There’s something special about the light in Como – the way sunbeams play on the surface of the lake, the long shadows of the surrounding hills in the late afternoon, pink skies at sunset. From the heat of midsummer to misty fall mornings, Lake Como is beautiful year round, although September is one of the best months to visit, when the tourist hordes have moved on and the days are still warm. A weekend on the water is just what the doctor ordered.
Long and skinny with two forked “legs” Lake Como is an hour’s drive from Milan and just a few miles from the Swiss border. The closest airport to the the lake is Milan Malpensa. With direct overnight flights from NYC, and easy connection from most major US cities, you can be waking up to smell the Italian coffee in just under 8 hours. Driving up to Como is straightforward (if you can handle the speeds of the autostrada), or you can do as the Milanese do and enjoy the picturesque train journey from the center of Milan.
Taking to the water is by far the easiest and most pleasurable way to get around the lake, by the efficient local ferry service or private charter vessel. We love the journey from Varenna to Menaggio, with views of the beautiful town of Bellagio (known as the Pearl of Lake Como) from the water along the way.
Where to Eat
While it can be tempting to exist on nothing more than strong coffee, gelato and cream-filled cornetti (the Italian take on croissants), Lake Como has some seriously good – and extremely picturesque – restaurants. Perhaps the most famous spot for lunch is Isola Comacina, a tiny island with nothing but a small church, restaurant and some artist’s houses built in the 1930s. The island is widely believed to have been under a curse since the 12th century, but that has not deterred restaurateur and host Benvenuto Puricelli. He makes a point of greeting all guests in person, before serving up a set menu that has remained unchanged for more than 50 years, and is delicious in its simplicity.
If you’re hoping to spot a celebrity while you dine, make a beeline for Il Gatto Nero in Cernobbio. It’s a favorite hangout of famous Como resident George Clooney and friends. It’s impossible not to feel romantic while seated at the candlelit terrace with its sweeping views. The restaurant’s wine list is just as famous as the menu and celebrity pedigree, so take the time to ask your server for suggestions and taste some unusual Italian wines.
What to See
Every pretty red-roofed town along the lake is worth a stop – from Cernobbio to George Clooney’s adopted town of Lagio, Varenna, Mennagio and more, so try to wander at your own pace (or that of the local ferry schedule). That said, here’s a couple of our favorites.
Perched on the tip of the lake’s central fork, the panoramic views from Bellagio are simply breathtaking, and the tiny town itself is perhaps the prettiest around the lake. Arrive in style across the water, and stop for a coffee in the arcade across from the shaded waterfront, then wander through the lakeside paths, winding cobbled streets and chic stores until it’s time for a gelato and a ride back across the water to your villa.
For fashion lovers, the town of Como (along the lake’s southwest edge) is a must-visit. The town has been a center of the silk trade since Renaissance times, thanks to its endless water supply and proliferation of Mulberry bushes – the silkworm’s food of choice. Although few silkworms are farmed here nowadays (much of the raw material now comes from china or Brazil) the silk finished here supplies fashion houses around the world, including Ralph Lauren and Hermes, famous for its flawless silk scarves. Pick up a memento at one of the many boutiques in the town’s historic center. Afterwards, take a look inside the 12thcentury Basilica San Fedele and marvel at the vaulted ceilings, so much grander than the exterior would suggest.
Where to Stay
A lakeside villa like Villa Concetta (pictured right), is the order of the day here, where you wake up to the mist on the water and end your day in the sunset glow. Bellagio’s central location makes it the ideal spot for exploring both sides of the lake, while Argegno and Como in the southwest corner are close to the chic towns of Cennobio and Laglio. Whichever charming town you choose, views that will last in your memory for a lifetime are guaranteed.
Where to stay in Lake Como