The jewel of the Italian Lakes, Lake Como is a delightful spot with gorgeous scenery, wonderful villas and gardens, and palatial hotels. There are several towns where you can relax and enjoy la dolce vita. Como, at the southern tip of the left branch of the lake, is the largest. It’s also the hub for ferries and hydrofoils.
Como has a lovely lake-front promenade, a pretty piazza, a couple of interesting old churches, and a villa built in 1782. You can tour it and wander the pretty gardens. You can also take a funicular up the Brunate Hill. You’ll be rewarded with fabulous views of the lake.
Cernobbio, on the western side of Lake Como is best known for the luxurious Villa d’Este hotel. It was in the news recently as the wedding venue for actors John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. George Clooney, who owns Villa Oleandra in neighboring Laglio, was in attendance.
On the western side near the place where the lake forks, Tremezzo provides access to the prettiest gardens on Lake Como, which are at Villa Carlotta. The villa was completed in 1690, and the gardens were begun in the middle of the 19th century.
Across the Lake on the eastern side, Varenna is a more low-key destination with two more wonderful villas — Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi. There are also some hill-top castle ruins you can hike to.
Things to see and do in Bellagio.
The crown jewel of Lake Como is the town of Bellagio, where the lake forks into two branches. When you picture the Italian Lakes — whether you’ve been or not — it’s probably Bellagio that you envision. Backed by cypress groves and draped in bougainvillea, Bellagio is a great place to unwind.
Narrow staircases wind through the town, and lake-front cafés beg you to do nothing but watch the boats on the lake.
There are two gorgeous gardens worth visiting here. The first are at Villa Melzi, which was built by an Italian who was close to Napoleon. Lizst was also a frequent guest. Though the villa is privately owned, the family opens to the gardens to the public in summer. And you can also peek into the Empire-style family chapel.
On land that was originally owned by Pliny the Vounger, Villa Serbelloni offers guided garden tours twice daily in summer. Managed by the Rockefeller Foundation, the gardens were laid out in the 18th century.
The Basilica of San Giacomo was built toward the end of the 11th century by the Masters of Como. It’s worth stopping by to see the old mosaics, triptych, and polychrome wood sculpture.
There are several excellent Bellagio hotels. The most famous is the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Once a private home, it’s been a hotel since the late 19th century. The inside is decorated with fine antiques, Murano glass chandeliers, imposing staircases, and elaborate frescoes. The grounds, which slope down to the lake, are equally impressive. Active travelers can enjoy the private beach, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and fitness room.
During your visit to Bellagio, be sure to try the local perch, and dried eel.