When MB suggested we take a weekend trip to Lake Como, I was on the fence. We’d already visited Lake Garda in the autumn, did I want to keep going to Italian lakes, or try something new?
I’m glad I let her convince me to give Como a try. It is seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon and stayed until Monday afternoon. I think I could easily have spent several more months exploring the lakeside towns, trying all the food and rose in every little restaurant and touring around on the boat busses that seem to be the only viable way to get around the lake.
During our short stay, I picked up on some really, really important details that travels should know when taking on Como. As usual, I didn’t look too, too much into what I was going to do on the weekend there- just a few cursory arrangements on where to stay- and I think the trip would have been improved on the whole if I had taken a bit more time planning it. Lucky for you, since you have me, you can use this as a guide to Como, taken from the lessons I learned this past weekend whilst there.
Como Travel Tip 1: Spend at least one night in a nice resort, if you can.
I know, I know. I’m all about accessible traveling, and not everyone has a budget that can fit in luxe accommodations, including myself. (Here are some tips on how to make some money to fund your travels, though, so that treating yourself whilst on the road doesn’t have to be such a rarity!)
Our first night, we stayed at the Grand Imperiale Moltrasio, about a 10-minute taxi ride outside of Como. (You can also take a boat bus to Moltrasio, although it’ll take about 45 minutes.)
I’m usually all for an Airbnb, but getting around Lake Como is actually a little complicated. There aren’t very many available taxis around the lake, and Uber seems to be relegated to Milan. There are infrequent trains you can hop on and off. The boat is really the best option, but it doesn’t stop everywhere so you need to be very, very careful about which boats you take depending on where you want to go.
The hotel helped us understand all this, and walked us through the boat schedules. It wouldn’t be impossible to figure out on your own, but it was nice to break into holiday mode with the help of locals who could give us some travel tips. It was also nice to have this view from our room, which was just fab.
The lake is also great for swimming, although there are very few public beaches. Most waterfront hotels have pools AND access points to the beach, so you can get in the water, swim around with the fishes and come back to lay out by the pool.
Como Travel Tip 2: Be super, super clear about how you’re getting around- and bring walking shoes!
As I mentioned, taxis aren’t super common outside of Como city, it seems. I didn’t see any in Moltrasio and there were only a handful in Bellagio, most of which were available only after 8pm. That means you’ll be doing a lot of walking, most likely on narrow roads with cars zooming past on both sides. Or, you’ll be doing some fun hiking up and down the hills between towns. I don’t personally mind this (minus the scary fast cars) as you’ll see some super great sights.
The views from higher up, between the towns and villages, are especially stunning, and well worth the walks.
Just make sure you wear proper footwear, or else you’ll slip and slide on the hills like I did!
Como Travel Tip 3: Take a boat whenever possible
Boats are definitely the best way to get around Lake Como. They are also the prettiest.
As I mentioned, most boats have a set programme regarding where they stop and when. (Although in our experience most of the boats were at least five minutes behind schedule, at all times.) The boats do not tend to stop at every port, either, so if you see one coming don’t just assume it’ll stop at your port. Therefore, you need to plan pretty carefully about when you’ll get to where you’re going, and when you’ll go back, because they are infrequent and stop running fairly early. As lovely as all the towns are, you don’t want to be stuck far away from where you want to be!
Seeing the lake by boat is by far the most exciting and amazing thing I think we did. (I loved it so much, in fact, that we did it twice.) We took a boat from Moltrasio to Bellagio, about a two hour journey, and from Bellagio back to Como on our last day. Its amazing how toward the middle of the lake, you start to see not only cute little towns hugging the shores, but massive mountains with craggy cliffs. Its a weird dichotomy, the lake and the huge peaks looming above.
One tip: make sure you wear tons of sunscreen, or else you’ll have a burn and tan lines, which I’m still rockin’ back in London!
Como Travel Tip 4: Bring your fashion “A Game”
When it comes to traveling, I usually pack light and low maintenance. I’m a fan of flexible pieces that can withstand most weather conditions and the cramped confines of a Ryanair approved suitcase. However, I found that around Como I should have packed slightly more up market garb.
Shorts and a tank won’t cut it, friends, if you want to fit in with the crowds. I’m a little taken aback at how people can still find it within themselves to dress to impress in scorching heat, but so it is.
Definitely dust off those cute coulottes and sleeveless dresses you wouldn’t take with you to Southeast Asia or backpacking around Croatia, and take them to Como!
Como Travel Tip 5: Try alllllll the restaurants
Traveling with MB is great because she’s a fellow foodie. Each night we made sure we found a restaurant popular with the locals to sit, watch the sunset and enjoy a leisurely dinner.
Our first night in Bellagio we tried Ristorante La Baia di Moltrasio, which was just a few minutes from our hotel (on a narrow road with no sidewalk and fast cars, ah!). It is right along the water and there is a great view from both the lower and higher balconies.
No food pictures survived to tell the tale, I’m sorry to say, but we both really, really enjoyed our food! Try the pineapple dessert and make sure to finish off with a limoncello!
The next evening, in Bellagio, we went to Terrazza Barchetta, which is just behind the main ferry station. There was no view of the water this time, but my food kept me so busy I probably wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it anyway!
The restaurant is tucked in a cute little corner of the town, and the owners are so friendly and funny. The menu has a ton of options and all the deserts looked fab (although I was good and just stuck with my pasta, which was homemade and delish!).
Lenno didn’t have many restaurants on the water, which was a bit strange, being so close to Villa Balbianello. After a long afternoon walk through the villa, we stopped at Albergo Lenno for lunch. This was definitely the culinary highlight of the trip.
The aubergine ravioli with dry tomato and burrata creme was to. die. for. Light enough that it wasn’t oppressive in the heat, but warm and satisfying all the same. Yum yum yum.
After clamoring around the villa all morning, I let myself enjoy a tiramisu, too. It melted slightly in the heat, but was one of the better ones I’ve had. Light, refreshing and just the right amount of marscapone.
Our final dinner was spent at Darsene di Loppia, in a small village right outside of Bellagio. Again, you’ll have to brave the dark, narrow roads (or wait 20-30 minutes for taxis, like some of those around us did) to get to the restaurant, but its worth the adventure! We headed there around sunset and enjoyed stunning views of the lake.
I also couldn’t resist but take a photo of the town, which is seriously just this:
The food was amazing. This is probably the fanciest place we went to the entire trip.
I started with scallops surrounded by tropical fruit, a strange but delicious combination.
Followed by nettle gnocchi with tomato and olives.
The flavor was a little too tangy for me, and the pasta was heavy, but it was a good thing to try. Now I know: nettles are not for me!
The coolest part of the dinner was the parade that passed us. The new priests were followed by the whole town, singing and chanting and celebrating.
Como Travel Tip 6: Explore the small villages and towns. (My favorite was Varenna.)
As I said, you can take boats just about anywhere around the lake.
You’ll probably be surprised by the small little villages that have ports. Why not get off one stop before your destination and walk between the port and your final stop? Its a great way to see a little more of the lake and its surrounding villages.
Our second hotel, a small bed and breakfast called Locanda di Maria, was in San Giovanni, the little village right before Bellagio.
As it turns out, the day we checked in, several men in the village were becoming priests. There was a huge celebration in this small village, with a packed church and overflow crowd watching the mass outside on jumbo televisions. Pretty interesting for a town that looks like about five people live there.
We explored several little towns, including Moltrasio, Lenno, Bellagio, San Giovanni, Vergonese and Varenna. My favorite was Varenna.
Varenna is picturesque both from the boat and beyond.
I took a little walk around the town in an effort to go up to the viewpoint every goes on about…
Unfortunately, I got seriously lost. I ended up on a hillside trail that clearly had not been cared for for many, many years…
Backtracking, I got even more lost, and ended up in someone’s private garden. I actually ran across her whilst wandering around looking for my way back down the hill, and she let me take pictures.
Imagine this being the view from your garden?!
Finding this spot makes me think that if you can find the viewpoint, which apparently is a 15 minute walk from the port, you’ll be awed by the view. I know I was, although this is private property so unless you magically retrace my steps you won’t be able to enjoy this exact view.
Como Travel Tip 7: Believe the hype. Go to Villa Barbianello.
Villa Barbienello was probably the most beautiful place I’ve been to this year.
A ticket to explore the gardens was only 8 euro and you can stay for as long as you want. Since its kind of a long, hilly walk from Lenno, it is pretty empty, too.
I had heard that this was the villa where Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala were married in Star Wars, so it was obviously high on my to see list. (Don’t judge.)
But even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, its worth the visit.
The views are seriously stunning. In every single direction.
The villa itself is also open for tours, but I was too taken with the gardens to want to go inside.
If you don’t think you can make the trek from Lenno to the villa, you can also take a boat for 7 euros return to and from the villa.
Como Travel Tip 8: Only brave Bellagio early in the morning.
My last tip will be to brave Bellagio early in the morning, or give it a miss. It is rammed with people starting from about 11am, and in my opinion, although its pretty, there are many other small villages to explore that are less touristy and have just a beautiful views and little nooks and crannies.