48 hours in. . . Lake Como, an insider guide to Italy’s ritziest region


Glitz and glamour on the water

A one-hour drive north of Milan, Lake Como is the most glamorous of Italy’s lakes, hemmed in by the snow-capped Alps with picture-perfect villages on the water. Milanesi pop here for the day for a breath of fresh air and to soak up the fabulous vistas, while international visitors – the Clooneys, the Kennedys – have long been drawn by the grand lakefront hotels and the elegant mahogany Riva boats that zip along the lake’s deep blue waters.

Smart hotels and expensive boats aside, Lake Como is rich in culture, with opulent villas that once belonged to artists, writers, opera singers and explorers. Pliny the Elder, author of the first encyclopaedia, was born here, while 19th-century soprano Giuditta Pasta is known to have entertained composers Bellini and Donizetti in her lakefront residence on the eastern shore. 

Though famous spots such as pretty Bellagio still pull in the majority of visitors, the lake has retained its authenticity, with plenty of sleepy fishing villages, such as Laglio, Torno and Nesso, home to rustic, family-run trattorias serving up traditional hearty fare, including risotto con persico (risotto with perch).

Lake Como is ripe for exploration, with forested mountains providing excellent hiking opportunities and memorable views. It’s also renowned for its lush gardens ablaze with flowers. But, to fully enjoy the lake, make sure you explore by boat – most of the sights are best seen from the water.

48 hours in . . . Lake Como

Day one


Start the day in Como, the provincial capital, a graceful town that was for centuries Italy’s capital of silk production. Enjoy a stroll along its pedestrianised cobbled streets lined with elegant boutiques and restaurants, and don’t miss the Duomo (Piazza Duomo; 00 39 031 331 2275), a blend of Gothic and Renaissance architectural features.

From Como, drive up the western shore along the narrow lakefront road – it’s a gorgeous stretch, passing through pretty lakefront towns offering lovely views. Alternatively, catch a boat north from Como’s jetty (steamers make for a particularly romantic trip, although they are rather slow; the hydrofoil services speed the journey up substantially).

Hop off at Lenno, and catch a taxi boat service to the magnificent Villa del Balbianello (Via Guido Monzino 1; 00 39 03445 6110), a spectacular mansion with impeccably manicured grounds set on a promontory that juts out into the lake. If it looks at all familiar, it is because you will have seen it in James Bond’s Casino Royale. Take a guided tour of the villa, the former home of traveller Guido Monzino, and then enjoy a stroll along the shaded path that leads back to Lenno.

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como

Lake Como’s iconic Villa del Balbianello is all manicured grounds and panoramic terrace

This content is subject to copyright./Frank Lukasseck


Enjoy a late lunch at La Fagurida (Via Rogaro 17; 00 39 0344 40 676), a laidback family-run restaurant serving traditional hearty fare in a gorgeous location high up above Tremezzo. Spend the afternoon strolling the grounds of exquisite Villa Carlotta (Via Regina 2; 00 39 0344 40405), a grand pink house that is probably Lake Como’s most famous attraction. Its lush terraced gardens are sublime, home to azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias tumbling towards the shore. 

Villa Carlotta

Spend the afternoon strolling the grounds of exquisite Villa Carlotta

Glenn van der Knijff/Glenn van der Knijff


For dinner, head to Al Veluu (00 39 335 660 5774), a family-run restaurant with a panoramic terrace offering memorable vistas. Finish the evening by heading to the stylish beach bar of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, T-Bar, and sip snazzy cocktails by the hotel’s floating swimming pool.

Al Veluu

Al Veluu, a family-run restaurant with lake views

Day two


Catch the boat to Varenna, a hugely romantic lakefront town with steep cobbled streets and a tranquil front with a handful of cafés by the water (if you’re travelling by car, use the ferry boat service from Bellagio or Cadenabbia). Then, wander around the beautiful terraced gardens of Villa Monastero (Viale Giovanni Polvani 4; 00 39 0341 295 450), home to exotic species of flora from the world over. It’s a gorgeous spot – you can easily while away some time with a book in hand at one of the panoramic benches.

Pop into Macelleria Salumeria Lillia (Via 4 Novembre), a butcher’s and no-frills deli where you can pick up some ingredients for a picnic. Then, hike up the steep trail from opposite Villa Monastero to reach the ruins of the Castello di Vezio (Via al Castello; 00 39 333 448 5975), a former military outpost offering sublime views of the lake, and hosting regular falconry shows.

Varenna, Lake Como

In the morning catch the boat to Varenna, a romantic town with steep cobbled street sand cafés by the water



In the early afternoon, head back to Varenna’s jetty and enjoy the short boat ride across to Bellagio. The views from the boat are sublime, with Varenna’s ochre-coloured houses snugly nestled on a promontory, and Bellagio opening up before you. You will have left the best ’til last – dubbed “the pearl of the lake”, Bellagio truly is a treat: its lakefront promenade is lined with oleanders and lime trees, while its quaint cobbled streets are sprinkled with boutiques and restaurants.

Book in a tour of Villa Serbelloni (00 39 031 951 555; no website), which has a lovely location on a hilltop above town. Owned by the Rockefeller Foundation, Villa Serbelloni (not to be confused with Bellagio’s luxury hotel Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni) has a gorgeous park that offers wonderful views of the three branches of the lake. For tickets, head to the Promo Bellagio office on Piazza della Chiesa. If time allows, stroll the gardens of Villa Melzi (Lungo Lago Manzoni; 00 39 333 487 7427), which look out towards Villa Carlotta on the opposite shore. 

Villa Melzi, Lake Como

Stroll Villa Melzi’s pretty gardens, home to azaleas, rhododendrons, maple and cedar trees

© 2016 Olaf Protze/Olaf Protze


From Bellagio, drive south along the lakefront road, and treat yourself to drinks and dinner at Villa Làrio (Via Giacomo Matteotti 25; 00 39 031 537 5064), a gorgeous villa perched on a mountainside where you can enjoy top notch drinks and delectable regional dishes as you take in some of the best views of the trip.

Villa Lario, Lake Como

Villa Lario is popular for its superb cuisine and outstanding lake vistas

Lorenzo Pennati/Lorenzo Pennati

Where to stay . . .

Luxury Living 

Slick Il Sereno provides a breath of fresh air from Lake Como’s classically styled five-star hotels, with interiors made of wood, stone and plenty of glass, allowing for wonderful lake views. Sit back poolside with a cocktail in hand, unwind at the spa or tuck into creative dishes at the Michelin-starred restaurant. Plenty of activities, including fishing trips, wine tasting and cooking classes, can also be organised. There’s also a Riva available to rent.

Doubles from €750 (£643). Via Torrazza 10, Torno; 00 39 031 5477800

Il Sereno, Lake Como

Il Sereno provides a breath of fresh air from Lake Como’s classically styled five-star hotels

Boutique Bolthole

This tranquil and peaceful hotel is set in a quiet residential area, away from the tourist crowds of the lakefront. Casa Santo Stefano’s attractive Scandinavian-style interiors feature natural wood accents and polished stone, with black-and-white prints hung and lined on wooden sideboards. There’s a peaceful swimming pool surrounded by greenery and, with only four rooms, you’ll largely have the place to yourself. 

Doubles from €145 (£128). Via Caronti 7, Cernobbio; 00 39 031 334 7621

Casa Santo Stefano

Casa Santo Stefano is a tranquil hotel set in a quiet residential area

Budget Beauty

A wonderfully romantic three-star hotel tucked away in the heart of Varenna. Albergo Milano is set in a typical lakeside building (the oldest part dates back to the 17th century), the hotel’s interiors mirror the furnishings and decorations of houses in the area. Most rooms have lake views, the welcome is genuine and the atmosphere laid back: this is the kind of place where you can casually nip down to the lake for a swim or while away the afternoon on the terrace with a drink in hand. 

Doubles from €140 (£119). Via XX Settembre, Varenna; 00 39 0341 830298

Albergo Milano

Albergo Milano is a wonderfully romantic three-star tucked away in the heart of Varenna

What to bring home . . .

Founded in 1919, Picci (Via Vittorio Emanuele II 54, 22100 Como; 00 39 031 26 13 69) is an historic shop selecting a selection of silk items, from hand-sewn ties to handkerchiefs, designed and made in Como.

For foodie delights, head to Gastronomia Castiglioni (Via Cesare Cantù 9; 00 39 031 26 33 88), a family-run deli where you can stock up on local and Italian specialities, from cheeses and olive oils to mushrooms and veggies preserved in oil.

Gastronomia Castiglioni, Lake Como

Stock up on local and Italian specialities at Gastronomia Castiglioni

When to go . . .

The season runs from Easter to the end of October, with spring and autumn the best times to visit. In spring the lakes’ historic gardens are in bloom with a blaze of exuberant azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. Temperatures are mild, with pleasant warm days and cool nights, and a sprinkling of tourists in sight.

As the summer months roll in, crowds start descending to the lakes, in particular in the sweltering months of July and August when Italians take the bulk of their holidays and prices soar. From September onwards, the crowds begin to subside again and temperatures recede, making autumn an ideal time to enjoy the lakes’ dreamy and romantic atmosphere.

Know before you go . . .

• Boats ply the three larger lakes (Como, Maggiore and Garda), with fast services for longer journeys and car-ferries connecting various towns around the lakes. Travelling by boat is the most enjoyable and efficient way of getting around, providing lovely views of impressive lakeside villas and gardens that are best viewed from the water.

• Travelling from one lake to another is more complicated as buses and trains have inconsistent timings. You’re better off hiring a car, especially at the two smaller lakes (Orta and Iseo).

• Zipping along the lakes in a hired motorboat is a thrilling way to get around, giving you the flexibility to explore at your own pace and allowing you to stop off at sights of interest along the way.

• Water taxis can be organised at virtually all hotels, and you can rent boats with a skipper by the hour or by the day.

• This being northern Italy, public services work well, with high levels of service offered in restaurants, shops and hotels.

• The larger lakes, in particular Lake Como and Lake Garda, are home to some of the country’s best five-star hotels with prices to match. You’ll also find a number of superb Michelin-starred restaurants dotted along the shores, offering some of the country’s finest cuisine. While the lakefront towns inevitably attract the bulk of the tourists, you can easily veer off the beaten track, exploring lesser-known villages and heading inland, where you’ll come across typical trattorie serving genuine hearty Italian fare at a fraction of the cost of the restaurants along the shoreline.

• Souvenir and trinket shops abound in popular destinations such as Bellagio on Lake Como and Isola dei Pescatori on Lake Maggiore, although tucked away here and there you’ll find family-run shops selling high-quality crafts and excellent local produce including wines, cheeses and olive oil, all of which make for great gifts.

• Expect to pay a tourist tax on your accommodation; this ranges from about €1 to €5 per night, depending on the rating of your hotel.

Experience Italy with the Telegraph

Telegraph Travel’s best hotels, tours and holidays in Italy, tried, tested and recommended by our Italian experts

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