While many people head over to the south of Italy to lounge on boats and sip on vino off the Amalfi Coast, I highly recommend heading to the Lombardy province in Northern Italy. There you will find the stunning Lago di Como, which is surrounded by the magnificent Alps and the most picturesque villages. Only an hour drive from Milano, this lake used to be the holiday destination for the elite, but over the last decades, the lake has opened her arms to all visitors. While there are many things to do and see, below is a list of the activities my partner and I enjoyed.
While planning our trip to the lake, all of the guides that we came across kept mentioning the two most well known villages, Bellagio and Varenna. And though they are absolutely worth seeing, we decided to venture off just a tad and set our base at one off the more discrete villages on the lake, Bellano.Located on the northeastern shore, this charming village is less crowded, quieter, but just as beautiful as the others, and not to mention, a lot cheaper to stay at.We decided to rent out a home on the top of one of the hills and also a car, so that we could have the option to drive around the lake at our convenience. We love to cook and eat in, so instead of eating out for breakfast and dinner, we cooked our meals and enjoyed them out on our patio.We stood a total of four days and three nights in a beautiful family home. It had the dreamiest balcony view, overlooking homes, a church, and of course, the magnificent lake.It was a treat not having to venture out to different parts of the lake every day.Bellano has a quaint plaza, Piazza Grossi, and numerous streets with tiny shops, restaurants, and alleyways that bring you back to the time when only the elite would roam the cobblestone during their holiday.I’m not sure of the exact number of churches in Bellano, but we came across two. The one shown above is part of the Chiesa dei Santi Nazaro e Celso. It’s obvious that there is a strong foundation in Catholicism in this country, but even if you aren’t religious, the architecture and colors of a religious institution are always worth glimpsing at.Another cool and unexpected attraction here is the Orrido di Bellano. If you pay a few euros, you are given access to view this natural gorge from a footbridge. The water from the Pioverna River flows through it, making the view even that much more exciting.On our walk home up the hill everyday, we had to pass the Cimitero Connunale. This gorgeous cemetery had some of the prettiest graves that I’ve ever seen.
When the time came for us to venture out of Bellano, we had our rented car, but also the option to take the ferry, in order to see the other villages that surrounded the lake.Within 15 to 30 minutes you could reach one of the villages by ferry. You can find the schedule for all of the ferries online or down at the plaza. If you decide to travel by car, it takes about 10 to 20 minutes. Either way, both routes are extremely scenic and enjoyable. Trust me, Bellano is worth it.
If you hop on over to the western shore of the lake, you will come across the lovely Menaggio. This town dates back to the time of the Romans. Remnants from a former wall that used to protect it can still be seen today.If you take the ferry in, one of the first places you will encounter is the promenade or Viale Bendetto Castelli. Along this walkway you’ll pass a number of docks, lush plants, and smiling pedestrians.
If you take a few steps into the town, you’ll reach the lively Piazza Garibaldi. Here you’ll have your pick of cafes and shops, it’s the perfect opportunity to sit back and sip on some Italian café.A must on this lake is cruising around on a boat. You can rent one for the day or for some hours, with a captain or without, and on a classic boat or a basic boat. Whatever you decide, it’s well worth the money.We decided to rent a basic one for 40 euros here in Menaggio. Not all of the villages offer boat rental services, but this one offers many along the shore, so we made an afternoon of it.We drove up and down the coast from Bellagio to another village, I don’t know the name of. Along the way we parked when we felt like it and took in the view and beautiful weather while sipping on prosecco and munching on snacks. It was perfect and the highlight of our trip.We ended our evening at a restaurant not far from the dock. Jannis came across a pizza which was only 6 euros. So before we hopped back on the ferry to Bellano, we made a cheesy stop.
My favorite village and prettiest in my eyes, is Varenna. This beauty is located on the eastern shore and is a gem filled with bright colored homes that has gone untouched for the most part. I learned from watching one of Rick Steves videos, that one has to get permission to paint their home here.It may seem a bit strict but the locals want to preserve as much as they can from the past. I’m here for it, as I’m sure all its visitors are too.Aside from the cafes and well known leather shop near Piazza San Giorgio, a must see in this village are the villas. If you don’t make it to all, I suggest stopping by at least one. Near Hotel Villa Cipressi, and near the parking garage, in case you take your car, there are two villa entries next to each other.
Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero. We opted to check out Villa Cipressi and its botanical garden for 14 euros.
This villa is a 4 star hotel and the garden is made up of three lush levels, making it a perfect destination for a retreat or wedding. Along the path you’ll see a number of different species of plants and cypress trees.Down by the lake, there is the famous red promenade that starts close to the ferry dock and ends at the beautiful Riva Grande. If you make it here during early Spring, you won’t be bombarded by tourist and can actually enjoy the walk without feeling pressure from behind.
So there you have it, my experience at Lake Como. It was a beautiful getaway and again, if you happen to be in Northern Italy, go for it, make it out to this beauty.