The Best of Lake Como
During your stay in Lake Como it’s important to make the best of everything; what’s the point dillydallying in one bar if there’s a better one down the road? With a bit of help from BBC presenter and journalist Sam Daley, as well as a few tricks up our own sleeve, we may just have compiled the perfect holiday for you!
It’s widely believed that Lake Como is one big Italian party for the rich, with little to offer for anyone else. Despite the tangible luxury, spectacular villas and Michelin starred restaurants, there is also plenty to do and see on Lake Como for a family on a budget. Not only is it possible, it makes for a lovely, good-value, Mediterranean holiday.
Best place to stay
The first thing to do to avoid an overly-priced holiday taut with P’s+Q’s is to have a haven away from the swish hotels and regal villas. Save these glorious buildings for a wander in your own time; you will able to make a day of dancing around the botanical gardens steeped in camellias, magnolia trees and jewel-coloured blossoms, as well as heading inside for a haute-couture afternoon tea in a villa
which has probably been used to shoot scenes for James Bond.
Best day out
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. Staying on Lake Como’s shores is wonderful, but taking to the water is even better. The best way to acquaint yourself with the lake is probably to take a ferry around its heart, between say Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio and Cadenabbia. From your vessel you will be able to admire buildings such as Villa Carlotta and Villa Tremezzo in all their grandeur, standing sparkling and erect against Como’s sloping hillsides. The gulfs and promontories of the lake make for constantly changing views, presenting you with a vibrant kaleidoscope of vivid Italy. A trip on one of the ferries tends to cost between 4 and 20 euros, but it’s also possible to hire your own private boat for the day and have a go at driving it yourself! Go all out and spin around Como’s waters on a speedboat; live like Bond for a week. Tasell, based on Piazza Cavour, is a good company for hiring.
Bellagio is a popular stop for anyone taking a boat tour around the heart of Como, but rather than barely shuffling into the centre of town, be a little more daring and venture up the cobbled streets and winding lanes to the smaller selection of intimate family restaurants with petal-soaked terraces, warming local cuisine and music reminiscent of a classic older era.
Lido di Lenno takes this crown. The sleek and contemporary beach bar and restaurant boasts a chic feel throughout, including on its artificial beach. Don’t be warded off by this crude term, the beach itself is actually beautiful and classically executed. Envisage sand between your toes, candlelit gazebos and mere centimetres between yourself and the glistening waters of Lake Como. You can dangle your tiptoes into the warm waters as the kids have a whale of a time building sandcastles; drinks and snacks are pretty inexpensive and the staff are renowned for being friendly and accommodating. Lido di Lenno strikes a balance between stylish and rustic with its elegant white interiors and arty timber and metallic furnishings, making it a lovely spot to grab a cocktail and perch on a beach. Still not sold? On Friday and Saturday nights the beach is converted into a disco dancefloor and is one of the hottest night-time destinations in Como. There we go!
The assassination site of Benito Mussolini; he and his lover Claretta Petacci were en route to a safe haven in Switzerland in 1945 when they were finally captured beside Lake Como. They spent their last night in Mezzegra before being shot dead by partisans outside the gates of Villa Belmonte the next morning. Il Duce’s room is said to remain the same as it did on that very day.
Best olive oil
This might sound a bit niche, but you’ll be glad for the tip off once you’ve tasted this stuff! Lenno are the true professionals of olive oil production, having made the nectar since 1850. World-class chefs such as Jamie Oliver swear by it, so what better way to discover haute-cuisine on a budget than by visiting the production site in Vanini yourself and acquiring a bottle on the cheap? Take a sip from the first-pressing if you can; straight from the stone mill the oil is to die for.
We’re still hungry, so let’s talk pizza. Pizzeria Balognett in Via Delle Mele won’t disappoint, nor will it be too crammed to breathe as you dine. Settled in a quieter neighbourhood, this little jewel’s modest exterior is perhaps what renders it so enticing. The secret; fantastic dough, delicious toppings; quite simply…unbeatable pizza.
You’ll find fish everywhere in Lake Como as it’s a place very fond of its seafood. Le Specialita Lariane in Lenno is where the fishermen deliver their catches fresh from the lake, before it is smoked before your very eyes. Snap some of this delicious fare up and barbecue it on your Lake Como holiday home terrace; who needs a desert island when you can achieve Italian luxury with such ease?
There are so many around Lake Como that narrowing it down to one isn’t quite fair, but here is a bit of something special…the Al Veluu restaurant in Rogaro is in the ideal spot for catching majestic views, nestled up in the hills with panoramas across the lake. To enhance the experience yet more, Daley recommends heading on up in twilight, giving you leave to enjoy a glass of something sparkly as you watch the magentas of sunset firework before your eyes.
Again, a tough call to make. The Greenway Walk, from Colonno to Griante via the charming Sala Comacina, Ossuccio, Lenno and Mezzegra villages, is one which fits a lot of Como’s magic into its trail. You will be able to enjoy plenty of picturesque moments as you turn corners and are greeted with scenes of azure waters, hillsides dashed with olive groves and mulberry trees and splendiferous villas. The walk is about 10.5km long and is suitable for ken children! Find information and maps at the tourist office in Tremezzo.
Of course, feel free to go all out and try a trek through the Alps…
Best land travel
Everyone hops on a boat if they can, but on land there are some great ways to nip around Lake Como. Try the Brunate Funicular Railway which will transport you deep into the verdure hillsides with incredible views from the sky on the way. There’s nothing like an old-fashioned railway evocative of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘From a Railway Carriage’….faster than faires, faster than witches…
You could even take it one step further and head on a cable car ride from Argegno. Not for the faint hearted, you travel 88 metres upwards in just 4 minutes! The views from the top reward the brave more than generously.
Maybe not quite land travel, but why miss the opportunity to talk about a seaplane? Aero Club Como will teach you to take off and land a plane on water, which helps you along to getting your pilot’s licence. An incredible experience and unique adrenaline kick. You’ll need timetables.
Como is a connoisseur of silk. Not that surprising for a land of luxury, but certainly sublime. As well as being able to pick up swathes of the exquisite fabric at La Tessitura in Como, the sleek concept store of the renowned silk manufactures Mantero, who welcomes Chanel as a client, you can experience a crash course in the production process at the Silk Museum itself. Such fine fabric is a spectacle to see made.
Harry’s Bar consistently pips the post for being one of the best bars in Como, probably thanks to its warm and buzzing atmosphere. Far from a conventional and prim drinking establishment, Harry’s Bar is cheekily tucked in a pretty backstreet and is always full of friendly travellers. Enjoy some limoncello and grappa here. Alternatively, enjoy live jazz music at the lakeside Firenze Bar. Our favourite is Cantine Folie
Choosing the best villa in Lake Como is a bit like trying to narrow down your choice in a sweet shop, really you want to pick’n’mix. But if you really had to choose, perhaps Villa Carlotta takes it home. The stunning 300 year old villa is set amongst Edenic botanical gardens with tropical trees and exotic flowers splashing against emerald fauna and pretty vine terraces, and has been partially converted into a museum for you to explore. Villa Carlotta is also home to exquisite sculptures of Cupid and Pysche, an unusual presentation of erotic art, as well as other neoclassical statues and paintings.
Having said that, Villa del Balbianello has been used as a set for several Bond films, Oceans Twelve and Star Wars, thanks to its marvellous stone staircases, manicured gardens and miniature palazzos. Thanks to its previous owner, Villa Balbianello also holds an array of artefacts from world travels, including those from polar expeditions. See Villas to visit.
Opting for a wild card, we say the boutique with genuine individual Italian character; 2Link Look & Touch in Via Olginati. The store is home to an abundance of quirky pieces from young Italian designers and is known for its funky t-shirts and cleverly cut dresses.
Best secret spot
The Abbey of Piona is a haven for historians and lovers of architecture. The Abbey buildings themselves are bewitching and they offer resplendent views of the northern end of the lake. What’s more, the shop sells homemade sweets and alcohol which keeps everyone happy!
The region’s churches also exist in pretty abundance. The romantic building of San Giacomo boasts a baroque altar and fifteenth century art whilst the ancient church of Santo Stefano at Lenno holds a crypt dating back to the Roman period. Finally, please don’t leave Como without visiting the captivatingly gothic Duomo with its lacy stone exterior and artistic interiors. The cathedral was actually the last Gothic church built in Italy and holds a Rococo cupola as well as tapestries made from cartoons by Arcimboldo.
Best Italian experience
Cooking your own pasta and gnocchi, something easily achievable in your Lake Como holiday homes! Learning to cook Italian cuisine in a villa alongside Lake Como is stereotypical but also atmospheric and buckets of fun. What’s more, the recipes are surprisingly simple, giving you more time to enjoy eating rather than cooking.
Ristorante II Caminetto runs Italian cookery lessons at the heart of Lake Como’s rustic hillsides. Let Head Chef Moreno teach you everything he knows. Oh, and don’t forget to fit some wine tasting in.
What with it being a lake, watersports of course! Windsurfing, kite-surfing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking…you’ll take to it like a duck to…bread! Whether you’d enjoy the tranquil meandering pace of a sailboat or the tricky thrills of windsurfing, you’ll be set. Once you’ve worn yourself out treat yourself to gelato, espresso, affogato or prosecco on the lake’s pebbly shores.
Best claim to fame
Most will say George Clooney’s villa, we say the private dock where you can hire a traditional Lucia boat, famously used by Reno and Lucia in Alessandro Manzoni’s novel, The Betrothed.
For car lovers it is undoubtedly the classic car festival Concorso D’Eleganza. For others, Festival Lagi di Como is alive with Italian music and tradition.
For pure sunshine and luxury, summer. But for fiery hues, bewitching landscapes and secret corners of ruby, gold and amber opulence…autumn.
Best Christmas do
The ice skating rink on the lake. Snowflake perfect.
Best cycle trail
Not the most challenging, but certainly one of the most beautiful, the walk or cycle around the basin of Lake Como is simply stunning around twilight, or even better, dawn. Ask around for the Diga Piero Foranea Caldirola route; mountain backdrops and lakeside wonders.
La Carapine. Textures, flavours, everything…scrummy.
There are so many fabulous restaurants on the lake, many of which probably haven’t been discovered yet! But Ristorante Bilacus serves delicious local dishes and boasts a gorgeous terrace enshrined with flowers in a secluded corner, whilst Agriturismo La Selvaggia is set in a rustic old house and serves up homely, filling and flavoursome Italian dishes in a warm family atmosphere.
Best day away
Milan is only about an hour away. Continue to indulge in the La Dolce Vita lifestyle and pay a visit.