Lake Como guide

Lake Como trip planner

A vacation guide to Lake Como —Bellagio, Como, Varenna, and cruising the lake

Lago di Como
Lake Como. (Photo by Bernini Massimo)

Lake Como is the beauty queen of the Italian lakes. The turquoise and sapphire waters of its three spindly arms—splayed like an inverted Y, each roughly 50km long but rarely more than 2km wide—reflect the greenery of the sumptuous villa gardens lining its banks and the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding pre-Alps.

For centuries Lake Como has seduced visitors and artists and drawn noblemen and business moguls to line its shores with gracious villas and verdant gardens—which is why this loveliest of the Italian lakes is best enjoyed from the waters on a ferry or pleasure cruise.

The highlights of Lake Como

Lake Como in 1 day
Yes, you can see the best of Lake Como on a day trip from Milan. Here are two methods:
The famous silk capital of Como town with its medieval churches anchors the base of the southwestern arm. However, the real sightseeing action on Lake Como takes place in the little towns clustered where the lake's three arms meet, each laden with more villas and gardens than you could see in a week.

The storybook village of Bellagio ★★ sits near the tip of the peninsula where the three arms of the lake meet. It's a a popular base from which to tour the lake, with a couple of lovely villa grounds to tour.

From Bellagio, a short ferry ride to either far shore leads to pretty fishing villages surrounded by lush gardens and postcard castles:

Varenna on the eastern shore, has its hillside castle and two little villa gardens (just north of Italy's shortest river, Fiumelatte).

On the western shore are Menaggio, Tremezzo (with the famed Villa Carlotta, best on the lake), and Lenno (with the Hollywood-perfect Villa Balbianello )—plus the spot by the road in Mezzegra where Mussolini was gunned down.

Take a cruise

Traveling Lake Como by boat (www.navigazionelaghi.it) is a slow, easy-going method of travel totally devoid of the traffic jams and long tunnels that often plague the roads hugging the lake shores.

More importantly, from the vantage point of a boat you actually get to see all those glorious gardens and lavish villas that line Lake Como's banks. (From the road, often all you can see of these noble summer mansions are the high walls fencing them off from prying eyes.)

Who knows? You might get lucky and spot George Clooney relaxing on the terrace of the villa he bought from John Kerry in 2004.

A bit of Lake Como history

Clooney was far from the first to be drawn to Lake Como's charms. All of this land was once known as Cisalpine Gaul, a Celtic province that frequently found pitted up against a pre-Imperial ancient Rome in peninsular conflicts.

Cisalpine Gaul's alliance with the Samnites against Rome failed, as did a later alliance with Hannibal.

This allowed the growing Roman Republic to conquer the region and push its own borders north, establishing military camps that eventually grew into such cities as Milan, Brescia, and Como.

Lake Como itself has also inspired artists and Romantics since Roman times. Several ocal boys made it big, including the ancient historians Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger and famed scientist Alessandro Volta.

Como's visitors have ranged from composers (Liszt, Verdi, Bellini) to writers (Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth) to movie directors (parts of A Month by the Lake, Star Wars II and III, and the James Bond reboot of Casino Royale were filmed here (all, as it so happens, at the same place: the Villa Balbianello outside Lenno).

Planning your trip to Lake Como

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