A Guide to Lake Como
Lake Como also known as Lario is the 3rd largest of the Italian lakes. It is stunningly pretty with a backdrop of the Italian and Swiss Alps. So colourful with the azure blue water, set against the green forest and pastel coloured villages dotted here and there. It is one of the deepest lakes in Europe and is shaped like an upside down letter Y formed by glaciers. It is only a hour by train or car from Milan.
Its beautiful setting has made it a popular location for film shoots. Parts of the James Bond film Casino Royals were filmed here, as well as scenes from Oceans 12. George Clooney liked it so much he bought a villa in Laglio. Each village has its own unique charm and the forest and Alps make for perfect hiking.
I decided to base myself in Varenna. It has a train station and is only 15 mins by boat to Bellagio, the busiest and one of the most beautiful of the villages. Varenna is also very picturesque and romantic with a very relaxed atmosphere. It also has some extremely good restaurants. There are also many things to see and do here as well as frequent ferry services to take you to the other villages.
A lovely path by the lake takes you from the train station and ferryport area to the main part of the village with its waterfront cafes and main town square. There are also colourful shops, restaurants and homemade ice cream. Continuing uphill out of town will bring you to 2 of Varenna’s main attractions.
Once a Cistercian convent from 1208. It is famous for its botanical gardens with species from all over the world flourishing in the mild climate of the lake. Laid out in terraces it is a mass of splashes of colour and beautiful scents. It is a very tranquil spot to wander or sit and admire the views. From the gardens are excellent views back to Varena and down to the little hamlet of Fiumelatte. For a small extra fee you can also visit the 18th century villa. All 14 rooms are still furnished in the traditional style. I spent over 2 hours exploring and it was one of my favourite places for its peace and tranquility.
Villa Cipressi is a hotel. It’s impressive gardens can also be visited for a small fee. It is also the setting every year for the celebration and get together of the ‘Patriarchi’. For a long time the inhabitants of Varenna have been nicknamed ‘Patriarchitt’.
Today the Patriarchi represent the elderly inhabitants of Varenna, the wise ones.
The Green way dei Patriarchi – Patriarch’s Greenway Path is a walking path dedicates to them. A way of seeing some of the landscape and most beautiful parts of Varenna. It is a 2 hour easy walk and the path is 6km long one way.
Castello Di Vezio
It is well worth the uphill hike to see the magnificent views from the castle walls. Situated next to the village of Vezio, it has stood guard over Varenna and the surrounding villages for 1,000 years. Originally built by the Lombard Queen Teodolinda, who spent many hours walking the battlements and looking out to sea.
It is said that her heart and soul are still are within the walls and that at night her spirit wanders the corridors of the castle. The first sight that greets you are ‘ghosts’ paper-mache statues as testament to this.
When I arrived, I was a little early and was the only person there, it was certainly very atmospheric. The views over Lake Como are breathtaking with the sunshine shimmering on the water and the Alps in the background.
Where to Stay in Varenna
There are many top end hotels in Varenna. I chose to stay at a small bed and breakfast run by a lovely local couple. It was in the perfect spot close to both the train station and the ferry terminal but in a lovely, quiet spot and with extremely hospitable hostsand only 200 metres from the lake. There were lovely views of the lake from my breakfast spot.
Food in Varenna
La Veranda dei Pescatori is perched on a hill with wonderful views of the lake and wonderful food. Varenna was a fishing village and you have to try the fish fresh from the lake. They also make their own wine which is very good.This place was so friendly and the service excellent. I also met some friendly locals and dinner lasted 3 hours.
Al Prato was recommended to me by my hosts and it didn’t disappoint. This time I opted for steak with pate and truffle oil, cooked perfectly.
Albergo Olivedo, their pumpkin gnocchi was one of the most delicious things I have tasted.
There are many scenic spots to stop for an aperitif.
Varenna is a beautiful little village and the ideal spot for exploring Lake Como.
Bellagio – The Pearl of Lake Como
Bellagio is often known as The Pearl of Lake Como. It is at the junction of the upside down Y shaped lake. Coming by boat it is a stunning sight as it comes into view and draws nearer, with its colourful houses, magnificent villas, churches and surrounding forest. Everyone rushes to the rails to take photos, it is truly beautiful.
There is a colourful main street full of bars, restaurants and shops. Off the main street are steep steps and alleyways, lovely to wander around and escape the hustle and bustle. The waterfront cafes are also a lovely spot to have an aperitif. The beautiful churches are also worth a visit.
A beautiful lakefront promenade lined by flowers and cherry blossom trees is a popular spot for a walk. It will also lead you to the villa Melzi. This is a beautiful villa built between 1802 and 1813. The gardens are even more beautiful, at times looking like the setting for an impressionist painting. The gardens are enchanting with a lakeside promenade, classical statues, a small chapel, orangerie and a tranquil Japanese pond. Franz Liszt and Stenhal were 2 of the famous guests who stayed at the villa and I’m sure it provided them with a source of inspiration. Paths wind up and down and it is easy to find a place of solitude.
Bellagio is a beautiful place to spend a day.
I caught a slow boat from Varenna to Como city on the Southern tip of Lake Como. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. The boat criss crosses the lake stopping at all the small villages on the way. The scenery was spectacular.
Como is a lovely place to spend a day with lots to see and do. The most impressive building is the Duomo Di Como. It is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and was built between the 14th and 18th centuries.and is one of the most important religious buildings of Northern Italy. It is 87 metres long and 75 metres high.
A very pleasant walk along a waterfront lined with bars and restaurants brings you to the Como-Brunate funicular. It has been running since 1894 and is still going strong. The journey only takes 7 minutes and the views from the top are spectacular panoramic views over the city and the walk. A 35 minute walk brings you to the Volta lighthouse. It flashes green, white and red, the colours of the Italian flag. For the very a 2 hour hike takes you to the summit of Mount Boletto.
Como is also a lovely place just to wander through the streets or sit and have a cold beer.
Just across the water from Varenna lies Menaggio. It is an important centre between the lakes and the mountains, at the fork for Lake Lugano. It only takes a few minutes by ferry. It is very picturesque with lovely squares and a lakeside promenade.