Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como is the kind of place that once you go once, you are hooked - a place that you continue to see in your dreams and channel in your mind when you need an escape.
— Allison Handy
  • More about your oliver guide:
  • Trip type: Adult, Group getaway, Solo, Beach
  • Activity level: easy
  • Ideal length of trip: At least three, four to five is ideal.

to & from

The lake is about an hour or so by train from the Milan airport. Or if renting a car and driving, it’s about an hour to an hour and thirty minutes, depending on which part of the lake you are staying on. We had a car rental as we were visiting multiple locations throughout the region. We never used the car once we arrived, so if going to/from Como, the train to Como from Milan airport would be super easy.

stay

There are so many towns along Lake Como and it can be up to an hour driving or boating in between them, so understanding the geography is pretty critical. I’ve heard it described as imagining Lake Como like a pair of high-wasted jeans. The town of Veranna at the waistband on the right, Menaggio the waistband on the left, Bellagio where the crotch would be and Cernobbio at the left ankle and the town of Como on the left foot. To be honest, we never even saw the right leg of the lake on our whole four-day trip.

The two iconic Lake Como hotels are Grand Hotel Tremezzo (almost directly across the lake from Bellagio) and Villa d’Este.

If the goal is truly to escape, then Casta Diva Resort & Spa is your spot. Much quieter and less touristy (Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Villa d’Este can be a bit of a scene in the middle of summer), however the tradeoff for the quiet, tranquil retreat is that you cannot walk to anything. You must board a boat or get in car to go anywhere from the hotel.

eat and drink

The food of Lake Como is just amazing. Whether you stumble upon a trattoria tucked in a narrow cobble stone street, or book the “best restaurant” in town, you will walk away full and wondering how the next meal could possibly be better. But then, somehow, the next one is. And, we were shocked how reasonably priced the food was, and especially the wine, even the most in-demand restaurants. (though disclaimer – the Euro exchange was pretty strong for us). Ok, a few of our favorites…

  • Al Veluu - while we tend to prefer to eat on the lake, Al Veluu is the exception. It is up a hillside (your hotel can arrange transport) with the most breathtaking view of the lake you can imagine. The setting is outdoors and the trees have lights and the tables are right on the grass. It's simply stunning. With a husband and wife running the place, you feel like they've welcomed you into their home. The risotto is one of their signature dishes, which they stir in a healthy dose of Prosecco, leaving it light and delicious.
  • Locanda La Tirlindana - this was our best meal of the trip. We went by boat for lunch, but if you go for dinner the restaurant has to send a car small enough to navigate the windy alleys down to the restaurant, which sits directly on the lake. Imagine a glass of Italian rose, while you eat the most delicate lemon/marscarpone ravioli and squid with breadcrumbs, lemon and garlic that are the perfect balance of light yet highly flavorful. And whatever white fish they are serving will be delicate and cooked perfectly. I cannot give this restaurant a more raving recommendation.
  • Ristorante La Punta - this is another spot, located in Bellagio, but away from the touristy area. You can take the ferry and walk about 10 minutes around the point for seclusion and views.
  • Crotto dei Platani - I can't imagine there is a person out there who doesn't love this restaurant. It's delicious, lovely and again, right on the lake. They are famous for their white fish with shaved truffles on top. A must!
  • I feel like I should mention Il Gato Nero because we heard so much about it before we went. Apparently it's George Clooney's favorite spot, and sure enough, he was spotted there while we were in town. We did not go because (1) it's down in Chernobbio (down the left ankle of the lake) and would be nearly 45 minutes by car, and (2) our concierge told us it changed owners a few months ago and the reviews haven't be amazing. But the word around town is that people still flock there.
  • The last restaurant recommendation is every single tiny trattoria in the streets of Bellagio. Avoid the line of larger restaurants along the waterway which cater to the tourists. A general rule of thumb, avoid any restaurant where they show the menu in photos. The smaller and more tucked away, the better in our book!
  • Drink - the aperol spritz is the unofficial drink of Como. Go with it - it's refreshing and goes down a little too easy. We were also shocked by how inexpensive wine was. Some of the best bottles we had were no more than 40 euros. There is no reason to order an expensive bottle of wine anywhere. I'm pretty sure they are on the menu simply for American tourists. And, for some amazing wine tasting, look for the Corkscrew bar, aka Cava Turacciolo, identified by the giant corkscrew out front. Their wines and their meat and cheese plates are simply perfect.

do

Besides sunning, swimming, drinking and relaxing at your hotel, the goal is to get on the lake as much as you can. For us, that meant splurging to rent a boat with a driver for five hours. It’s definitely a splurge, but the ability to see all that Lake Como has to offer and have an expert giving you the scoop was worth every penny for us. You can definitely rent your own boat, which would be fun too, but considering you can’t just pull up anywhere, and aren’t able to jump in and swim anywhere you want in the lake, we opted for an expert. If you go with other couples, it makes the price much more palatable.

  • Bellagio Water Taxi and Limousine - this is who we used to charter the boat. The price was the same as reserving through the hotel's boat company, but the reviews from Bellagio were raving and we agreed with everyone of them. Max is their iconic driver and Max is amazing. He was charming, knowledgeable, CONNECTED and a joy to spend the day with. He's been driving their boats for 14 years. Their boats are really nice and offer way more space the two people need.
  • The ferries make visiting the other towns extremely easy. It was like 5 Euros to go from Tremezzo to Bellagio and the stop is right by the hotel. Just make sure you check where the ferry leaves from in Bellagio, it doesn't always depart from the same pier it drops you off and can be confusing.

inside scoop

You MUST visit Saraceno’s stores in Bellagio. She has three and they are a SUPER find. Silvia spends most of her time at the jewelry one and she is a wonderful woman. She designed jewelry for Armani for years (and still occasional does) and now designs for her own store. We’re talking amazing rings, bracelets, necklaces for 30-60 euros each. It’s not fine jewelry, but it would fit in Neiman’s any day for 10x the price. Her other stores carry leather and scarves and some deliberately selected clothing pieces. Not to be missed, even if just to meet Sylvia.

skip it

Going to the town of Como. Unless you are on a die-hard shopping mission, we’ve heard it’s not all that exciting compared to the towns of Veranna and Bellagio. We also skipped the tours of the villas and botanical gardens that line the lake. I’m sure they are lovely, but weren’t our cup of tea, especially since Max, our boat driver, gave us the scoop on many of them while we were on the water.

packing tips

Wear shoes with sturdy soles when walking around the towns. The streets are all cobblestones and very hilly, so my first day in flip flops ended up with me buying a pair of Italian leather sandals with stronger soles (though a great excuse for a new pair of shoes). It can be hot, so light fabrics and your choice of sun hat is a must.

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