Forget Rome, Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Tuscany, the hottest destination in Italy these days is Lake Como.
Its appeal is timeless, and this natural paradise has long been a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Many blockbuster movies have been filmed in Lake Como, including “Star Wars”, “Casino Royale” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” and while the area has always attracted tourists, it has more recently become synonymous with glamor and luxury, and if it’s good enough for George Clooney, it’s good enough for me!
Following a stay in Como, George Clooney was fascinated by the area and bought an eighteenth century villa (called Villa Oleandra) in Laglio. He later became an honorary citizen of the small lakeside town and sits on the committee for the defense of the integrity of the banks of the lake.
The Clooneys have hosted several famous friends at the villa, including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Brad Pitt and Bono, and more recently (in June 2019) the Obama family spent part of their European vacation at Villa Oleandra.
So, what’s the appeal of Lake Como?
Just under an hour’s drive from Milan, the city of Como looks over the southwest end of the lake and is one of the jewels of northern Italy.
The crystal clear glacial lake Como is surrounded by lush mediterranean vegetation, rolling vineyards, olive trees and tall, snow-capped mountain peaks.
The city itself has a multitude of historical buildings, museums, lively squares and fine restaurants.
You can also take a boat trip from Como to one of the many beautiful towns and villages on the lake, such as Cernobbio, Menaggio and Bellagio, and you can visit the old stone fishing villages of Bellano and Varenna, with their medieval castles and elaborate Renaissance gardens.
Take a look at our Como travel guide now to start planning your getaway.
Things Not to Miss in Lake Como
The historic town Centre and the Cathedral
There are plenty of clothes shops, cafés and restaurants in the historic town centre, and there is an outdoor market (open on Tuesdays/Thursdays from 8 am to 1 pm, and on Saturdays from 8 am to 7 pm) next to Porta Torre, the main entrance of the old town.
Walk towards Piazza San Fedele and take time to sit out in one of the many little cafés and watch the world go by! Piazza San Fedele, originally a wheat market, is one of the main squares of Como and is home to the Basilica of San Fedele, a beautiful Romanesque church which dates back to 1120.
Then, continue toward Piazza del Duomo, which hosts the Cathedral Duomo di Como). The gothic cathedral in Como is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and was constructed in the 14th century, although building was not finally completed until the 18th century.
The interior is lavishly decorated and one of the main features is the central dome – this is covered with gold artwork and some simply beautiful decoration.
Take the Funicular up to Brunate
Brunate is a small town that is located high up in the mountains above Como.
You can take the funicular ‘Funicolare’ (cable car) train up the mountain from the station at the eastern edge of the lake, and it takes just 7 minutes.
When you reach the top, there are several terraces and restaurants that offer stunning views and give you a chance to relax and breathe in the clear mountain air.
However, I recommend you follow the signs to the ‘vista panoramica’ for the best views over Como and the lake.
If you enjoy walking, there is also a short 30-minute trail up to the Volta Lighthouse, and when it’s open you can climb to the top to see views over Como and the Alps, and there is also a 2 hour hike to the summit of Mount Boletto.
Take a boat ride
If you want to take a boat trip on Lake Como (which I highly recommend, weather permitting), you will need to head to Piazza Cavour.
You can opt for a scenic boat ride that will give you a tour of the lake, pointing out different points of interest, or you can hop on a boat to one of the coastal towns such as Cernobbio or Bellagio.
Bellagio is known as the “pearl of the lake” and is regarded as one of the most beautiful and idyllic towns on Lake Como and it is easy to see why, as this picturesque stone village houses a number of high end shops, perfume stores, amazing restaurants and much more
The best way to access Bellagio from Como is via boat, as this takes just 25 minutes. In high season, the drive and parking can be difficult, to say the least!
The lakeside promenade at Bellagio provides one of the best photographic opportunities in the area, with its panoramic views over the lake, since it is located where the three arms of Lake Como meet.
Take a train to Milan
Driving to Milan from Como takes just over an hour, or you can hop on a train at Como San Giovanni. The trip takes just over half an hour, and you will arrive at Milan Central Station.
You have probably heard mixed reviews of Milan, as much of Milan was relentlessly bombed during World War II, and there’s a lot of modern architecture, which puts off visitors who are expecting a more traditional view of Italy. However, it is also Italy’s most fashionable city, home to Fashion Week and some of the country’s major fashion brands, which explains why it’s such a popular destination for fashionistas! Just be warned that your bank account might suffer!
And despite the fact that some of the town is more modern, you can still find rich history, art and culture, including the majestic Cathedral (Duomo), the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel 11 and La Scala.
As Milan Cathedral is the main attraction of the city, you will probably have to queue to go inside (and they don’t let women in in shorts, although it is apparently perfectly OK for men to show off their legs!). The highlight of the visit is a stroll on the terrace of the Cathedral, where you get a breathtaking view of Milan.
Just outside the cathedral, on the Piazza del Duomo, you can visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with its magnificent arcades and superb dome made of glass and iron.
On leaving Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, you will arrive directly on Piazza della Scala, which, as the name suggests, is home to Milan’s famous Opera house, La Scala.
Visit Villa Olmo
Villa Olmo is a “must- see” during your stay in Como. It is located in the northwest part of the city, and you can walk there from the town centre. You can also drive as parking is easy.
It is an imposing neoclassical residence, set in beautiful and extensive grounds, and is often the site for fashion photoshoots, and weddings. It is also a very “Instagrammable” location. It was named after an elm planted in the middle of the garden (unfortunately, however, the elm is no longer there!)
It was built in the 1780s by architect Simone Cantoni, on behalf of Marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi. In 1824, after the death of Innocenzo Odescalchi, Villa Olmo was acquired by Marquis Giorgio Raimondi., and in the 1880s, the villa became the property of Duke Guido Visconti di Modrone.
His family ordered the construction of the small theater and the fountain in front of the villa. In 1925, after the death of Guido Visconti, Villa Olmo was acquired by the municipality of Como, which, since then, organizes events, conferences and art exhibitions.
Admission to the villa is free, and well worth a tour. The interior is rich in paintings, statues, and some amazing frescoes by Andrea Appiani and Domenico Pozzi.
In front of the villa, the Italian garden, with its symmetrical flower beds and statues of pagan gods contrasts with the typical English garden/ park behind the villa.
When to Go to Lake Como
If you love spending time on the water, the best time to visit Lake Como is during the summer months when the water is warm, and you can sunbathe on the banks of the lake or next to your hotel pool.
However, the summer months are also the busiest and there a lot of tourists in Como at this time, so many people choose to visit in the spring and fall, when the weather is still good, but the crowds have thinned out.
Where to Stay
Images courtesy of Hugh Rees
Set in a historic building on the edge of Lake Como, the Marco’s 3 star family-run hotel will afford you a warm welcome.
It has a great location on the lake and is in the same square as the panoramic funicular to Brunate, and yet it is less than a 10 minute walk to the city center.
It has been run by the Leone family since 1991, and every attention is given to making your stay comfortable and enjoyable.
The hotel is small yet very cozy, and it offers an enchanting view of the lake. Some of the (air-conditioned) rooms have balconies with a lake view.
The hotel can also organise various activities for its guests, such as a flight on a seaplane over the Lake, in collaboration with the Airplane Club Como, or a round of golf at one of the prestigious courses in the area.
In the morning, the hotel offers a delicious Italian breakfast with a view of the lake and you can take your time watching the boats on the lake, and enjoying the morning sunshine.
The hotel also has its own restaurant on site “The Funicular Restaurant”, serving traditional Italian dishes, and the upstairs terrace has magical views over Lake Como and is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner.
The Sheraton Lake Como Hotel
Images courtesy of © 2019 Marriott International, Inc
This 4 star hotel is situated about 5 kms out of Como and on the waterfront.
With the help of renowned Italian architect Ruggero Venelli, Sheraton has converted the Grand Hotel di Como into an upscale luxury hotel. It is also the first chain hotel to open on the lake.
It offers 137 comfortable and spacious guest rooms, with handcrafted furniture from Italian designers, and including 4 suites and interconnecting rooms for families.
It boasts two outdoor swimming pools, and even a private park for sunbathing, jogging, and picnicking.
Several dining facilities are at guest disposal, including a gourmet experience at the Kitchen restaurant, traditional Italian food at Gusto and all-day dining next to the pool. Two bars are available to relax and unwind: the Fresco bar inside the hotel and Kincho bar in the park.
Villa d’Este, Cernobbio
Images courtesy of © Villa d’Este
Villa d’Este is Lake Como’s luxury 5 star hotel It was built in 1568 as the summer home of Tolomeo Gallio, a wealthy cardinal, and it was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873.
Villa d’Este celebrates over 140 years of grand hotel tradition and has attracted some of the world’s most discerning clientele… King Albert of Belgium, Queen Beatrix of Holland, Queen Sonia of Norway, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Robert De Niro and of course, Villa d’Este’s neighbour, George Clooney, to name but a few!
The 152 rooms are divided among buildings and decorated in traditional Renaissance style. Four 19th century villas offer ultimate privacy and all of the comforts of the hotel, and are the perfect ‘home away from home’.
The floating pool on the Lake is a trademark symbol of the ‘dolce vita’ at Villa d’Este. A children’s pool as well as a heated indoor pool are available, and there are also 8 tennis courts, a squash court, a golf simulator and a nature hiking trail. Windsurfing, waterskiing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking are all available onsite.
Villa d’Este is surrounded by 25 acres of enchanting park with centennial trees, statues and colorful flowers. The park is only open to the public during special events, details of which you can find here.
Modern day upgrades and amenities are seamlessly woven into the elegance of the environment. Luxury is timeless, after all.
I hope you have enjoyed this article about Lake Como, and if you decide to visit this area, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. I’m Julia, the Senior Editor of European Travel and I can’t wait to share some more travel inspiration with you again soon! Join me next week for an article all about Milan!
Hope 2020 is your best year yet, and happy travelling !