Many have heard of Lake Como's beauty and I'm happy to be one of the lucky ones who have leisured in Lombardy, where Lake Como is located.
Here at Como there is much to see and do in one of my most favored Northern Italian getaways.
A week or a lifetime ... you choose!
Getting To Lake Como:
While the September weather was warm in our pre-Como stops Venice and Verona, the night we arrived in Varenna was a cold, wet one. Little did we know when the sun rose the next morning there would be snow in the upper mountains surrounding the lake. It was like the Gods had sprinkled powdered sugar on top of the mountains, which later made for some spectacular views heading into the Alps.
You can train from Milan to Varenna then boat to Bellagio, Mennagio and more. If you're planning on doing extensive touring of the area a rental car will help tremendously. Lucky for us our travel friends from Richardson, Texas had a car and while we didn't use it every day, it was nice to have - especially when foraging for food on a Sunday when the area is pretty tightly closed down; we found an Iperal megamarket in Piantedo, which is about 25 minutes from Varenna. We later dubbed Iperal "Wally World" for its vast assortment of food and assorted items (clothes, furniture, housewares, appliances and more) encompassing over 2 acres (that's right - acres) offering pretty much anything your traveler's heart desires.
About The Terrain:
Lake Como isn't just a lake named after Como, Italy, it's a tiny world uniquely its own. The expansive lake is shaped like an upside down "Y" with more villages than one can likely remember peppering its shoreline. This means you will have plenty to see and do!
You can leave your sand bucket and shovel at home and instead gear-up for ferry, watercraft or car ride adventures along the perimeter of this beautiful lake. Love to hike? The area offers you an abundance of options from which to choose for all activity levels of walkers/hikers.
I was easily intoxicated by the picturesque area; it will quickly impress you and make you feel like you're at an all-you-can-eat buffet of beauty. Three years after visiting Como when I close my eyes I still see sun, snow, mountains and the rippling waters of the lake. It's no wonder that celebrities like George Clooney, Madonna, Stalone and Versace have flocked here.
Must See And Do:
Varenna ~ Our home base for a week-long stay at Lake Como, Varenna offers killer views of its nearest lakeside neighbors Bellagio and Mennagio. Our rental was perched above Varenna and featured a large, modern kitchen and a double-wide balcony overlooking the lake. Arrival to the rental on the summit required car, taxi or a bountiful love for vertical hikes. The views from above more than made up for the somewhat tricky method of arrival.
Varenna has a beautiful waterfront walk that was fun to explore and it lead us to a part of Varenna we didn't even know existed! Tucked along one of the shoreline inlets we discovered Il Tornio and it quickly became one of my favorite ceramics shops in all of Italy.
Ceramics stores are to Italy as Country Western stores are to Texas - abundant - and my taste is what I'd consider "selective," so finding a store with a style I love was a great find! I would have purchased more if I could have safely fit my prized mementos into my luggage.
Inside Il Tornio we found unique handmade objects including Christmas ornaments, platters and small dishes (shown above) that are far too beautiful "as is" to put anything on. We left with several items for friends back home and made multiple trips back. Il Tornio's Varenna location is apparently a seasonal one that's set-up in what looked to be an ancient home; the mother ship where the ceramics are made is located about a 30 minute car ride away in Lecco. Hopefully if you visit the Varenna outlet it will be open.
Villa Monastero. There's a museum and a conference center (both of which we didn't tour) but instead we were showered with impressive views of the Villa's beautiful location from the expansive botanical gardens which extend almost 1.5 miles (2 kilometers) along the shoreline.
Three words about the Villa: Go. See. It. You will thank me later, I'm certain. Visit Villa Monastero's online site to get your heart beating in advance of your physical arrival. You can also click this little link to visit my Flickr page with a few photos of what you'll likely see here. Don't miss it when at Lake Como!
Our greatest meal in Varenna was at Ristorante Borgovino and my journal tasting notes describe it as "the motherload of all meals." We met two groups of Texans here and polished off a wide assortment of food that left me yearning for my Texas-sized stretchy pants: insalata mista (mixed salad), vino, butter and sage gnocchi, beef filetto, linguini with ham, risotto and cheese, pork scallopini with lemon sauce, giant prawns, creme caramel (you get the drift).
In Varenna you may stumble on a Coop Supermarket, but we never made it inside the store due to wacky, unposted store hours.
Bellagio ~ Considered the most beautiful city in Italy by many, this village is the perfect union of Heaven and Earth. Bellagio's nickname? The pearl of Lake Como.
Strolling the stair-lined streets of Bellagio gave us a good workout so we decided to recover by enjoying some delicious gelato at Trattoria San Giacomo and enjoy the decadent views.
Mennagio ~ Whether you lunch or linger here, make a plan to visit Mennagio after touring Varenna and Bellagio to complete a trifecta view of the Y-shaped lake's central region.
Villa Carlotta. This impressive villa dates back to 1690 and it's now a museum housing beautiful art all surrounded by a 20-acre botanical garden that's open to the public. Villa Carlotta is located along Lake Como's waterfront in a majestic, enviable location that's perfect for keeping a watchful eye on its across-the-lake friend, Bellagio. Make sure and check out the Villa's website, it will give you great insight on what to expect here since no photography is allowed inside the Villa (bummer).
If you'd like to read a bit more about who the villa was named for, this post has some surprising information.
Cernobbio ~ When Texans with several trips to Italy under their belts agree the best Italian gelato was found here, you better make sure and have a "lick-see-do" in Cernnobio. Two cones for me in a single afternoon! I could have made it three but a wardrobe malfunction would have ensued.
Make sure and visit the gelateria Sotto Zero located in the heart of Cernobbio and enjoy an Ace-flavored cone. Packed with vitamins A, C and E thanks to orange, carrot and lemon, this isn't just good for you it's great for you!
Cernobbio is an easy-to-walk village and we packed a picnic lunch to enjoy after a leisurely tour of Il Giardino della Valle - a quiet community garden that will delight the senses.
St. Moritz ~ A day trip into the Alps from Varenna, Italy to Switzerland was an absolute Top 10 Life Moment for me forever. All aboard the Bernina Express and you'll see what I mean!
For this trip I had done some presearch and learned that this line is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means it's a pretty honorable experience. It didn't take much convincing my traveling 4-pack to devote a day for a unique adventure into the Alps.
Bernina Express and head to St. Moritz, Switzerland for a day of gazing at a totally unique culture set among awesome landscape, architecture and a colorful mixture of food, language and fashion. Along the way you'll enjoy amazing views set amidst numerous tunnels and bridges all connected by impressive loop-de-loop (zig zag) switchbacks.
My Best Advice ~ For an extra $60 USD roundtrip per person we nervously upgraded to 1st class to enjoy the panoramic train only to find 20 minutes later that the experience was worth it ten fold! The panoramic car had Texas-sized windows that made drinking in the views as enjoyable and easy as drinking a fine glass of Brunello (see the pic above). We surprisingly had the entire car to ourselves roundtrip and while we can't expect such fine luck again, we leveraged ours to the fullest; for the entire adventure the four of us simultaneously darted freely to the left and right sides of the train car depending on which side had the best valley view at that moment in time.
Taking crisp photos is a bit tricky from inside the train due to the reflection from all the glass, but nonetheless you'll be left with impressionable and unforgettable vistas. Best of all enjoy the "double feature" as you enjoy your return trip back to the Lake Como area; from palms to glaciers to palms all in the same day! Choo! Choo! Enjoy more pics from our train ride adventure.
Have a lower altitude look-see of pictures from the beautiful Lake Como region at my Flickr Photostream.
Our Next Stop?
Lake Como concluded our September 2011 Italian adventure and we returned back to our home base in Dallas, Texas with many great memories and almost 3,000 photos. Little did we know our next visit to Italy in 2012 would be for a once-in-a-lifetime stay for 3 months!
You can learn more about our longer-term stay beginning with this post that sets the stage for our 2012-2013 Tuscan adventure ... with our dogs!
Ciao for now!
for the love of :