Lake Como

In the middle of Northern Italy's Lombardy region you can find Lake Como - if the name doesn't sound familiar, perhaps its reputation as a playground for the wealthy will. Set at the foothills of the Alps, it is known for it's breathtaking and dramatic views as the mountains roll down to the waters edge where idyllic, jewel coloured towns dot the coastline.

As is the way in Italy, Lake Como offers impeccable regional cuisine, punctuated with gelato, caffe and Aperol stops. Luckily then, the landscape provides a natural playground for fitness - hike, run or cycle (if you're brave) through the mountain-esque terrain. Wherever you turn, you become anchored to the lake and the calm of the deep blue water, where ferry rides double as meditation sessions, gazing off into the expansive and seemingly endless roll of the Alps. 

For years it has drawn crowds looking for a holiday spot to relax, unwind and slow down, however we've found a mixture of the best spots around the lake, so you can stay away from the crush of tourists and explore the beauty of Lago di Como. 

Where

Lake Como, Lombardy Region, Italy

Getting there

Fly direct to Milan Malpensa from London approx. 2 hours.

 A quick stop in Milan en-route to the Lake

A quick stop in Milan en-route to the Lake

To reach the lake, either:

Rent a car from the airport and drive approx. 1-1.5 hours to reach the lake depending on how far north you are staying/traffic conditions.

Catch a train from the airport, swapping at Saronno and then continuing to Como du Nord – which is the closest station to Como town, the most southern town of the Lake.

 The cathedral in Como Town

The cathedral in Como Town

Top Tip: Regardless of how you choose to reach the lake, I thoroughly recommend hiring a car for your time staying around the region. There are buses, ferries and water taxis available, but to maximise your time, access smaller, local areas and for freedom to explore– rent a car and enjoy cruising!

 Menaggio in bloom

Menaggio in bloom

Where to stay

Both times visiting Lake Como we selected to stay in Menaggio which sits on the west side of the upper lake. Forming one point of the triangle between the famously known (and over-priced/over-run with tourists) Bellagio and the quaint but picturesque Varenna, Menaggio is easily accessible from the water and has a pretty waterfront façade with a town that sweeps up the hills. If you choose to stay further up the mountain you will get incredible sweeping views across the lake and watch the sun rise through the Alps, though if you choose to stay lower down in the town centre, you’ll be absorbed into the local lifestyle and wake up to the church bells ringing throughout the day and night – no really, they go every 15 minutes from 7am til 10pm.

 Mornings in Menaggio

Mornings in Menaggio

 Top Tip: We opted for Air B’n’Bs both times and there is a huge range available, which is great especially if you are travelling with friends. Make sure you book in advance for peak season. 

Essentials

First up – grab a ferry timetable as soon as you arrive. The lake is super easy to navigate by the public ferry system which runs regularly in peak season, but you will want to know the times and the stops along the way to plan your day. 

For taxi service – there’s only two cab services in Menaggio and you can’t beat Diego. This guy can spin a tale and will tell you all about the many times Clooney has ridden in his front passenger seat. Contact: +39 3338601035

Top Tip: To hit the espresso’s with the locals – head to any café or bar in the mornings and order your coffee at the bar. Not only do you reduce the cost of your coffee (no dine in service fee’s) you will also have a chance to chat to the staff and locals also there.

Food Spots

La Passerella Srl -Varenna

It's not hard to find a gelato spot in Italy, but sometimes finding not only an excellent one, but ALSO one that offers dairy free/vegan options, can takes a little more research. Enter this unassuming Gelateria on the waterfront in Varenna. Running a very limited menu, the majority of their options are suitable for vegans or those who are dairy-free, but trust me, you will not be missing out on any ounce of creaminess or deliciousness! I went for the most popular "Black Chocolate" with ginger and it was hands down the best gelato I had on the lake! Super rich and satisfying, one scoop will be all you need here. 

Top Tip: I once received a great tip that for the best quality gelato, you want to look for gelaterias that serve it from tubs below the counter surface - if it is piled up in great big fluffy mountains (which yes, do look appealing, but not worth it) it will have a super high water & ice content, so for a creamier experience opt for those are in deeper tubs. 

Caffe Varenna – Varenna

If it's a light lunch you are after then stop into cafe situated right on the waters edge in Varenna. They have an extensive range of yummy salads, perfect if you need a little break from all the pasta and pizza, or are chasing down some gluten free options. 

Bilacus – Bellagio

When you head over to beautiful Bellagio make sure your first stop is reserving a table at this firm favourite restaurant. You will want to grab a spot under the shady deck and luxuriate in a long lazy lunch here over a bottle of wine and multiple courses. Our visit exceeded expectations and the slow, welcoming atmosphere invites you in to unwind with friends and soak up the charm of this trattoria. 

Top Tip: Grab a wine at Aperitivo et al next door and take it out into the street to enjoy people watching and soaking up vibes.

 Holding drinks for the boys or just maxing out on that Italian living?

Holding drinks for the boys or just maxing out on that Italian living?

Grand hotel Tremezzio - Tremezzio

Your bank account will dislike me for this one - it is super, super, super overpriced BUT for a fancy drink on the lake at one of the MOST beautiful hotels, this is where you will want to go. When I said Lake Como is a playground for the wealthy, well this lakeside bar is where you can get your fix of the high life. 

Trattoria La Vecchia Magnolia - Menaggio

For the hands down best local food in the area head to Magnolia. The unassuming exterior gives way as you open the door and are hit with a smell that can only be described as truly authentic! Garlic lovers rejoice. Mouthwatering and tummy satisfying meals are the way here and you will want to make sure you save a little space for dessert. It's phenomenal. 

Ristorante La Baita – Menaggio

For a "locals only" vibe and traditional meal head to this Agoroturisimo situated just out of Menaggio. As an authentic experience, there isn't a whole lot of English spoken here amongst the staff, but the menu offers the regional speciality of polenta and locally-raised meats which completes the whole farm to table set up.

Gelateria La Carapina – Gravedona

There isn’t a whole lot right towards the top of the lake, but if you do journey up here, pull in for this incredible house made gelato. This is full cream, full flavour and literally drool worthy - some say it's worth the drive up here for this pitstop alone!

Top Tip: If you are not already obsessed with Aperol Spritz’s, you will be after a trip to Italy. From around 5pm it’s aperitivo time and this means enjoying a nice aperitif with some nibbles before dinner. The traditional spritz is a crowd favourite (and quickly gaining popularity around the globe) but if you want to try something different look out for the Hugo Spritz – it replaces Aperol with an elderflower liquor and some fresh mint and it’s deliciously refreshing!

Fitness Spots

Staying fit while at the Lake isn't hard to do when the natural landscape literally becomes your gym. The region is well known for its cycling tracks and hiking trails, but there are also easy to find walk paths along the lake edge and plenty of spots where you can pull up to do your own workout!

Hike to Castello di Vezio – Varenna

Follow the directions from the Varenna ferry terminal to find your way up to this centuries old castle. I got lost on my way up and ended up taking the green trail – which was rather more rocky and wild, so try to stick to the directed pathway which is significantly easier! The castle itself is now home to a wild bird exhibit and has a beautiful turret, which if you climb up has more incredible views of the lake.

Hike to Chiesa di San Martino

Located high atop a hill between Menaggio and Griante, you will find this tiny abandoned church with panoramic views over the tip of the southern inverted Y of the lake. You can find a car park on Via Indipendenza, from here at first you will be walking through a tiny little residential town before suddenly you emerge onto a cobble stone staircase that leads you up. The hike takes about 45min – 1 hour to get up.

Hike down from the furnicular at Argegno

For an interesting, quad-burning-descent hike, take the funicular up from Argegno to Pigra and then walk through the forest path all the way back down to the little lake side town, where you can refuel with some gelato or perhaps a spritz... Takes about 1 hour.

Bench Workout

Along the lakeside at Menaggio you will find not only some beautiful gazebos perfect for romantic photos, but a series of benches that hug the shoreline. Getting creative with your surroundings is the perfect way to fit in a little bodyweight HIIT session, utilising these benches. Not only will you get your heart rate up, sculpt some serious muscle and get buzzing on endorphins, but you will also most likely entertain the locals on their way for their morning espresso.

Greenway Run

Heading south from Menaggio you will enter onto the ‘Greenway’ path, which is a pedestrian walk/run track that follows the coastline of the lake. Beat the heat and lace up early for a scenic run, that will keep your mind off your huffing and puffing as you sweat out some of that Italian cuisine!

Top tip: There are a few portions of this route which are on the main road, so take care and maybe unplug from the headphones as the driving in the area can be a little hairy!

Soul spots

Villa Balbinello

This national trust villa is SO worth visiting and doing the guided tour (check what times they run in English). We first saw it when we hired a boat and seeing it from the lake is epic. Upon returning for a tour, you learn the story of the past owner, an exceptionally famous Italian expeditioner, who orchestrated the first Italian climb to the top of Mt. Everest and, who donated the entire property, his incredible and priceless art collection and museum of expedition souvenirs to the Italian national trust. Lock in an afternoon of wandering the grounds and gardens.

You can either access it by water taxi from Lenno or you can walk which only takes about 30 mins.

Boat Hire

For a true Lago Di Como experience, hiring a boat for a few hours is well worth it. It's approximately €80 for 2 hours – there are many different boat companies along the lake at Menaggio, we opted for Planet Boats – but you see SO much from the lake and can cruise to areas of the lake you don't normally access on the ferries - such as seeing that villa. 

Top Tip: In peak season the boats book out quickly, so make sure you head down a few days in advance to reserve your slot!

An escape to the Lake is perfect for either a long weekend or an extended trip to soak up the beauty of this little slice of heaven. Taking the time to live the La Vita Dolce way, you will return to "real life" feeling well-fed, relaxed and rested after a break here. 

 

 

TravelRosie Gregory