Lake Como, Italy - A 48hr Travel Guide

Stage two of our Italian holiday earlier this year took us on a train from Milan to Lake Como. For so long I have wanted to visit this gem within the Italian countryside, our three days here really did not disappoint. For more, the full blog post is at the bottom.

Lake Como, Italy - in 60 Seconds

Trip Summary

What a trip! We truly found the love for Lake Como, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn't really. At numerous points throughout the three days we found ourselves day dreaming of a lakeside life. As a vacation, the food was great, and the scenery spectacular, there’s plenty to see and to keep you busy. However, I would have loved to had at least five days here, as we didn’t take much time at all to ‘slow down’ to the way of life here. I think coming here with enough time, and seeing what we saw (read the full blog post below) along with a few days of r&r, this location would do a world of good to anyone needing a truly relaxing vacation.

We stayed in Bellagio, and ventured out trying to take in as much as possible. Yes, we did some touristy bits, but on top of that, as we always do when we travel, we lived like the locals and explored with this in mind too.

Three Things to do;

  1.  Villa Carlotta by Ferry. On day two we took the ferry directly to this breathtaking villa set amongst luscious botanical gardens. It’s a real must to get a proper feeling of what life used to be like here, and in some sense still is today.

  2. Taking it easy lakeside - one of the things we regret not making more time for, and something you should - is relaxing by the water’s edge of this spectacular lake. Be sure to drink some fine wine and watch this wonderful vintage-esque world go by.

  3. Nesso waterfalls - this quaint little village that sits high up on the hill side between Bellagio and Como is a great pit stop for lunch, followed by a hike down to the water’s edge for a swim

 

Lake Como - The Full Story

Lake Como has a draw to so many people, perhaps it’s the vintage ‘olden day’ feel of waterside living, or maybe it’s the quaint villages strung lazily along the banks of a glistening lake. Lake Como for me was both of these, plus the allure of finding a slower pace of life, albeit just for a few days. Life in any major city, especially London, is nothing but a frantic and busy urban churn - so any chance to escape this is good by me.

Arrival

We arrived by train, after our three days exploring Milan, it took around two hours on a direct train with an exit at Varenna, followed by a lazy walk down to the local ferry jetty. This was a gorgeous way to be introduced to lakeside living. We hopped on a local ferry and blasted across the lake to Bellagio, which is the epitome of a Como lake-side town. It sits right at the fork between the lake splitting towards Lecco or Como town. No bigger than a large village, the sleepy streets play hosts to a wonderful array of restaurants and small gift shops. We grabbed a quick gelato, as the summer sun was getting to us. Thereafter we took a quick bus inland followed by a short hike uphill with our suitcases to our Airbnb.

Accommodation

We had booked another Airbnb called Andirivieni Guest House. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the Centre of Bellagio via a really nice path through the hills. I believe it was a family run business, it certainly had that vibe. They had recently completed a full renovation of the place, and the service from the staff there was great! It had about 8 modern bedrooms and came with a buffet breakfast. The rooms are quite small but well equipped. For us, when we travel, all we care about is a modern looking finish that’s affordable, and close to what we want to see. For us this hotel hit the nail on the head, and I would with doubt recommend it. 

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Trip Diary

Day One

Because we arrived in the late afternoon as we’d taken tourist free sunrise photos of the Duomo in Milan - well worth the 5 hours of sleep - we spent much of what remained of day one wondering around Bellagio. We lazily strolled the historic cobbled streets, stopping at all of the local shops and stores. We then finally settled on a small pleasant restaurant for another dinner filled with pizza and wine. I was becoming a massive fan of the Napolitano pizza by this point for its strong flavours flowing from the capers and anchovies - yum!

Day Two

Day two was our first day lakeside, with a quick buffet breakfast we packed up and headed down to Bellagio with the mission to take the ferry. On the way down to the town we’d been recommended to stop at Giardini di Villa Melzi which is a beautiful mansion with a garden by the lake. By no means is it the biggest or the most impressive villa on the lake, like Villa Carlotta, but if you have some time and don’t feel like venturing too far from Bellagio one day, a stop here is well worth it. Entry price was about €8 per person. 

Hopping aboard one of the beautiful steel ships, we steamed across to the dedicated Villa Carlotta ferry stop. The villa was a must for us before we had even arrived on Italian soil, Ana had done her research. The House is beautifully situated with a dominating presence due to its four stories. It once played host to an important part to the ‘Grand Tours’ of yesteryears. The house and botanical gardens are stretched across 70,000 square meters of land reaching up into the hill side. We paid €10 each for entry which granted access to both the gardens and the museum (which is inside the house). Although we were mostly there to see the gardens, the house itself and the views from the top floor were breathtaking.

 After finishing here, we walked along the shore into Tremezzo past the magnificent Grand Hotel Tremezzo, which if you have some money to spend, this has to be the hotel to stay at here on Lake Como.

With a quick lunch and a dash to the ferry, we sailed onward towards yet another house and gardens - Villa del Balbianello. This villa and its gardens have played host to a couple of Hollywood films - James Bond ‘Casino Royale’ and Star Wars ‘Attack of the Clones’, just a hint at how popular and scenic this place is. The villa itself is set on a peninsula that stretches out into the lake, with the villa being at the furthest point. It’s a really pleasant 15 minute walk from the local ferry stop in Lenno. It’s quite hilly, so don’t go with a belly full of lunch like we did.

The villa itself is impressive. We walked down to the jetty way and the surrounding 270 degree lake views were just amazing. With the fresh crisp air wafting over the water this place really is special, you can see all you need to see in a good forty-five minutes, but by the time you’ve take photos it will be at least an hour. We visited in late June just before closing and it was still busy, so do expect a tourist Mecca instead of a place of peace and quiet.

We wearily walked back to the ferry at Lenno and sailed North again to Varenna. Here we jumped ashore, but this time walked along the small footpath that literally clings to the cliffside just above the water line between the port and the town centre itself. It was an amazing view across the lake towards the sunset. By this point we knew all we wanted now was a little time to explore and then a comfy seat and a cocktail with the sunset. The town centre was the quietest one we had seen, and it was also the one with the least tourists, which we loved too. The sleepy streets were filled with kids kicking scruffy footballs in alleyways, and local shops selling wonderful handmade items. Following our feet back towards the lake, we found a beautiful restaurant filled with Italian couples drinking and laughing, so we knew we’d found the right spot. Never did a drink go down easier than that night after the fantastic day we had had. The sun washed the sky with a mesmerising orange as we sat back and watched in awe, what a way to end our day!

Day Three

On our third and final day, we took a morning bus accompanied by our luggage towards Como Town. We regretted having to leave so quickly already, there was still so much to see here. The bus departed from Bellagio and was the typical local bus that stopped at all of the villages along the way, so it was easier and cheap. It was a true work of showmanship watching the bus driver glide the bus along the mountainside and thread the needle through the tight little villages that cropped up every ten minutes. Back in England that road would’ve had signs and speed cameras literally everywhere - not here in Italy - you’ve just got to love it. 

Our one and only stop before hitting Como, was a tiny village called Nesso. We stopped there as we had seen a photo of a fantastic bridge and waterfall that we just had to seek out. Getting off the bus with the luggage, I managed to blag free storage from a surprised Italian restaurant owner in exchange for returning later for lunch. We made our way down some very steep and un-even steps towards the water’s edge. Nesso sits quite high up, but the viewpoint we found is right down by the lake. Go with the mindset that you’re going to get a bit hot coming back up afterwards. It took about ten minutes to get down and a good fifteen to get back up. These steps down are via the street Via Coatesa just before the road takes a turn right. At the bottom you will find a tiny marina, and also the main viewpoint that looks out at the lake, as well as a path towards a bridge to look up at the small waterfall. This is also a great place for a picnic and a swim - we really regretted not having our swimming stuff, so I do recommend bringing it if you go in summer. Better yet, take a picnic and chill here for the afternoon, it was so idilic.

Finally, after lunch we jumped back onto the bus and blasted towards Como. We made the mistake of thinking we’d easily find suitcase storage in Como, with it being such a massive town… big mistake. So rather than giving up and surrendering ourselves to a restaurant until our train departed, we pumped ourselves up, and pulled everything towards the Como Cable car located here. Reaching the station it felt like we were suddenly going into the alps as we queued for the cable car. The car whisks you very steeply up the mountainside  leaving Como far behind. It takes about three minutes to reach the top, and the views are amazing, you overlook the large town that is Como as well as getting views across the beginnings of the green emerald lake. I would say it’s a great way to start or end a trip as it really puts into perspective just how massive this lake is. 

Final Thoughts

This trip to Lake Como truly was a magical one. I can’t recommend enough that you visit all of these little towns and villages, as you will not regret it. One thing we regret was not staying longer - so if you have the chance, take a couple of extra days at least, so you can slow down and relax.
I hope this guide was helpful to you - if it was, please drop me a comment below, I would love to hear your opinions!


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