Lake Como’s Best Side

You may be forgiven for thinking I live in a dream world, where every town and country I visit shoots moonbeams from its ass and glitter and sequins line the roads we travel. My blog posts can be a little sickly sweet for some folk because I’m always completely gushing about our latest trip or experience. I can’t help it – I’m a megawatt optimist. I eat sunshine for breakfast and unicorn steaks for tea! That’s not to say the absolute plonker living two doors down doesn’t make me grow horns when he loudly revs his two wheeled mid-life crisis, or that I don’t feel like tipping up all the scratch cards when the shop assistant hands me my change ON TOP of the note! But, I am passionate, and I find it very easy to dwell on the good bits and make the best of the bad. My old travelling friend, Hannah, taught me to see the excitement in everywhere (even though we were very often returning to manky hostels and sweaty mattresses) and my new travelling friend, the husband, taught me to see the fun in everything, even on days when someone steals your shoes from your hotel room. Let’s just say; Lake Como is a place of extreme contrasts but don’t let that put you off!

Lake Como – Northern Italy

For anyone who has visited Italy before, you will know that it comes with a lot of rustic charm. So rustic sometimes that a good earthquake would save them millions on improvements! Regardless though, it is one of the things that draws you in about Italy and, Lake Como is no exception. It would be easier to understand if the men’s shoes weren’t so highly polished and the women’s lipsticks weren’t so perfectly lined but Italians just don’t seem so bothered about brickwork and in the meantime you’d have a much better experience if you just accepted that their towns can look half abandoned.

After much research we decided to hunt for accommodation in Bellagio, partly because it seemed to look after itself a bit more and partly because George Clooney hangs there. Not surprisingly hotels are a fraction more expensive than some of the neighbouring towns but you can’t put a price on reliving a scene from ER and I had my best heartattack impression at the ready in case George was present. Actually, we couldn’t believe our luck at the airbnb we booked for £70p/n – I mean, this was our view…

A view from Bellagio on Lake Como in Italy. Possibly one of the best views in Bellagio don't you think?
Our view to the left…

 

Some of the best views of lake como are from Bellagio
Our view to the right, at night…

I can no longer find the apartment we booked but this one is in the same block (and there are a few other similar ones nearby) and I cannot recommend this area highly enough. You are a 5 minute walk from the centre/front of Bellagio but this is a residential neighbourhood so it’s quiet and clean and possibly the best pizza joint on this earth is just around the corner and share the same view from an open second floor terrace. Locals eat there so the prices are low and the food is great! (Check out their website www.labellaginapizza.com). There’s also a nearby supermarket because you need to make the most of that balcony with those views and a bottle of red.

A Two Day Itinerary Of Lake Como

Mr MLLH, my long-suffering better half, rises way before I do and likes to scout out the lay of the land before I have even had my first cup of tea. Often he brings me my first cup of tea, with a croissant and a map of circled hot-spots. We had two desires from this trip : 1. Buy a day-rider ticket and make use of the ferries which cross the lake to other towns AND 2. Visit Villa Balbianello. The weather on Como is as changeable as my teenager and the forecast wasn’t great for today so we figured we’d save Villa Balbianello for tomorrow and work our way around the bars, restaurants and cafes of Como and try and stay out of mischief.

You catch the ferry from the front of Bellagio and the walk down there is most pleasant. Shops for people who think that €10 for a bar of soap is perfectly acceptable, and cafe’s which spill out onto the pavement where you can watch rich men in boat shoes and no socks, and their wives who have spent too long on the electric beach and don’t seem to care they have VPL in their tight white jeans. Down the front is no different and there are far more punters queuing for the elegant ride in a veneered Bond-like water taxi than there are waiting for the diesel-chuffing car/bike/pedestrian mode of water transport. The front is a great people watching spot and we returned later that evening for a sparkling white and a bowl of nuts. In the meantime we were headed across the lake to the lovely town of Varenna.

famous people spotting on Lake como
Not our water taxi. Striped sweater obligatory.

Varenna

We hopped off onto dry land, happy to be away from the water as it’s a bit chilly actually on the Lake and spotted a restaurant with pretty lakeside views which seemed perfect to take our morning hot chocolate. Hot chocolate in Italy is like nowhere else in the world, resembling more of a melted chocolate sauce than the thinner more viscous versions that the rest of Europe pass off as acceptable, so you must try it and nowhere else will ever satisfy you again. A ten minute storm later we were paying the bill and off in search of Villa Monastero.

Day Trip ideas from Bellagio on Lake Como : Take a water taxi or ferry to Varenna and experience a bit of authentic Italy.

Villa Monastero is a beautiful museum on the waterfront but it was it’s gardens that interested us. In fact, not so much as interested us but facilitated a prettier walk to our intended destination – Fiumelatte : The shortest river in the world. I love stuff like this and have planned many a roadtrip detour in order to visit ‘the world’s largest rocking chair’, or ‘the world’s biggest collection of beer’, or ‘the world’s only squirrel made of cheese’. Handily for us, the 2km stretch of Botanical Gardens run parallel to the road we would have needed to walk anyway in order to reach Fiumelatte so we walked through 5,000 rare species of trees, flowers you’ve never even seen before and ornate stonework pagoda’s where the once-wealthy owners obviously enjoyed many an evening stroll. The gardens are gorgeous, only cost a couple of euro’s and are well worth a leisurely saunter. But then reality set in : there is no exit at the other end! We were parallel with where we needed to be and we could hear the road on the other side of the 6 foot wall but alas we couldn’t get out and would have to make a 6km round trip from this wall just to see the shortest river. I refused to give up so before Mr MLLH could convince me otherwise I started to climb. It wasn’t the most conventional way of reaching our destination and involved a bit of underwear flashing, but ten minutes later, a few scratches worse off, we emerged onto the road to puzzled looking drivers and Fiumelatte was in our reach. Never let it be said I am a quitter!

Top 5 things to do on Lake Como; Visit Villa Monastero in Varenna - definitely one of the best views of Como.

Fiumelatte

Flowing from a cavity in the rock face into Lake Como below, it runs a total of 250m. Fiume (italian for river) Latte (for milk), the river runs so fiercely that’s the waters are white, hence the name. It usually dries up in the middle of October and reappears in March, much like Cadbury’s Cream Eggs. You can view it from the road but we fancied another climb (the 6 foot wall had got us in the mood) so walked 15 minutes to the top, past an old cemetery and makeshift bar, up to the balluardo for some amazing views of Como. Thinking that we’d already escaped an annoying situation once today we were feeling serendipitous and decided to try and get back to Varenna along a path we found which seemed to be headed in the right direction. We were right, and after a few tree-top vista’s when the foliage cleared we made it back in one piece and ready for a glass of Spumante in Varenna’s pretty square.

off the beaten path in Lake Como you can find a hidden gem if you take a 2km hike to fiumelatte near Varenna

Fiumelatte - Italy's shortest river on Lake Como. Somewhere to visit off the beaten track and to find those hidden gems
Fiumelatte

Varenna's main square is definitely one of the prettiest spots in Lake Como

Varenna is the kind of place you want to linger a little : the locals continue as if these day visitors are just part of a pop-up film set and they’ve been hired as extras to bring in a little authenticity. And the heat and humidity has you hoping you can find a seat under a cafe parasol, for a Carbonara or Moretti in order to watch the residents buy their bread, confabulate with neighbours and transiently pause to cross themselves in front of the chiesa.

Day Two

After last nights lightning show, circa 2am, I started wondering if moving all the African god-heads into the spare room had been a bad idea (I’m NOT ok with empty eye-sockets watching me as I sleep, and their grass hair is far too big a reminder of my sun-in days in the 80’s). But, this is the Italian Lakes and with The Alps in sight from the balcony, you have to take the occasional storm for this kind of view. However, Villa Balbianello was beckoning us so our lack of shut-eye was nothing a few extra Italian espresso’s couldn’t fix – 2 ounces of bitter black stuff in a cafe with my nose lodged in an Italian’s armpit : human sardines get their morning caffeine fix.

Villa Balbianello

Do you remember Daniel Craig in Casino Royal at the most breath-taking spot on a lake taking R&R with the delectable Vesper? (probably the only time you’ve ever seen James Bond in a wheelchair) Well, Villa Balbianello was used as the location for that famous scene and if I ever need to pick a place to recover from multiple street fights and a few bullet wounds, then this is where you’ll find me too! It also makes a brief appearance in Star Wars – Attack of the Clones.

Things to do on Lake Como? Visit Villa Balbianello, the location for some of the James Bond film, Casino Royal. Beautiful gardens and stunning views of the lake. Take a tour too. Definitely a highlight of Lake Como.
Villa Balbianello

Built for a cardinal in the 1700’s and more recently owned by an explorer, Guido Monzino, the innards are filled with secret doors and passage ways, and decorated with collections and works of art that make you comprehend the wealth of it’s history. I’d recommend the tour that sets off at regular intervals. But the most impressive aspect of Villa Balbianello is the ornate architecture and landscaped gardens. Even if you’re not a green-fingered aficionado there’s no way you will leave without 40 million photo’s from every different angle.

Villa Balbianello protrudes into the lake so that it can flaunt its beauty to everywhere else on Como. Like a class auditioning for a school play, Balbianello sits forwards in its chair, bouncing slightly, arm stretched high in the air, shouting pick me, pick me! And of course – George Lucas and Martin Campbell (Casino Royal) did.

Villa Balbianello near Lenno on Lake Como is one of the most beautiful mansions on the Lake and was used as the location for Casino Royal and Attack of the Clones.

Looking for the best things to do and the best things to see on Lake Como? Spend a day at Villa Balbianello - free guided tour and National Trust members get a discounted rate.

Top 5 things to do On Lake Como - 1. Villa Balbianello

The most impressive bit’s I took home were the stories about how they prune the massive tree in the garden and how they trained the vine that entwines itself around the ornate patio’s columns – no UFO will ever be able to unhook it from it’s base for specimens of earthly beauty to take back to Mars and experiment upon.

Extra info…

Location : Lenno, Lake Como

Opening Times : mid March to mid November, 10am – 6pm daily except Monday and Wednesday.

Prices: €20 guided tour plus house and garden ticket, €14 if you have English National Trust Membership (must show your card)

Exiting this architectural/landscaped masterpiece is coming back to earth with a bump, back to a rustic world of flaking paint and narrow cobbled alleys that smell like a bad vets. Not even a glass of vino at nearby Azzano on the waterfront was enough to renew my passion for Como, so we boarded the ferry back to Bellagio to absorb a sense of neat and tidy again.

Bellagio

Like I’ve already mentioned, Bellagio is a spot for rich folk and the little town can be a real tourist trap, but it doesn’t take much to find some hidden gems. We picked up  a map from the tourist information which highlighted a route of about 2 miles taking you around the back of the town. It included a couple of interesting facts about the local area and I love a good nosey into people’s homes and gardens, so I was well pleased. But to top it off, we came back to the water front around the other side of Bellagio and stumbled across a beach bar. I instantly fall in love with a place if it brings you snacks without you asking for them and when I asked for white wine and got a fizzy Spumante, I smiled at the arrogance – Italians are proud of their wares and when an area produces a certain variety of food or drink they just presume that’s what you want, why wouldn’t you, it’s the best! So Spumante I drank, alongside my free tapas style snack and lakeside view, and marvelled what a beautiful place Lake Como is, even with its crumbling rusticness .

A gorgeous little beach bar in Bellagio on Lake Como. The bar with the best view.
How’s this for a view from a beach bar?

Have you been? I’d love to hear your highlights?


For the best hotel deals in the area, click here.

Pin For Later…Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Lakeside views with the Alps in the distance. But what can you do on Lake Como? Where are the best places to go? Where are the best restaurants? Check out my guide on top tips and suggestions to find some of the best spots and also the hidden gems...

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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72 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma says:

    I have always wanted to visit Lake Como and we keep saying that we will go. The plan was to go on out 10th wedding anniversary but last year we ended up in Suffolk instead. Hmmm. Your words make me more determined to make that visit though. Oh my Villa Balbianello is just gorgeous, strong espressos run through my veins and I am partial to a bit of George Clooney. Lake Como has my name all over it and that BNB needs to be my base. Can’t wait to read your next post!

    1. Alex says:

      You sooo need to go then! Nothing wrong with Suffolk though 😉

  2. Beautiful place! Absolutely adore the Italian lakes and the added bonus of a possible Clooney sighting!!

    That villa is beautiful too! Will have to look for house sits in this area in the future – though would you ever leave if you actually lived here!!

    1. Alex says:

      Nope, no way. It’s so stunning isn’t it. Have you been to maggiore? We want to go there next year.

  3. A timely moment to say in Brucie fashion, ‘Lake Como post, you’re my favourite’! I absolutely love your writing Alex. Some of the reason is because I can actually hear you say it and see you scaling walls etc so it makes it more of a treat! Why aatent you writing for the Times or Telegraph? You need to be discovered!

  4. I love your writing style, your sense of humour, and your refusal to give up in the face of six-foot-tall obstacles!!! (Underwear flashing and all! LOL!) Your colourful yet unfiltered honesty in narrating your trip to the Province of Como has all the elements of not just a great story, but also a compelling one. I really enjoyed reading it! I have strong ties to Como and like to think of myself as more of a local than a tourist, when I am there. But, precisely for this reason, it is fascinating to read your fresh, outsider’s perspective on this familiar and beloved environment. Great post!

    1. Alex says:

      Well thank you so much, that was a lovely comment to wake up to!! What are your ties? I’d love to have ties to Italy, it’s a country that just fills my heart. I hope one day we can live there a little while.

  5. Mel Butler says:

    I cannot remember where I stayed off the top of my head but it was not Bellagio, though we did go there and I thought it was beautiful. I always love how you put a spin on your stories, unfortunately I didn’t get to see Geroge either 🙁

  6. I am the only optimist in my family so I love reading gushing posts and experiences! Lake Como looks and sounds wonderful! #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      I’m not alone then! Thanks for linking up

  7. Nicola says:

    You can tell you have a great passion for travel! I love Italy, but have never been to Lake Como. Your photos are beautiful and I have mentally added it to my places to visit! We traveled to Assisi 16 years ago and were blown away by the beauty and romance of the scenery and the wonderful history. #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Aw thanks! Assisi is on our list too so it’s nice to hear you loved it. Thanks for linking up!

  8. Cheryl says:

    Sounds like Lake Como would be a fun getaway. Great photos!

  9. One, I love your style of writing.
    Two, I’m married to have a half Italian with a surname of Roversi and I’ve never been to Italy! 😩
    Three, Lake Como looks beautiful and it makes me want to go more!

    1. Alex says:

      You’ve never been to Italy and your hubby is half Italian!? Are you mental – you’d be welcomed like natives! That’s my dream! Oh you really must go, honestly – it’s one of my favourite cultures! Thanks for the compliment!

  10. All of those photos are incredibly gorgeous! I wish I went places that were worth taking photos of. I think you’ve inspired me to start saving for a holiday!

    #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Oo good- I’m happy to have inspired, thanks for linking up! X

  11. Caro says:

    This looks and sounds like an amazing trip. You have reminded me of “proper” hot chocolate and I want some now! I have done a lot of Italy but never made it to Lake Como – it’s one on my list! #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Mmm, Italian hot chocolate! Worth making a trip just for that! Thanks for linking up

  12. this is a place I’d love to visit and it’s been on my visit list for a while! this is a wonderful write up and love the pics. beautiful. #KCACOLS

  13. Arianne says:

    I love the way you write! So happy and inspirational! I have been to Lake Como quite often but there are some towns here you mentioned I have yet to explore. I will be sure to bookmark this for my next adventure. Great post dear!

  14. Jurga says:

    I will repeat myself once again, but I just love reading your travel stories, Alex! It’s like being there myself and exploring together with you! Can’t believe you climbed over that wall – what one wouldn’t do just to save some lousy 6km 😉
    Lake Como is a beautiful area. It has been on my radar for quite a while, but we still didn’t make it there. Will have to check when George is around before making our travel plans 😉

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks Jurga! It really is a gorgeous spot. I want to see maggiore next, more Swiss style.

  15. Absolutely love those photos, they are amazing! I have to admit that we would love to travel but we just haven’t got the money. Myself and my other half haven’t even been on holiday together before and we’ve been together 10 years next year! How sad is that! #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Wow, that surprises me. Well I hope you get a holiday one day soon, thanks for linking up.

  16. Pen says:

    Wow, what an absolutely amazing place. I would love to go to the Italian lakes. They look so luxurious and indulgent. I love the photos and how lucky to get an air bnb for £70p/n

    #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Good deals are still to be had even in the most glamorous of locations eh! Thanks for linking!

  17. Sounds magical and ridiculously chilled. My sis went but as with family you get a “how was it?”, “Nice, Amazing” No further deets lol.

    Loved this post so much. Sounds like you had a real adventure. Pinned this to my travel inspo board. I WILL get there one day.

    #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Ha, that’s funny – how was it? Nice, amazing. !! Totally like that in our family! Thanks for linking up!

  18. What a great and detailed post! I went to Italy for two weeks last year but didn’t get to Lake Como. I’d love to visit one day! Villa Balbianello looks very beautiful.

    1. Alex says:

      It really is gorgeous!

  19. A place like this will uplift any kind of spirit. I feel really optimistic about travel too and can talk about it for hours. A lot of places I have visited are truly beautiful and I smile just thinking about the,m. #FarawayFiles

    1. Alex says:

      Oo glad it’s not just me then!

  20. Loved this post and the photos are just gorgeous, makes me want to jump on a plane straight away. Just looks beautiful. #FarawayFiles

  21. Liana Moore says:

    Lake Como is the one area of Italy that I haven’t explored and really want to explore. So fun to read about your experience here. I love Italy’s rustic charm but can’t believe you found such a great lodging deal! Thanks for sharing! #FarawayFlies

    1. Alex says:

      I know! I would totally recommend that particular Airbnb

  22. Emma says:

    It looks amazing! I would love to visit Italy one day x #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      You totally should! Thanks for linking up!

  23. Tracey says:

    I am the same, wherever I go I like to see the positives and I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard in Lake Como, I have never been but it looks beautiful from your photos 🙂 #kcacols

  24. Wow it looks amazing! Italy is at the top of my list for places to visit, I am desperate to go! #kcacols

    1. Alex says:

      You’ll love it!

  25. Ali Duke says:

    It looks absolutely beautiful there. The view from where you stayed is stunning. I would have moved the heads too lol.
    #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Ha – glad it’s not just me then 😉

  26. Katy says:

    Oh my Italian loving heart Alex! We were in Como exactly this time last year and loved it so much. Such a beautiful place. You did quite a few different things to us – so many reasons to go back! Thanks for joining us on #FarawayFiles

    1. Alex says:

      It’s gorgeous isn’t it!

  27. Tara says:

    What a fun post! I think you’d be great fun to travel with. I love Italy and REALLY want to visit Lake Como (I would totally move anything watching me while I sleep too) 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    1. Alex says:

      Haha – not just me then!? It’s their hair 😳 Thanks for the lovely comment!

  28. Wow! Dream holiday right there!
    x

    Stopping by from #KCACOLS

  29. Addie says:

    ove that you didn’t ignore the less-pretty sides of Lake Como. I have a friend from university that lives there and I can’t wait to visit and see it from a local’s perspective!

  30. OMG – I’m dying! Literally snorted out loud … I have also been accused of shooting glitter and sequins from nether regions regarding the places I visit. I’m not trying to romanticize a place, but do really love the places that I write about! It’s been such a long time since we’ve been to Como and we had such a smaller budget back as 20-somethings back-packing around Europe. We may or may not have gone skinny-dipping from our hostel near Menaggio after a bit too much cheap chianti! Don’t tell my teenager! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – fab post! Erin

    1. Alex says:

      Lol! Brrr, skinny dipping!? Now that’s another level. I take my hat off to that!

  31. Lake Como looks beautiful. I’ve seen a little bit of Italy, but I’ve never been to Lake Como before – it’s definitely going on the list! #kcacols

    1. Alex says:

      It’s definitely worth going on the list!

  32. It is my dream to visit Italy one day as that is where my dad’s grandfather was born and brought up. This has definitely made me wasnt to go even more! #kcacols

    1. Alex says:

      You’ve definitely got to go if it’s your heritage then!

  33. I’m all for sequins or glitter, travel related or otherwise. Have visited Italy lots but yet to make it to Lake Como, although its getting ever closer to the top of the places I really, really want to go to list. I loved this post, and have saved it for future travel planing. #FarawayFiles

    1. Alex says:

      Oo I want to read your ‘places I really really want to go’ list now!

  34. Such amazing views, it all sounds so gorgeous, I’m quite jealous! #kcacols

  35. Oh how I dream of visiting Italy.. #KCACOLS

  36. LAURA says:

    It’s so gorgeous isn’t it? The view from the your airbnb is stunning, amazing value for money! It is definitely expensive there but you can find some reasonable prices if you look hard enough. Amazing photos #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks, and yes – you’ve just gotta look a bit deeper for the bargains!

  37. Maria says:

    This is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to. It looks beautiful – will be saving this for future reference. #KCACOLS

  38. Rob is one of those early risers also, and likes to sit on the balcony and watch the day begin. With the views you had at your AirBNB, he would probably be there still, sipping his cappuccino and taking it all in. Lake Como just seems impossibly picturesque! Great photos, and great ideas on what to do/see – thanks for sharing!

    1. Alex says:

      Rob and Rich would make perfect travelling partners then! 😉

  39. Crummy Mummy says:

    We’re off to Italy in a few weeks and Rome for the first time. I can’t wait! #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      I’m just pulling into the airport car park right now, we’re off to Roma!!!!! Yippeeee!

  40. Kate Eccles says:

    Ooh this looks beautiful, somewhere I would definitely like to visit. #KCACOLS

  41. Kana says:

    Alex! What a great guide to Lake Como – such a bucket list item of mine. It’s so romantic in photos and I’m sure even more so in person! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you again this week! xo

  42. Janine Good says:

    You can never go wrong with Italy for a holiday! I love every inch of it! I haven’t been to Lake Como yet, but it is always a nagging bite by the travel bug. Great guide! Thanks for coming out to Fly Away Friday! See you this week!

    1. Alex says:

      Oh you so have to do italy. I swear I will live there one day. Love it!

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