Call me spoiled, but the first place I ever visited abroad was the beautiful Lake Como in Italy. I had planned to be in Europe for almost a month visiting a variety of different countries, but knew Lake Como was where I wanted to start. Let me tell you, if you ever need to relax, this is the place to go. You’re surrounded by the stunning lake and mountains, and it’s not a loud tourist destination.
People have been coming to Lake Como since the Roman times to get away for vacation. There are many famous villas on the lake, including ones owned by celebrities such as George Clooney and Richard Branson (I saw both!). The lake is in an upside-down “Y” shape, with the town of Como being on the southwest part and Lecco being on the southeast part.
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There’s four different main cities surrounding the lake. Como is at the very bottom, but is more of a busy city (I think I even saw a McDonalds – not the type of cuisine I had in mind in Italy!). You’ll want to stay at Bellagio, Menaggio, or Varenna further up the lake. Bellagio is in the middle of the Y and is known for being more posh than the other towns. The other two main towns, Mennagio (west side of Bellagio) and Varenna (northeast side of Bellagio), form a triangle which are connected by an efficient ferry system that runs hourly.
If you’re coming from the US (especially the West Coast), chances are you’ll be flying into Frankfurt, Germany and taking a connecting flight to Milan. I got a private driver to drive me the hour up the lake, as the price was good when split with other people. Book one in advance for the best rates. You can also take a train from Milan to Como and take a bus up from there, or directly to Varenna and take a ferry to the town you’re staying in.
Where to Stay
I stayed in the Bellagio area and loved it. For a mid-price hotel with a view, I recommend Hotel Bellagio. This is possibly one of my favorite hotels ever. While the accommodations are basic, if you request a room with a balcony, the view is absolutely incredible. I loved sleeping every night with the door open and having the cool breeze come in.
If you’re looking for more of a luxurious stay, you’ll love the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Everything about it is glamorous, from the rooms to the lounges. They have an outdoor restaurant with a view of the lake, which is the perfect place to have dinner or a glass of wine. There’s also a pool in case the lake is too cold for you to swim in.
Visit Villa del Balbianello
Besides spotting George Clooney, the other famous sighting of the lake is Villa del Balbianello. It’s been featured in many famous movies, including Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and James Bond’s Casino Royale. I rented a boat and drove out as close as I could get to see it. You can tour the villa, as well as rent it out for events like weddings. It was built in 1787 and has had multiple owners, but now is with the National Trust of Italy.
Have a Picnic on Your Balcony
Forget picnics on the grass – the balcony is where it’s at! If you go at a time that isn’t peak season, the prices are fairly decent for lake view rooms. The view from my room could not be more amazing. Every night I slept with the doors open to let the cool air in and had espresso in the morning on my balcony while people-watching.
My absolute favorite meal from the trip was grabbing a bottle of red wine from the deli down the street, and getting a salad and pasta dish to go from a restaurant. I’d much rather have a view of the lake instead of staring at the wall in a restaurant. It can be cheaper to do it this way instead of sitting at the restaurant and ordering more.
Since it is a tourist town, most people speak basic English. Not all shop owners know English though, so just point at what you want if it’s behind the counter. They have a pretty wide selection of boutique shops, designer shops, and some regular (affordable) stores to choose from. I got some beautiful locally made dresses and jewelry, and only stopped myself from buying more since it was the start of my long trip.
Kayak Around the Lake
After you’ve laid around enough and that bottle of wine is empty, it’s time to get up and be active. I took a tour of the lake when I was there by kayak, which was a fun way to see the lake. The tour tells you the history of the people and the lake and points out what you’re passing by. The lake is typically pretty calm, so even if you’re a beginner kayaker you’ll get around just fine.
Take the Ferry
The ferry goes to a handful of different towns around the lake, but the most popular are Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna. Varenna is smaller, but is where you’ll catch the train if you’re going to Milan or north to another country. Menaggio is a larger town full of plenty of restaurants and shops, while Bellagio is a good place to shop and then grab a nice dinner on one of the lakeside restaurants.
Where’s the most relaxing place you’ve ever been?
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