Lake Como is situated in Como (Province) in Lombardy, Northern Italy. It is part of the Italian Lake District. Popular with visitors for well over 100 years for its combination of fresh air, water, mountains and good weather, it's still worth a visit.
The Lake is shaped rather like an inverted 'Y', with two 'legs' starting at Como in the South-West and Lecco in the South-East, which join together half way up and the lake continues up to Colico in the North. The first few kilometres of the 'legs' at the southern end of the lake are relatively flat, but Lake Como becomes more mountainous as you head northwards into the Alps. Some of the nearby peaks go slightly above the tree-line so the views are really impressive. In the winter, there is skiing in the nearby valleys.
The area around Lake Como, or "Lago di Como" in Italian, is pretty characteristic. It has a kind of flair and sense of history that tends to impress its visitors in a sense deeper than only from a touristic point of view. It has been appreciated for its beauty and uniqueness for ages, and even as early as the Roman Times. Its atmosphere and natural surroundings have been the inspiration for an important part of the creation of Naboo, in the Star Wars movies. (In the same way as the atmosphere in Tozeur and Matmata have been recreated in Episode IV, "A New Hope").
Como - At the southern end of the lake, the lake's main town is a good base and although not as attractive as some of the other towns, it remains an elegant resort. The town has a population of roughly 80,000 people and has Roman or pre Roman origins.
Tremezzo - Beautiful little town, right across from Bellagio. Main attraction is Villa Carlotta with its splendid botanical garden and nice waterfront.
Griante - Small village situated on a plateau on the West side of Lake Como. Worth visiting for its surrounding villas and for the spectacular views of Lake Como from the Santuario Della Madonna delle Grazie di San Martino, a small church perched high on the mountain side.
Menaggio - The main town on the Western Shore, it's an attractive town and not as touristy as Bellagio and Varenna opposite. It has a Youth Hostel (but it's often full at weekends). Has a nice pedestrian only area with coffee shops, gelaterias and restaurants. Also has a lake-front mini golf with a snack bar.
Nesso - A very small town about half way between Como and Bellagio on the western "leg" of the lake.
Bellagio - Very attractive town at the junction of the two 'legs' of the lake. Can be expensive. This is the busiest of the tourist oriented towns. Bellagio is a hub for the boat service on the lake.
Varenna - Another attractive town on the Eastern shore opposite Menaggio and Bellagio. Worth visiting for the attractive and relaxing gardens of Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero. Varenna also has the remains of a castle where a falconer gives shows occasionally. The castle is a steep hike, with a rise of many hundreds of vertical feet.
Bellano - Just north of Varenna on the east side. Nice non-touristed town, with a pedestrian only area in the town center. In the Italian tradition, most stores are closed from noon/1:00PM until about 3:00PM. Bellano was a silk production center but those factories are now closed. The orrido (gorge) is geologically impressive but most of the tremendous flow is now directed into a powerhouse.
Colico - nice views at the top of the lake, but the town's not that attractive. There is a WWI fort with guns nearby, but is only open one day per week.
Lecco - the town at the end of the south-eastern branch of the lake. Population of roughly 25,000 people.
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, if you like impressive gardens
Menaggio e Cadenabbia Golf Club, just a few km inland from Menaggio, where George Clooney is said to be a member
Market days - Como on Saturdays. The market is located at the town's Medieval walls. Lenno on Tuesday mornings. Dongo has a market once a week.
Good internet connection is at the hotel barchelleta Excelsior.
In Como, there are two good wi-fi spots: the Como bar on Volta street and the sushi bar on Bergovico street (well hidden, but worth it). The como bar is an eight minute walk Southeast from the water taxi and the sushi place is about a fifteen minute walk south from the water taxi.
The main access to the lake is from Milan and Bergamo. It is also possible to cross the border from Lugano (Switzerland), and arriving at the lake at Menaggio. In the North, the lake can be accessed through the Splügen pass (closed from end of autumn to the beginning of spring), or from St. Moritz, both entering from Switzerland.
Regular trains run from Milan to Como (beware it has 2 stations: Como San Giovanni and Como Lago). Trains also run from Milan and Bergamo up the Eastern Shore from Lecco to Varenna and Colico and then on to Sondrio and St. Moritz. Station Como San Giovanni is a little bit outside the downtown, but there are a number of buses that stop there, and one can buy tickets at the Tabac in the station for a few Euros, or walk to the center of town.
Frequent buses run up the Western Shore from Como to Menaggio. A few then continue on to Colico.
Several boats and hydrofoils a day travel all the way up the lake from Como to Colico stopping at most of the towns en-route.
There are also frequent service between the 'triangle' of towns in the centre of the lake - Menaggio, Bellagio & Varenna.
In season, there is a boat service for the central lake. [Bellano, Lenno, Villa Carlotta and Tremezzo in addition to Menaggio, Varenna and Bellagio.] Runs hourly 9:00AM to 6:00PM.
Less frequent boat/hydrofoils travel down the Eastern Leg to and from Lecco.
Timetables are available at tourist information offices, at the quayside or online.
If you want to discover Lake Como by yourself, you can rent a 40Hp motorboats to drive without any ship's license. If you stay in Menaggio, Bellagio, Tremezzo, Cadenabbia and Varenna you can contact AC BOAT (www.acboatrentals.com). Good rates and service and very nice boats.
Roads run up and down most of the shores. On the Western Shore, road works are common and travel duration can vary greatly. You can expect to average 40-60 km/h. Despite the construction of new tunnels, the road on the Western Shore still crosses the centre of many villages. Avoid the road if you are not a keen driver and dislike small roads, hairpins, steep inclines, sharp bends, and heavy traffic. (Fatal) accidents, often involving motorcyclists, are common.
Parking in some areas can be problematic, especially if you have a big car. A small car can be much more convenient for both traveling and parking.
Mandello Lario, on the east side just above Lecco, is the headquarters for Moto Guzzi, one of Italy's most popular motorcycle manufacturers. They offer a museum in Mandello as well.
The entire lake area is popular with motorcyclists from all over Europe.
If you want to hire a Scooter you can contact lakecomoscooter.com which offers 125cc Honda Scooters.
On Como lake you can ride with rental bike shops available for easy biking itineraries and rental services without guide, bikes can be rent with special accessories and with free delivery at hotels and B&B.
Take at least one Boat Trip. The most popular tourist towns seem to be Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna. Gravedona and Domaso (in the north) and Bellano, Lenno, and Argegno (mid-lake)are also worth a stop (no more than two hours required for each).
Go up the funiculare (hillside trolley). From the top you can enjoy the spectacular view, go to Brunate, or hike over to the Volta Lighthouse for an even better view.In Como, one of the really spectacular old lakeside villas is an art museum and is an easy walk from the Como boat ramps.
Try a round of golf or tennis at the Villa D'Este or Monticello golf clubs, or some water sports on the Lake. There are two locations that rent motor boats. Lower horsepowers do not require a boating license.
More water sports: in most of the lakeside towns, you will find opportunities to rent various kinds of boats. Many towns also have sailing and/or (kite) surfing schools. Water skiing is possible from some towns.
Go for a (long) walk in the mountains. There are various routes, for instance starting from Menaggio or Dongo. Most offer spectacular views across the lake and sometimes it is even possible to see both Lake Lugana and Lake Como from the same place, such as Monte Grona. The tourism office in Menaggio has a wide selection of possibilities.
Gelato. Many of the small towns around the lake have excellent gellaterias. This dessert/snack is wonderfully flavorful and perfect for enjoying from a bench at the side of the lake.
The Lake Como Greenway is an almost 4 mile walkway on the west side on the lake. While some parts are not lake-front, it is mostly lake-front and its route near Bolvedro/Tremezzo goes thru a very nice lake-front park. The best towns to join the green way are Lenno and Tremezzo.
Villa Carlotta. in Tremezzo offers great views of the lake from its large gardens which are famous for the wide varieties of plants. The villa is also a museum containing a number of sculptures and artworks
Take a flight over the lake. Aero Club Como offers flights in seaplanes.
Creme Caramel in San Siro (parking may be problematic)
La Baia in Cremia
Trattoria Il Pontile, Musso
Pizzeria Laguna Beach in Pianello del Lario
This is not a destination known for its singles scene.
Every town should have at least one bar or cafe available.
Bellagio probably offers the greatest number of bars and Cafes. Bellagio also offers a wine-bar (enoteca). There are one or two open-air, lakefront bars if the weather is good.
Some of the regularly scheduled lake boats have small, staffed beer and wine bars. In addition the is one 'cocktail' boat built in a retro steam boat style. Also, the Orione was commissioned in 2005, with three full levels and is the largest boat in the fleet. The Orione operates the length of the lake and offers beer and wine as well (They also offer full evening meals for people that board in Como in early evening).
The nearby Sondrio valley is a well known wine producing area. It is not Tuscany, but some of the local wines are quite good.
Villa d'Este, Via Regina, 40, ☎ +39 031 3481, . Villa d'Este is located in the small town of Cernobbio, on the bankside of Lake Como. Villa d'Este was in the past the residence of the Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio and nowadays it's an elegant luxury Hotel, famous all over the world.
Beware of wild boars in the forests surrounding the lake
Expect motorcyclists to overtake in a seemingly suicidal manner
Be aware that water tests in 2007 showed the lake has 68 times the accepted level of colony forming bacteria. This poses a risk of skin infection to bathers. It is thought to be the result of poor waste management and treatment in the surrounding area.
Make sure your car is in good condition, especially your tires, brakes, and handbrake, because of the steep and bendy nature of the roads
Locals love tailgating "slow" tourists. Allow them to overtake you, so you can follow them safely
Do not try to swim across the lake
In the winter, you can visit the Madesimo skiing area in the north by car, on the road to the Splügen pass. It is approximately a 60-90 minutes drive from the Menaggio area. Make sure your car is prepared for winter weather conditions.
If you don't mind driving a little further, it is also possible to visit St. Moritz and its ski slopes in Switzerland. However, the Maloja pass is part of the route to St Moritz. Although it is kept open throughout the winter, adverse weather conditions may force it to be closed on some days.
Smaller skiing resorts in the area are Chiesa and Valgerola.