The Lombardy region in northern Italy lays claim to one of the country’s loveliest and ritziest destinations: Lake Como. This picturesque lake has long been a magnetic destination for holiday revelers and affluent globetrotters, and is dotted with quaint villages including Bellagio and the lake’s eponymous town of Como.
The waterway sits idyllic amid a breathtaking Alpine landscape, and you don’t need to be a wealthy jetsetter to enjoy the beauty and intrigue of this stunning spot. No matter what your interest, here’s how you can enjoy Lake Como on tour.
For the foodie
“The food was delicious, although it didn’t strike me as what many might consider “typical Italian.” In Como, you’re 15 minutes from the Swiss border, and my food experience felt more like Germany than Italy. My dinner in Bellagio was thick, spaetzle-like pasta (a bit like gnocchi) with a cream sauce and pork.” —Go Ahead staffer Angus
People flock to Lake Como for a relaxing getaway, and the impressive eateries that dot the area cater to the tastes of visitors looking to have an indulgent, authentic culinary experience. From pizza with paper-thin crust and world-renowned Vanini olive oil produced in the village of Lenno to herbs and cheeses from the surrounding hills, high-quality food is one of the area’s defining aspects.
Of course, the lake offers abundant fresh fish as well, which can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant along the shore. The most common catch is lavarello, a small white fish that can be enjoyed fried, topped with butter and sage or every way in between. Another well-known fish dish is risotto con pesce persico, which is prepared with perch and northern Italy’s regional rice. Not only is the food flavorful and fresh, but the stunning vistas around the lake make eating al fresco even more inviting.
For the historian
The area around Lake Como abounds with history from ancient Roman times, and if you want to uncover fascinating pieces of the past, look no further than the town of Como. This area was conquered by the Romans in 196 B.C. and fell under the rule of Julius Caesar. It was in this newly-founded town, known as Novum Comum, that famous literary figures Pliny the Elder and the Younger were born. Remnants from this part of history can still be seen today, and one of the most fascinating is Como’s historic center. The narrow, cobbled streets in this area are still laid out perpendicularly in a classic Roman grid and mark the area that was walled in during the first century.
For the romantic
“I saw the most beautiful villas and private homes in Bellagio. The village was extremely charming, and the ferry ride over was a great opportunity to relax and enjoy the lake views—we even saw a few weddings along the shore.” —Go Ahead staffer Clarissa
With its stunning Alpine views, glittering water, quaint towns and elegant villas adorned with delicate wisteria, Lake Como is practically synonymous with romance. If you’re looking for an extra special experience with the apple of your eye, enjoy the surrounding scenery on a relaxing lake cruise to the charming village of Bellagio. This enchanting spot is nicknamed the Pearl of the Lake, and for good reason. It has inspired poets such as Shelley and composers such as Gabriel Fauré, and is located mid-lake at a point known as the Punta Spartivento, or the “Point that Divides the Wind.” Stop to grab a bite to eat at one of the many cafes along the lakeside promenade; take a romantic stroll along the side streets (many of which are easy-to-climb staircases due to Bellagio’s hilly terrain), or simply sit and take in the splendor of the lakeside scenery.
For the fashion lover
If fashion is your thing—and you happen to like silk in particular—Como is the place to visit. The town is one of the premier producers of this luxurious fabric, as it’s close to a large supply of water (needed to extract thread from a cocoon) and has easy access to mulberries from the Po River Valley (needed to feed the silk worms). Como has been part of the silk industry since the early 16th century, and today it’s the go-to for almost all high-end fashion houses, including Versace and Armani. If you want to trace the production of Como’s silk back to its source, step inside the Mantero silk house, which was established in 1902 and has various silk items for sale.
For the art-loving botanist
“Villa Carlotta was a very nice surprise for me. I was shocked to see how many different flowers and plants grew in the park. The most interesting part was the bamboo grove, which was surrounded by a waterfall. After an hour of wandering and enjoying beautiful views of the lake, I got a lemon gelato from a cafe on the grounds and sat in the shade in one of the gardens.” —Go Ahead staffer Marissa
If you want to see notable artwork and breathtaking blooms during a visit to Lago di Como, a stop at Villa Carlotta is a must. This late-17th century structure was initially erected by the Milanese marquis Giorgio Clerici, and boasts an elegant garden and park, which sprawls over 700,000 square feet. That means the statues, terraces and flowers fill a space bigger than 13 football fields, offering ample opportunities for relaxing strolls among delicate azaleas and rhododendrons, sturdy sequoia trees, a valley of ferns and even a bamboo grove.
The museum inside the villa is equally as breathtaking, as it holds innumerable masterpieces collected by Giambattista Sommariva in the 18th century. Some of the stunning works of art include Antonio Canova’s famous Palamedes sculpture, Francesco Hayez’s oil painting known as "The last Adieu of Romeo and Juliet" and a rare, surprisingly well-preserved collection of Giovanni Liberotti’s cameos.