There are some wonderful gardens around Lake Como which shouldn’t be missed during a visit to the area. Those open to the public include the botanic gardens at Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. With over 8 hectares of gardens to stroll through, it’s worth spending at least a couple of hours here to appreciate the endless number of rare plants and species within the grounds as well as the monumental azaleas and rhododendrons. www.villacarlotta.it.
Other gardens worth visiting include those on the other side of the lake in Bellagio at Villa Melzi. With entry cost just between 4 and 6 euros, it’s great value. www.giardinidivillamelzi.it. Whilst in Bellagio, you might also want to take a tour of the gardens at Villa Serbelloni, now a luxury 5 star hotel with michelin restaurant and spa. On the opposite side of the lake, the 5 star Villa d’Este is also worth a trip.
Also not to be missed are the beautiful gardens the Villa del Balbianello. www.fondoambiente.it This villa has been used as a location on a number of films, among them ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clones’ and, more recently in 2006, the James Bond film ‘Casino Royale.’ Visitors can either reach the gardens by boat, arriving at the landing stage where there are steps to the garden, or you can park inland and walk to the gardens. It’s a lovely walk but parts of the pathway can be steep so do take plenty of water if it’s a hot day!
Hiring a boat and cruising around the lake on your own allows you to explore the many other elegant villas dotted along Lake Como’s shoreline that aren’t open to the public and wouldn’t be visible from the road. There are boat rental companies hiring boats by the hour in Cernobbio, Dongo, Domaso, Gera Laria and Sorico.
Towns and villages worth visiting along Como’s shoreline include Como, Bellagio, Varenna, Lenno, Laglio, Cernobbio, Menaggio and Bellano.
Menaggio tends to be the most well known of Lake Como’s Western towns. Visitors flock to its centre – the Piazza Garibaldi – where you can enjoy a great lunch or coffee and watch the people go by! Not far south of Menaggio is Mezzegra where there is a black cross marking the spot where Mussolini and his mistress were shot dead by resistance fighters in 1945. And just a couple of minutes further south is Lenno, with it’s beautiful lakefront, perfect for an afternoon or evening stroll.
On the Eastern side, Bellagio tends to be the most well known of Lake Como’s villages and, as a result, can get crowded in the summer. On the flip side, in winter, it can feel almost deserted, with many shops, cafes and restaurants closed up. However, at any time of year, it’s great to wonder through it’s beautiful alleyways or stroll along its shoreline. Plus, if you head to the hills behind Bellagio, you will be rewarded with some magnificent views of the lake.
Varenna is Bellagio’s less known and quieter neighbour. The village has a wonderful boarded walkway leading from the boat terminal to the village centre with its shops, restaurants and cafes. Whilst in Varenna, you might want to take a trip to the Fiumelatte – the shortest river in Italy which only flows during certain months of the year. Or why not head out from the centre of Varenna to the Castle of Vezio? Entry costs between 2 and 4 euros and includes not just a visit to the castle but also a falconry exhibition. Visitors also enjoy unparalleled 360 degree views of Lake Como from the summit. Special events are also held throughout the year including food and wine days, ghost days and days celebrating the region’s chestnut harvest. Details are on their website www.castellodivezio.it.
Como is the largest town on the lake and has plenty for visitors to enjoy, whether its an afternoon shopping, a trip to one of its museums or a sea plane flight from the Como Aero club. Passengers have the option of landing on the water to take a quick swim in the lake! For those wanting to enjoy a great view of the lake whilst keeping their feet firmly on the ground, it’s worth heading to the funicular railway which takes passengers from Como up to Brunate.
There are also great views if you’re brave enough to experience the cable car ride that leaves from Argegno – passengers go up 88 metres in just 4 minutes. It’s not for the faint hearted!
The only island in the lake is Isola Comacina. Whilst much of the island is wild and uninhabited, it is home to a rather quirky and eccentric restaurant. The restaurant isn’t cheap though and is geared up for tourists so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea! You either love it or hate it!