A Quick Guide to the Best Villages on Lake Como
It’s no secret that Italy is my love language. Yes, visiting the Bel Paese at least once a year is my gift to myself. I haven’t quite worked out if Italy is so impressive by circumstance or design, but one thing is certain - Italy will never go out of fashion. Of course, a long weekend on the most spectacular lake in the country was just waiting to be crossed off my ever-growing list of Italian destinations to visit.
We arrived in Milan in the middle of August, taking a shuttle to Milan Central Train Station and hopping on the swelteringly hot Trenitalia to Varenna. Sitting in the region of Lombardy on the Swiss-Italian border, Lake Como is surrounded by the Lepontine Alps, sometimes described as the pre-alps. We were given glimpses of the mountains and the lake through the left-hand side windows of the carriage, but as we walked our way down from the train station to the port, we were keen to see more from the ferry, which runs frequently between each village on the lake.
Our base for the next three days was Menaggio, just across from Varenna. As we sailed, looking back at Varenna, we were met with a wonderful view of the romantic village, spanning from the waterfront restaurants at the base to the old castle high above. Both Menaggio and Varenna are superb bases as they situated right at the centre of the lake.
We wandered - or should I say hiked - our way up to our apartment, breaking a couple of suitcase wheels on the cobbled staircases as we went. Whilst the view of the lake was entirely worth it, perhaps staying closer to the promenade would be a more sensible option
The Grand Hotel Menaggio or The Hotel Villa Cipressi in Varenna are both ideal when it comes to stunning vistas by the main piazzas. Still, I would hike those stairs again just to wake up every morning to the view. We were able
to enjoy a sweet homemade breakfast on our terrace at our own pace, as we sat in near silence, listening to the morning songbirds as the sun began to heat up the day. Spending warm evenings people-watching in Pizza Giuseppe Garibaldi became my favourite thing to do. As the sky faded into a deep shade of periwinkle and the promenade lit up, it was the perfect setting for a chilled glass of white wine at Il Ristrotante di Paolo, whilst we reminisced on the day.
Bellagio was the first stop on our itinerary. Bellagio, known as ‘the pearl of Lake Como’, is probably the most notorious town on the lake, with its narrow and colourful streets creating picturesque scenes for tourists and locals alike. We spent some time by the pool in the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, entirely unsure of whether we were allowed to or not, though no one said anything otherwise! The afternoon was spent strolling around the Parci Martiri Della Libertà, and the breathtaking gardens of Villa Melzi D’Eril.
Only passing through Varenna when we arrived, we headed back to the traditional village, where remnants of its historicity remain. Castello di Vezio sits right at the top of Varenna, and is surrounded by groves of olives, overlooking the centre of the lake. Dating back over a thousand years, the ancient military outpost is now a peaceful green spot to admire the promontory of Bellagio and the mountains that nestle the lake. Fittingly, the Solana Vivarini Green Espadrille is the shoe of choice for this trip, designed with Venice and Florence in mind, to which Lake Como is trilateral. Echoing the verdant green of the surrounding mountains, in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.
For me, the best village on Lake Como was the lesser frequented Bellano. The small hamlet on the east of the lake, situated just below Mount Muggio, is a wonderful respite from the crowds in the more notable towns. With many family-run restaurants to choose from as you meander your way through the alleyways, Bellano has an authentically local appeal that is sometimes missed when you follow the beaten trail. With a sloped pebbled beach, swimming in the lake here is safe and refreshing.
At some point you will end up in the actual town Como, right at the southern end of the lake. Used as either the starting or end point of a trip to the lake, Como is underrated when it comes to conversations about which area is the prettiest. With wide-spanning views from the promenade, and pastel coloured buildings from as far back as the 12th century, Como should feature as more than a quick stop on your itinerary. If you feel brave enough to stand in-line, the views from the funicular are stunning. Lake Como is a destination for any time of year, with snow topping the mountains in the winter and terrifically hot summers.
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