Lake Como as a vacation destination belies the idea that Italy is all Roman ruins and antiquities. This picturesque area in the Lombardy region near Milan in the north of Italy is both unique and stunningly beautiful, highlighting quaint villages and towns, and gorgeous, historic villas. With a backdrop of the snow-capped Alps and rolling green hills mirrored in the crystal waters of the lake, Lake Como is a favorite of the famous and an inspiration for the artist and writer. It continues to be a popular destination for the world traveler.
Varenna on Lake Como
The Golden Triangle
The most popular activity for the visitor is to cruise Lake Como touring the “Golden Triangle” which takes you to the three most charming towns on the Lake: Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna. In between soaking up the stunning views of villas and gardens while cruising the lake, your visits to these towns affords opportunities to stroll ancient, narrow streets, shop for souvenirs, or savor the cuisine of the region.
Bellagio is known as the “Pearl of Lake Como”. for good reason with its cobbled streets and colorful buildings. Varenna is quieter, a fishing village while Menaggio is quite the opposite – a busy town, bustling harbor, with many shops and cafes.
Menaggio Street Scene
Villa del Balbianello
Current day visitors are not the only ones to appreciate the beauty of Lake Como. Historic and grand villas line the shore and luckily for us, many are open to the public for exploration. Stroll the heavenly gardens and marvel at the lush interiors. The most famous villa is perhaps the 17th century Villa Carlotta in Tremezzina known for the magnificence and variety of its gardens: botanical, Italian, and water. The villa itself contains many artistic treasures. An 18th century one, Villa del Bellagio also has lovely grounds but is best known currently as the setting for several films in series such as Star Wars and James Bond. Be sure to visit Villa Olmo and Villa Monastero as well, the latter having a museum on site.
Villa Carlotta Garden Fountain
View from Villa Monastero
More Activities Available
Lake Como is surrounded by hiking trails for the more active visitor. A popular trail is that of the Sentiero del Viandante which runs along the eastern shore for 45 km (28 mi.). You can also fish, swim, or rent a kayak or paddleboard. Not into sports? There’s always shopping! Como town is known for its silk products manufactured locally. Or just take in a meal or two sitting in a café by the lakeside, and relax with a wonderful regional wine.
Explore the towns
Buy a silk tie or scarf
Enjoy a glass of local red wine
The dishes you will find in this region are a combination of Italian and Swiss influences. The region’s most famous dish is risotto alta milanese, which is a creamy risotto with saffron and Parmesan cheese. Perch and trout are two of the local catches that you will find on the menu in fired, baked or grilled offerings. Also try the local polento and the ossobuco alla milanese. If your choice does not include a local cheese such as Taleggio or Gorgonzola as an ingredient, make sure you sample a cheese platter. For the sweet tooth, the area has many delicious cakes and pastries such as tiramisu, and miascia, a bread pudding with dried fruits and nuts. Valtellina produces famous red wines to accompany your meals. And don’t forget the delicious local coffees anytime of the day.
Plan Your Visit to Lake Como
There are all levels of accommodation to suit your budget should you wish to visit this area of Italy from hotels and villa stays to guest houses and B&B’s. Not comfortable with independent travel? Join a respected guided tour so your visit includes accommodations, most meals, tours with knowledgeable local guides, and more. Lake Como can get relatively cold in the winter months so the best time to plan your visit is either in the Spring or Fall. June is historically the month with the most rain, and summers can be hot and muggy. Summer is high season as well so you avoid the crowds by traveling in the shoulder seasons. The nearest airport is Milan Malpensa. Europe has marvelous train, bus and air links so transportation should never be an issue.