Lake Como - 50 Shades of Blue in the North of Italy
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
Lake Como is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have yet to visit. There are shades of blue as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by stunning, powerful mountains that enhance the vista in every direction. Lined with villas and other beautiful buildings, it is hard to imagine a more scenic spot!
I first visited Lake Como on a day trip as I returned from a weekend in Switzerland whilst staying in Florence. Strolling through Bellagio and then touring the famous Villa Carlotta was more than enough to wet my appetite and put a stay in Lake Como high on my travel priority list.
Getting to Lake Como
The easiest place to fly into is Milan Malpensa Airport. From there, the simplest way of getting to any area around the lake is via car. Though there is public transport, it will significantly add to your time in getting to the region and will usually involve more than one type of transport...but it is definitely doable! I’m going to focus on driving though as that is what we chose to do after extensive research. We used a great site called My Daytrip which is a site that I have used in a number of countries through Europe. They picked us up from the Milan airport and dropped us directly at our hotel in Cadenabbia. You can also, of course, hire a car but we opted for this option to keep things really nice and easy for us both. From Milan Airport, you can expect the drive to take approximately: - 40 mins to Como - 65 mins to Tremezzo - 70 mins to Cadenabbia - 75 mins to Menaggio - 80 mins to Bellagio
Where to Stay
We chose Cadenabbia because it seemed to be in the middle of one side of the towns along the lake, and with direct ferry access to Bellagio, and therefore the other side of the lake. With only 3 days to spend in Lake Como, we wanted to have the best possible access to as much as possible throughout our stay. Cadenabbia was a good choice in this regard although with such limited choices in hotels, it wouldn’t be my choice again. Though further up the lake, I would hands down choose Menaggio for any future stays in Lake Como as it was beautiful, more accessible than I expected and offered a lot more options in terms of restaurants and cafes than smaller towns like Cadenabbia.
We did look at Como, mainly because that is where a lot of larger hotels are, but were very glad in the end we had not made the decision to stay in Como simply because it is just too far from the other lakeside towns - it is the mix between lake region and city...we just wanted the lake this time. In this instance, it was worth putting in that bit of extra time to and from Lake Como, as opposed to each day when we wanted to explore.
We stayed at the Hotel Britannia Excelsior. Whilst I loved the old style of the room in really setting this perfect Lake Como scene I had in my head after visiting Villa Carlotta, the hotel wasn’t really our style. This hotel definitely seems more suited to groups, and particularly tour groups, and as such, didn’t offer the service or amenities of hotels that I would usually rave about. Our room was very large which was nice and the most important thing to me was that it had a balcony to enjoy the view from. We did indeed have a beautiful terrace and were directly across the road from the Lake which was absolutely magnificent. The hotel also has a pool available for guests right on the lake which was simply stunning. Though the water was absolutely freezing, the atmosphere was nice and the experience made totally perfect by the view.
If the Grand Hotel Tremezzo is in your budget or has a good deal available, that would definitely be my choice! As we were there in peak tourist season it was both totally booked out and $$$$ but it looks absolutely stunning and has been rated by multiple publications as one of the very best accommodations in Italy. We had dinner there, which I’ll talk about in the food section, which gave us an opportunity to look around the hotel a bit as well and found it to be just beautiful.
If you’re looking for hotels with a name that you know or a points system (like the Hilton for example), you may need to look around the Como area for these options. I don’t remember seeing any hotel brand properties in the lakeside towns but do check as well.
Where to Eat
La Terrazza As I mentioned, we had dinner at the restaurant at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, La Terrazza. As the name suggests, the restaurant is on the terrace, jetting off from the hotel’s lobby, and staring directly at the beautiful lake. We had a table right at the front of the terrace so our view was unobstructed and seemingly endless - true magic! The food was delicious - the menu has offerings of either a degustation menu or ordering a la carte (as we chose) so there is plenty from which to choose. The wine menu was also excellent, probably largely thanks to the onsite cellar.
La Grolla For a more casual option in the Tremezzo/Cadenabbia area, we were recommended La Grolla and were thrilled with this choice. Unfortunately the night we were there it was pouring so our view was restricted, however, it also meant that we got much of the restaurant to ourselves with only a few other diners in that night. As such, the service was great and the food just totally delicious! If you’re in the area and looking for somewhere nice but not too expensive (which can be hard to find), this is definitely the pick!
Terrazza Metropole Set right on the lake in stunning Bellagio, there happens to be one table that jets out beyond the terrace and we were so lucky to get that one...just look at these views!
Our food was classic Italian and very good, and whilst normally that would be very important to me in recommending a lunch spot, here it was like the most welcome of bonuses...truth is, all the restaurants along the lake there are all about the view. Whilst the more traditional or less touristy places may be further in town, I would recommend this one time and time again as a very good lunch spot for great food and perfection in terms of atmosphere and view.
Though we ate in other places, these three are the ones that stand out to me as being places worth pre-booking or planning to go to (only the Grand Hotel Tremezzo really requires a booking). The other restaurants we ate at were places that we stumbled upon - there is no shortage of good Italian food in these towns, that is for sure.
Things To Do
Hire a Boat This was by far my favourite thing we did throughout our time in Lake Como. AC BOAT RENTAL in Menaggio has many kinds of boats that you can hire to self-drive, including motor boats that you can take out on the lake without a boating license. This is what we opted for and we had the best morning making memories that, at the risk of sounding cliche, truly will last a lifetime.
The team at AC was great - they showed me how to drive it, gave us some basic instructions and provided a folder on board with a map and the history of all the things that we would be passing so that we could run our own tour. We took the boat for 2 hours which was enough time to progress pretty far down the lake and then turn back around and go up further beyond Menaggio as well. Had we not been leaving Lake Como that day, we probably would have taken the boat for a longer period though honestly, this was a great amount of time for a morning activity. The boat was really easy to drive and I felt confident throughout so there isn’t any need really to panic about it. It was an absolute treat and something that I would recommend to everyone going to Lake Como.
Explore the Various Towns Exploring the various towns around the lake is a must in my opinion - particularly Bellagio and Menaggio which have more to see and do (restaurants, shopping, etc). You can get between the towns by taking the local ferry which is a great way to spend more time on the lake. If you are staying on the Tremezzo side, there is also a small train cart (like a bigger version of the kids ones that used to circulate malls) that will drive you up and down lakeside with numerous stops. Of course you could take a taxi but it’s really not as fun as a cute little roadworthy train, is it!
Go Swimming Many of the hotels that have pools on or right next to the lake offer day passes for their pool areas available for purchase by non-guests. If you’re there in the middle of summer, this is definitely something worth considering doing!
Explore a Traditional Villa Villa Carlotta is one of the most famous in the area though there are quite a few that you can explore. These villas will show you what living in this area used to be like and showcase some beautifully maintained homes and gardens. As far as attractions go, these are some of the big ones in the area and I would definitely recommend checking out at least one.
Take a Walk/Find a Bench/Stop for a very Long Coffee... Essentially, just spend as much time on or next to the lake as you can taking in the exceptional beauty.
This was one of my favourite spots in Italy to visit and I cannot wait to return one day soon.