Lake Como (Lago di Como) is situated in the provinces of Como and Lecco in Lombardy, Northern Italy. It is part of the Italian Lake District. It has been popular with visitors for well over 100 years for its combination of fresh air, water, mountains and good weather.
The lake is shaped 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 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").
Lake Como tourism portal gives some other information on the area.
- Bellagio - very attractive town at the junction of the two 'legs' of the lake. Can be expensive. The busiest of the tourist-oriented towns and a hub for the boat service on the lake.
- 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/1PM until about 3PM. 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 is not that attractive. There is a WWI fort with guns nearby, open one day a week.
- 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 80,000 people and has Roman or pre-Roman origins.
- Esino Lario - a mountain village that has been selected to host the Wikimania conference in 2016
- Griante - small village on a plateau on the west side of the lake. Worth visiting for its surrounding villas and for the spectacular views of the lake from the Santuario Della Madonna delle Grazie di San Martino, a small church perched high on the mountain side.
- Lecco - the town at the end of the south-eastern branch of the lake. Population of 45,000 people.
- 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 (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.
- Moltrasio - a village in the southwestern leg of the lake
- Nesso - a very small town about half way between Como and Bellagio on the western "leg" of the lake.
- Perledo - a village close to Varenna
- Torno - a town in the southwestern leg of the lake
- Tremezzo - beautiful little town, now part of Tremezzina, and right across from Bellagio. Main attractions are Villa Carlotta with its splendid botanical garden and nice waterfront, and nearby Villa del Balbianello.
- 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. 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.
- Isola Comacina – an island near Tremezzina
Southern Lake Como district
The southern part of the district contains the northern part of the historic land of Brianza, which lies between this district and the Grande Milano district. This is a wealthy and mostly industrial and residential area.
Paderno D'Adda and its surroundings, with the old San Michele bridge and Leonardo's connections
Montevecchia and the Curone park, which offers great views on the entire Po Plain, and is therefore known as the Tetto della Brianza (Brianza's rooftop)
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). Station Como San Giovanni is a little far from downtown, but there are a number of buses that stop there. You can buy tickets at the tobacconist in the station for a few Euros, or walk to the center of town.
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 fast services that travel faster, stop at fewer places and cost more. Less frequent boat/hydrofoils travel down the "Eastern Leg" between Bellagio and Lecco.
There are additional frequent services between the 'triangle' of towns in the centre of the lake - Menaggio, Bellagio & Varenna. In season, there is a boat service for the mid-lake (Bellano, Lenno, Villa Carlotta and Tremezzo in addition to Menaggio, Varenna and Bellagio). Runs hourly 9AM to 6PM.
Timetables are available at tourist information offices, at the quayside or online from Gestione Navigazione Laghi.
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.
On Lake Como a railway is available only on the eastern shore of the lake, with stations between Lecco and Colico. Regional trains stop in all stations; while direct trains only in few of them; the stations on Lake Como are: Lecco (also direct trains), Abbadia Lariana (some direct trains), Mandello, Lierna, Fiumelatte, Varenna (the name of the station is Varenna Esino at it is actually located in Perledo - also direct trains), Bellano (also direct trains), Dervio, Dorio, Piona, Colico (also direct trains). From south to north, the railway line connects Milan to Morbegno, Sondrio and Tirano (in Valtellina); in Colico another line allows to reach Chiavenna in Valchiavenna.
Direct trains depart from Milan central station; while regional trains from Milan Porta Garibaldi. In general there is a direct and regional train every two hours, which means that basically there is either train every hour; the service is more intense in the morning and evening (for commuters moving in the morning towards Lecco and Milan and in the evening from Lecco and Milan); it starts at around 6am from Milan and it finishes with the last train from Milan at 9.20pm. It is important to take attention to the different timelines during weekdays and weekends (there is also a winter and summer timeline); in general through trains are not a reliable mean of transport on the lake by night.
The railway on the eastern shore of the lake is a convenient mean of transport also to reach other destinations on the lake. Considering the fast direct trains from Milan to Varenna (the name of the station is Varenna Esino) take around 1 hour, from Varenna is the possible to connect by boat to other towns, such as Bellagio, Menaggio, Tremezzo with frequent boats and other towns with less frequent 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.
The Eastern Shore is served by the SS36 highway, a two-lane fast road that connects Milan and Lecco to Colico. Be aware that there are no exit other than Lecco, Bellano and Colico. The other villages are served by the old shoreline road, which offers good views to the lake but it's also a bit challenging, due to its small lanes, sharp bends and dark tunnels.
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.
- Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo offers great views of the lake from its large impressive gardens which are famous for the wide varieties of plants. The villa is also a museum containing a number of sculptures and artworks.
- Villa Monestero in Varenna
Boat and plane trips
Take a 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).
Take a flight over the lake. Aero Club Como offers flights in seaplanes.
Hiking, skiing and water sports
The nearest skiing area is the Piani di Bobbio site. This is a quite basic resort, with easy and intermediate downhill ski slopes. This is the nearest ski area from Milan and a very good one for beginners (but not very thrilling for experts).
Hike in the mountains. There are various paths, from the easiest one to the most strenuous, and many mountain huts and resting points. Most paths 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 tourist office in Menaggio has a wide selection of possibilities. Lecco is also a good base to start a hike, particularly because you can reach many starting points without a car. You can also find good sites for rock climbing.
Try a round of golf or tennis at the Villa D'Este or Monticello golf clubs. Menaggio e Cadenabbia Golf Club, just a few km inland from Menaggio, is where George Clooney is said to be a member
Do 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.
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.
- Cablecar Argegno - Pigra (Bus C10 to Argegno, or ferry), ☎ +39 031 821344. Take a cable car then hike down to Colonno (~2h).
- Como on Saturdays (at the town's Medieval walls)
- Lenno on Tuesday mornings
- Dongo has a market once a week.
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.
- Locanda dell'Isola Comacina on Isola Comacina
- 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).
- Youth Hostel "La Primula" in Menaggio is perhaps the only youth hostel in the region.
- Contradalunga Bed and Breakfast, Abbadia Lariana.
- Villa d'Este, Via Regina, 40, Cernobbio, ☎ +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.
- Grand Hotel Imperiale Resort & SPA at Moltrasio
- Beware of wild boars in the forests surrounding the lake
- Expect motorcyclists to overtake in a seemingly suicidal manner
- 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, it's larger than it seems, cold and very deep. If you want to try, there are special events where locals and tourists can try this challenge safely with support boats and rescue teams. Ask the tourist office.
In 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.