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Things to Do When Traveling to Lake Como

The area of Lake Como is a gorgeous Italian retreat for those looking to exchange the hurried pace of life for a slow serenity that fills and refreshes the soul.  Mark Twain once said in one of his novels that Lake Como is like a “heaven of quiet rest.”  It is not unusual to see high powered business executives and celebrities taking that sentiment to heart and escaping to the area for a short respite from the demands of hectic schedules.

To visit Lake Como is to enjoy the slower pace and appreciate the hidden treasures of everyday life.  For this reason, much of the area’s activities are low key and are best enjoyed in the company of family and good friends.  Whether you are enjoying a local music festival, touring some of the grand villas sitting along the lake, shopping, boating, or touring historic gardens, soak in every minute of your experience and commit them to memory so you will always carry a little bit of Lake Como with you.

 

FESTIVALS AND EVENTS

Perhaps the largest and best known event of the area is the Lake Como International Music Festival. This ticket based event was established more than a decade ago and is still captivating audiences today.  The festival runs February through September and is often frequented by celebrities wishing to take in fireworks and various genres of music including blues, jazz, R&B, pop, classical, rock, and more. Performances take place throughout the area over the festival’s eight month reign and often take place amongst the beauty of local villas.

 

OUTDOOR

With the sparkling blue waters of the lake and the picturesque hills rising behind it in the distance, Lake Como is far too magnificent of a land to spend much time indoors.  Whether you are relaxing and contemplating life at one of the public parks along the lake, visiting local towns filled with quaint shops and living areas, walking the lakeside promenade, or enjoying a lake cruise, the clean, fresh air will simultaneously relax and invigorate you.

The lakeside town of Bellagio is the quintessential picture of Italian charm.  The town has one major thoroughfare connecting the shore of the lake to the opposite end of the town.  Although the road is steep at times due to the town’s location on the side of a mountain, it is beautiful with cobblestone steps running between quaint shops and restaurants.  The buildings are various shades of pale or neutral colors and have wrought iron balconies crawling with charming green ivy and colorful potted plants.  Ornate gas lamps stretch out elegantly just below the rooftops of the buildings to light the way at night.  Visitors and locals alike enjoy the public gardens of Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni.  Though the villas are usually only open to paying guests, the gardens are open to the general public and feature exotic trees and beautiful plants and incorporate history, art, and culture along the various garden paths.

Visitors can reach Lake Como’s western town of Menaggio by car or ferry.  This enchanting town sits right off the water where dozens of docked boats sit just below a cluster of neutral colored villas and buildings that are home to delightfully unique restaurants and shops.  Because of its close proximity to the water, Menaggio is the busiest in the warm summer months when tourists can water ski and sail or peruse an abundance of colorful and well-manicured gardens.  If you still have time, be sure to visit some of the town’s more stunning churches such as San Giusto, San Stefano, and San Carlo.

The town of Lecco is home to a gorgeous lakeside promenade, perfect for taking in the breathtaking scenery and local culture.  The promenade offers stunning views of the lake and the nearby mountains that rise above it.  Walking the promenade hand in hand is a perfect way to spend a romantic evening with your significant other.

 

INDOOR

If you can tear yourself away from the simplicity and serenity of the outdoors, touring villas and architecturally impressive churches is a great way to take in some of the area’s art and history.

In the town of Tremezzo is the Villa Carlotta.  History dictates that the villa was a wedding gift to Prussian Princess Carlotta from her mother.  The Villa boasts a botanical garden and more than seven hundred thousand square feet of gardens and a museum.  Amongst the gardens, tourists can find a Japanese garden, rock garden, and bamboo garden just to name a few.  The villa’s period furniture fits in beautifully with an indoor gallery that often hosts art exhibitions.  Villa Carlotta is generally open to the public for late spring, summer, and early fall.

Also in Tremezzo is the Grand Hotel.  To say this stately hotel is simply luxurious is a drastic understatement.  The hotel, often a temporary home to celebrities, sits right off the water, and the decadent grandeur of its guest accommodations and gardens is virtually unparalleled.  Some areas of the hotel such as restaurants and bars can often be available to non-guests if cleared with the concierge ahead of time.  Some of the hotel perks such as the gorgeous swimming pool and beach area are usually restricted to hotel guests only.

The Villa Melzi in Bellagio is white in color with gorgeous neoclassical lines and stately columns that were completed in the early nineteenth century.  While the villa itself is gorgeous, especially on the shoreline of the lake, the surrounding gardens are a must see.  The carefully manicured landscape is sprinkled with sculptures, exotic trees, and a water lily pond. The villa itself is private, but the gardens are typically open to the public during late spring, summer, and early fall.

In the lakeside town of Lenno, the Villa Balbianello steals the show.  Located on the western side of the lake, the villa is known for its beautiful gardens.  The villa’s gorgeous surroundings and proximity to the lake made it part of the 2002 Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clonesmovie as well as the 2006 Casino Royale.  The interior of the villa is furnished with eighteenth century furniture and showcases several artistic pieces.  The Villa Balbianello offers guided tours only and is open for limited days and times.

The Como Cathedral, sometimes referred to as The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is considered to be one of the primary places of worship in Lake Como.  Standing more than 245 feet tall, the cathedral’s façade has several sculptures with characteristics of both Gothic and Renaissance periods. The church has a Latin cross floor plan with three naves.  The architecture of the church is something special to behold with a number of arched windows symmetrical to a large rose window at the top front.  The interior walls of the cathedral are covered in famous paintings including “San Sebastiano” and “Adorazione dei Pastori.”

The Basilica of Sant’ Abbondino is a Roman Catholic basilica church and one of the oldest churches in the Lake Como area.  The eleventh century structure has received a number of renovations and updates over the centuries.    The interior of this one-nave church is stunning with tall arched ceilings, a long aisle that separates rows of pews, and dozens of frescos that are estimated to be from as early as the fourteenth century.

Intricate architecture, majestic exteriors, and ornate interiors are just a few of the things that make church sightseeing an activity all on its own.  A couple of other Lake Como churches not to be missed are the Piona Abbey and San Fedele Church.

 

FAMILY

Although it was originally a port, in the nineteenth century the Piazza Cavour was designated as an urban square located adjacent to the lake.  It is perfect for a family outing.  The area is a wonderful place to take in the mountain scenery, the coming and going of boats on the water, and a historic lighthouse.  It is not unusual for the square to host holiday markets, fairs, and concerts.  Spoil the family with refreshments while sitting on a terrace and taking in the splendor of your surroundings and possibly live performers.

Because the lake is so large with a main area and two smaller branches, it can be difficult to see all of it on foot.  When the weather is fair, local companies offer visitors amazing lake cruises that allow them to see more of the area, including enchanting lakeside towns and villages, and possibly even a few celebrities.  It is a great way to rest your feet for a while without missing out on the natural beauty of the lake and all it has to offer.

KIDS

If the kids are tired and need a break, both Menaggio and the Lakeside promenade have outdoor public swimming pools.  While the kids swim, parents can enjoy the gorgeous scenery and relax as they watch boats sail by on the lake.

For children that are adventure seekers, Jungle Raider Park can be thrilling.  The park is made for a child’s energy level with activities such as zip lining, bungee jumping, and several walking paths of varying levels of difficulty.  This adventure followed by an afternoon at one of the public swimming pools is great fun for the children and can lead to a quiet night of relaxation for mom and dad.

Whether the kids are into fairytales or knights of the medieval ages, a visit to Castello di Vezio in Varenna is a fabulous outing that can keep everyone happy.  The circa twelfth century castle has endured several renovations over the centuries and now has a square based sighting tower, amazing views of the lake, and a real drawbridge.  The castle is also home to a small falconry center and beautiful gardens. Castello di Vezio is open to the public most days between March and November, but will close in the event of bad weather.

 

UNIQUE EXPERIENCES

Lake Como is a large area of majestic mountains and many beautiful towns that line the blue water of the lake. Visitors are encouraged to see the area on foot, by car, or by boat or ferry.  But perhaps the most unique way to experience the grandeur of Lake Como is from the mountainside via a cable car to the Village of Brunate.  A cable car runs roughly every thirty minutes and is approximately a ten minute ride or so.

Come immerse yourself in the slow paced life of the fabulous Lake Como area.  The breathtaking views soothe the soul and encourage contemplation