Lake Como holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
LAKE COMO HOLIDAYSItaly
The national language in Italy is Italian, which is spoken in Lake Como. English is not prolifically spoken by locals so it is advised travellers learn a few basic greetings. German and French are more popular as a result of the large German tourist population which descends on the lake each year.
The official currency in Italy is the euro, which is divided 100 centesimi. ATMs are readily available in Lake Como and can be found in almost every town. Most ATMs in the region have withdrawal limits of €250 a day, which is important to keep in mind. Currency exchange can be made at banks (which tend to offer the best exchange rates), post offices and official exchange offices called cambios. Cambios generally stay open longer than banks and are more flexible when negotiating rates.
All citizens from countries which are member states of the European Union, including the UK, are permitted entry into Italy without a visa for an unlimited period of time. The same can be said for citizens from countries which have signed the Schengen Agreement. Citizens of most other countries will need to apply for a visa prior to travel.
Winter spans from November to February, with temperatures dropping to lows of 2°C. There is not much snowfall during this period as most mountainous regions catch the snow before it reaches lower lying land. May to September marks the hottest period of the year when the mercury rises to highs of 26°C. The peak holiday season spans April to October but the best time to go is on the fringe of this season when temperatures are not too high and crowds are small.
There is no airport in Lake Como so most people choose to fly into Milan’s Malpensa International Airport. The airport is located about 40kms south of Lake Como, with transfers to the Lake District possible by train or rental car. Alternatively, visitors can land at Bergamo’s Orio al Serio International Airport, from where trains run to the lake’s eastern shore.
There are several airlines which fly into Milan’s Malpensa International Airport including British Airways, USAir, KLM, Delta and Continental. EasyJet, Ryanair and Thompson all offer flights between London-Gatwick and Milan for much lower prices. Orio al Serio International Airport serves low-cost flights from Leeds-Bradford and London-Stansted to Bergamo. The average time of a direct flight between London and Milan is 2 hours.
The cheapest way to reach the region by air is via a low-cost carrier such as Ryanair, EasyJet or Jet2.com. Lake Como is popular during peak season, especially around UK school holidays, resulting in the prices of flights and accommodation skyrocketing. It is thus advisable to make bookings far in advance to avoid paying high costs.
It’s possible to take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then continue to Milan by high-speed TGV train. From Milan, trains run to Lake Como or you can take a ferry to the more inaccessible towns like Bellagio. It is also possible to self-drive once in Italy.
Train and bus networks operate on either side of the lake, stopping at most major towns along the way. The ferry is a great way to get around the area and is by far the most frequently used public transport service. Hiring a car is a possibility but during the peak season, traffic can be heavy.
Buses are run by Società Pubblica Trasporti and travel around the lake at regular intervals. The buses are more frequent on the western shore but there are networks connecting the towns of Como, Menaggio, Bellagio and Lecco as well. Timetables and rates can be found at the respective bus stations.
Navigating the lake by boat can be an efficient and scenic way of getting around. There are many small boats and speedy hydrofoils which travel the length of the lake throughout the day. During the high season, there is also a special boat service for the central towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna. Timetables can be acquired from tourist information offices. For those who would like to explore the lake independently, there is also the option of hiring a motorboat for the day.
Como’s main train station is Como San Giovanni, which is the main point of arrival for tourists to the region. A reliable train service runs along the eastern shore of the lake at regular intervals throughout the day. The train stops at the major ports of Lecco, Varenna and Colico. To reach the eastern shore, travellers will need to take a ferry or rent a car.
There are a few local car rental agencies in the Lake Como area and several car ferries operate between towns for those wanting are driving from Milan or another large city. There are good quality, paved roads along most of the shore. Roads on the western shore often pass through small towns which can be tricky to navigate. During the peak season, traffic can become congested.
Many travellers to the region report that the town of Bellagio is the most beautiful of all the towns. Certainly the most famous town, Bellagio is located at the junction of the lake’s triangle and offers some of the most beautiful views in the entire area. The town itself is undeniably charming, with its pastel-coloured hotels, narrow cobbled streets and gorgeous promenade lined with oleanders and lime trees. Shopping in Bellagio is a treat as the town offers tourists cute boutiques and colourful markets.
Another central town, Menaggio, is the western shore’s main town. Just as beautiful as its neighbour Bellagio but not as heavily populated by tourists, Menaggio provides a suitable in-between. Menaggio is perfect for exploring, boasting a quaint pedestrian area designed for walking and, in the northern part of the town, the remains of a medieval castle’s walls which are open for viewing.
The last of the most popular central towns, on the eastern shore, Varenna has a great deal to offer tourists without the crowds of other towns. The town’s small beach is lined with even smaller boats and makes for an excellent photo opportunity. Varenna is also one of the only towns which has a public garden through which visitors can enjoy a quiet afternoon stroll. The Varenna Castle, which sits atop a steep hill, is the best place from which to experience views of the entire area.
The town of Como will probably be the first experience of Lake Como that most tourists have. The largest town on the lake, Como is not the most beautiful or the most charming but it is steeped in history and makes for an interesting and informative stop. Visit the Como Cathedral and take in the authentic Gothic architecture or stroll along the promenade, which is most beautiful at sunset.
The Como Cathedral, the largest church on the lake, displays a combination of Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles and is one of the highlights for many visitors to the town. While the exterior is reminiscent of a fairy-tale, boasting gargoyles and elaborate pinnacles, the inside is decorated with ornate tapestries depicting stunning Renaissance scenes.
Just outside of the town of Colico is the Abbazia di Piona, an abbey built during the Cistercian period. Many travellers enjoy coming to the abbey because of the peaceful environment in which it is set. The abbey doesn’t receive many visitors, which makes for a nice break from the sometimes overcrowded nature of popular towns like Bellagio. Sitting atop a small peninsula and surrounded by the most breathtaking beauty, the Abbazia di Piona is the perfect place for contemplation and even meditation.
Set at the foot of a hill on which the luxurious Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is located, the Villa Serbelloni Gardens are the most spectacular formal gardens in the region. While the hotel is rather exclusive, the gardens are open to everyone and are well worth a visit on a warm afternoon. The gardens provide a great view of the town and glimpses of the lake.
It is not so much the funicular railway but rather the view from its final stop, Brunate, which simply cannot be missed. The Lake Como Mountain Railway takes passengers from the Piazza de Gasperi all the way to the top of the hill, from where undoubtedly the most gorgeous views of the entire lake can be seen. There are also several walking trails for those wanting to get active. The trails lead to great finds like the old Faro Valtiano Lighthouse.
Travellers looking for raucous nightlife in Lake Como will be a bit disappointed as most of the after-dark establishments are of a high-end nature. There aren’t many nightclubs and the ones that are present are quite small. The best options for late-night music on the lake are the beach-front bars in Lenno.
Most of the bars in Lake Como are either high-end wine tastings or local hangouts where Italians play a round of cards and knock back a few drinks before heading home. The best wine and cheese tasting can be found in the town of Tremezzo, while those looking for a no-frills establishment should head to Mezzegra.
For those who are interested in soaking up the local culture, the annual festivals which take place throughout the year provide the perfect opportunity. The Lake Como Festival, which takes place in August, features musical performances by some of the best local artists. This festival is the perfect event for travellers who are fans of live music. There are also several gastronomic festivals which happen during autumn that should not be missed.
There is a wide range of theatres around the lake which offer not only performances, but workshops as well. The main theatres in the town of Como put on several shows throughout the year and host a few musical recitals as well.
Italian cuisine is famous the world over for being hearty and delicious. The same can be said about the fare in Lake Como. While there are a large number of restaurants serving international food, especially of the British, American and German varieties, there is also a good selection of establishments serving authentic Italian dishes at reasonable prices.
Breakfasts are a little different from traditional western options, often including something light and sweet. A popular breakfast option is a cornetto - a pastry filled with chocolate or jam which is washed down with a strong cup of coffee.
Travellers should expect most establishments to be closed for at least two hours in the middle of the day. Italians believe lunch to be the most important meal of the day. A hearty, traditional meal of ribollita (vegetable soup using ingredients left over from an earlier meal) or even a delicious risotto (creamy rice cooked with vegetables, seafood or meat) make for a great lunch.
Dinners are often lighter than lunches and Italians generally eat something like pici (hand-rolled pasta served with a vegetable and meat sauce). An absolute must try is authentic Italian gelato (home-made ice-cream), which is the best post-dinner treat. So popular with Italians, gelato is often served in up to 50 different flavours.
There are also a few local drinks which are worth a try. Italian beers like Peroni and Moretti are popular, more so among tourists than Italians. Limoncello liquor, made from lemon peels and Grappa, is a local favourite. Coffee is popular country-wide and is probably consumed more than water. Many bistros and cafés in the Lake District have a range of delicious coffee brews available.
The best places to swim are on the northern part of the lake, near the towns of Domaso and Gravedona. The water here is clear and clean because it is closest to the Adda River source. There are also fewer crowds, which invariably means that tourists who come to this area will most likely have the beaches all to themselves.
The entire area of Lake Como is an incredibly romantic destination, with its old-style villas, quaint restaurants with breathtaking lake views and narrow streets perfect for strolling. Many have said, however, that the central towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varanna are best for a romantic getaway. And once you’ve had enough of the charming towns, take a sunset sail on the lake itself.
There are many activities that tourists with children can engage in together. The towns of Mezzegra, Cernobbio and Griante are quiet and have safe play parks which are easily accessible. But those looking for activities in the busier towns should try Crazy Golf next to the Menaggio promenade or the Jungle Raider Park just outside of Bellagio.
Tourists with a love for outdoor activities should take advantage of the large body of water at their disposal. Many towns offer a variety of water sports, including kayaking in Bellagio, windsurfing in Sorico and waterskiing in Domaso. With such a great lake on offer, the options are endless.