Lago di Como – Northern Italy’s Jewel
By AJ Williams
Confession: I love George Clooney. Well love might be a rather strong word: I haven’t actually met him. But it’s a pretty serious crush (me and millions of others). So when we headed to Lake Como, I fan-girled myself all the way to Milan thinking, “Next stop George’s beloved Italian getaway town.” And naturally, I’d spot him on his villa’s terazza, wine in his hand, waving me in for a visit. And then…just like that….I was awakened by the friendly Air Canada flight attendant, telling me to put my seat up for landing. It was all a dream…but one I hoped to replicate while visiting Lago di Como, Italy’s most famous lake.
After Air Canada’s direct flight from Toronto, a short train ride from Milan to Lake Como, means you don’t need a car while you’re visiting. An hour after retrieving your luggage, you’ll be in the heart of the stunning Como. The village’s history goes back to Roman times, and you’ll appreciate starting your visit by hopping on the panoramic funicular to rise high above the town, soaking in the views.
Back down in town, we stayed at the Hotel Metropole Suisse, a boutique hotel on the water, with an excellent restaurant, incredible views and typically Italian charm.
Sip a cappuccino in the piazza beside the hotel, or stroll along the waterfront where there’s always lots of activity. Historic buildings and churches dot the charming streets.
We chanced into Ristorante Sociale and had one of our most memorable meals in Italy.
Across the street from the hotel you’ll find the boat launch. Sightseeing vessels (the ‘slow boat’ as the locals call it, or the much faster hydrofoil), as well as private vessels are always popular. Stop at many of the perilously perched villages that dot the lakeshore. Air tours are also available by float plane.
You could easily spend a week in Como, but if you’re looking to explore the lake from a few locations, I’d highly recommend Bellagio.
Lake Como is shaped like a wishbone, and the town of Bellagio is situated at the point of the land separating the two arms. Easily one of the most beautiful and romantic places we’ve ever been to, it offers incredible vistas, wonderful food & wine.
The Hotel Belvedere is still owned and operated by the amazing Martinelli Manoni family, who have made catering to their guests a passion for many generations. To dine in their restaurant with a view of the lake is magical. I’m still craving the risotto and fresh fish from the lake!
Stay in Bellagio for at least 3 nights if you can, and take the boat each day to explore a different village. Tremezzo, Lenno and Cernobbio are just a few.
The Lake Como area is cradled at the foot of the southern slopes of the soaring Alps, and offers something for every outdoor adventurer, including skiing, hang-gliding and the chance for ‘pot-holers’ to explore many grottoes in the area.
Como is also a town of thinkers and visionaries. A favorite son, Mr. Volta (as in Volt) invented the battery, and centuries ago, a mayor decided they should import silk worms. They still make some of the finest silk goods in the world here – unique silk stores are all around and scarves & ties are reasonably priced.
From Como, you can easily pop north to Switzerland by train or you can rent a car and enjoy a mountain drive over the Semplin Pass (one of the highest) through the alps. Be careful of the time of year, as we were caught in an early-winter snow storm in October and our rental car’s summer tires weren’t quite up to the challenge! Lausanne and Geneva are easy jaunts from Lake Como or Milan, and worth exploring while you’re in the Northern Italy.
So, about George. Yes, he’s one of the most handsome, famous movie stars on the planet. Yes, he has an incredible villa (which you can rent if you’re a recent lottery winner) on Lake Como, and yes, our tour boat almost tilted over when we passed by his house and an announcement was made, due to all the women on board rushing to one side of the boat to catch a glimpse.
But it’s important to remember that Lake Como was famous for it’s incredible beauty and romance long before George arrived…and Bellagio did inspire that behemoth of a hotel in Las Vegas. But Como, in all its glory, has been here, playing host to some of the most incredible moments and memories ever created for centuries. Visit, and you might forget about George (well maybe.)
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