Best villages around Lake Como

Eleonora Ruzzenenti | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Lake Como is situated in Lombardy region, Northern Italy. It is the third-largest lake in Italy and the deepest in Europe. Its depth is one reason for its remarkably blue water, which has made it one of Italy’s most picturesque natural destinations. Popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times and famous tourist attraction* **for well over 100 years for its combination of fresh air, water, mountains and good weather*, it still sits at the top of many wish lists for travelers visiting Italy.

The Lake is shaped rather like an inverted 'Y', with two 'legs' starting at Como in the South-West and Lecco in the South-East, which join together half way up and the lake continues up to Colico in the North. The first few kilometres of the 'legs' at the southern end of the lake are relatively flat, but Lake Como becomes more mountainous as you head northwards into the Alps. Some of the nearby peaks go slightly above the tree-line so the views are really impressive.

The area around the "Lago di Como" in Italian, is pretty characteristic, thanks to the historic villas, stunning gardens, sleepy villages, and Belle Époque–era resorts lining its shores, not to mention the jaw-dropping views of the Alps. It has a kind of flair and sense of history that tends to impress its visitors. A luxuriant lake shore vegetation includes vines and fig, pomegranate, olive, chestnut, and oleander trees. The lake is famous for the natural beauty of its setting and many famous people have or have had homes on the shores of Lake Como. The Lake Como ferry service is a highly developed public transport system linking the many small towns around the Lake.

But not every visit here is identical, as there are numerous lakeside towns to choose from, each offering its own splendors, here are my favorite:

Bellagio is a small village located at the northern tip at the tip of a long hilly promontory between the two southern branches of Lake Como. It is an elegant and long-established tourist resort, with an unbeatable panoramic views and flower-lined streets and is undoubtedly the most famous town on Lake Como, which of course means it’s also the most visited. The tiny town is an excellent place to while away an afternoon, to spend a relaxing romantic holiday, to shop in the arcades facing the water, and to have an aperitivo at one of the hotels or eateries near the ferry dock, or simply to base yourself for an exploration of Lake Como. Don’t miss the gardens at Villa Melzi or the Villa Serbelloni **Garden, a property owned by the Rockefeller Foundation that sits of the former site of Pliny the Elder’s villa.

Menaggio is a small resort on the shores of picturesque Lake Como, halfway up the western side of the lake, directly across the lake from Varenna, and equally close to Bellagio. Once a walled city in medieval times, today it’s a bustling resort filled with hotels, restaurants, live entertainment, arcades, shops, and even a mini-golf course. It’s quite possible to spend an entire day lazing about the lovely lakefront promenade, with its flower beds and palm trees, but it’s worth climbing the steep stairs to explore the older part of town, where you can see remnants of the former wall. Principally, Menaggio makes an extremely good centre because of its transport links. Ferries arrive there from the northern and southern ends of the lake, and cross the waters to Varenna and Bellagio, while buses run to Lake Lugano, and along the lake, making it easy to visit all Lake Como's attractions.

Varenna is an attractive village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, looking over the central part of the lake towards Bellagio. Traditionally a fishing village, Varenna features brightly colored homes and villas that sit close to each other on the waterfront, lined by a charming boardwalk. Rustic and quaint, Varenna is both romantic and peaceful; in truth, there’s not much to do here, but it has somehow a more authentic air than the other hotel-packed resorts. The main tourist activities in Varenna are relaxing by the lake, and visiting the gardens of two villas, Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi. Being one of the few towns accessible from Milan via train, Varenna is an ideal choice for travelers who aren’t planning to drive to the lake.

Tremezzo is a town and resort about half way down the western side of Lake Como, very typical of the towns around the lake and most visited for the Villa Carlotta, whose gardens feature azaleas, rhododendrons, Japanese maples, palm trees, cacti, bamboo, orchids, and other plants—more than 500 species in total. The grounds span more than 14 acres, and it’s worth stepping inside the villa to see its small collection of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries.

Bellano is a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Como, less visited than nearby Varenna, but no less charming, a pleasantly quiet escape from the crowds. Its most famous attraction is the naturally formed Orrido di Bellano, a plunging ravine formed by erosion. You can get a great look at the gorge thanks to viewing bridges that allow you to take great photos of the caves and the sparkling blue water inside the ravine. Bellano is a picturesque fishing village, with stretch streets and colourful buildings. It is not particularly elegant, but here you can breathe the real smell of the lake and the nature.

Nesso is a small village built on the lush and steep banks of Lake Como, about halfway between the towns of Como and Bellagio. The town’s historical center stands on the point in which the two torrents: Tuf and Nosè, unite and form a waterfall that takes the name from the Nesso Ravine, diving into the waters of the Lario. Nesso has many tourist attractions, I recommend the Ravine Cascade, visible from Piazza Castello and from the Medieval Civera bridge on the shore of lake Como, reachable from the villages of Riva and Coatesa. The bridge - of a Romanesque double arch origin - in Val Nuseè is of particular interest.

If you suffer car sickness like me, I advise you to pay attention to the travels, because the roads of Lake Como are tortuous and narrow, so if the destination is far away it is often better to move by ferry.

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