Built over 100 years ago in the Art Nouveau style, this is old-world luxury with a modern twist. Be sure to take some time to enjoy what brought you to Lake Como in the first place – the scenery. Everywhere you look you’ll be greeted with spectacular views, so find a quiet place to sit and appreciate the gorgeous scenery all around you.
Travel to Lake Como
The principal airports for Lake Como and the associated driving times to Como, and routes are as follows for each Lake Como airport: Milan Linate - 1hr 20mins. Milan Malpensa - 45mins. Milan Bergamo - 1hr 20mins.
There’s a good road network servicing the towns and villages around Lake Como but driving can be a bit ‘white-knuckled’, especially during the summer months when it seems that half of Milan flocks to the lake. Many of the roads are particularly narrow and winding, and with Italy’s wannabe F1 drivers sharing the ride with you, driving can be a bit nerve-wracking. Parking is limited in most of the small villages so our advice is to check ahead with us to ensure you’ll have somewhere to park your rental car during your stay. Hot TIP: Try to avoid driving to Lake Como from Milan on Saturdays during summer (and in the other direction on Sundays) as the roads are jam packed with the Milanese who frequent the lake at weekends.
There are two railway lines connecting Milan and Como – from Milano Centrale/Milano Porta Garibaldi, and from Milano Nord Cadorna. Malpensa airport is the only one located north of Milan, and the closest one to Lake Como. If you’re planning to head straight to Como from the airport, Malpensa is by far your best option. It is possible to reach Como from Malpensa by train travelling along two different routes. The easiest is taking one of the nine direct TILO trains, travelling daily from the airport to Como S. Giovanni, taking an hour and a half. These new direct trains have been introduced in June 2018. They operate between 7.12 am to 11.12 pm, once every two hours, and cost €17 each way. The second option, with more frequent departures, is taking the Malpensa Express trainheading to Milan and get off at Saronno station, from where you can hop on a train to Como Nord Lago, the station right next to the lake I described just before. Total travel time between Malpensa and Como varies between 1 hour 20 to 50 minutes, depending on connections, and tickets cost €10.90 each way.
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