Lake Como is embedded in our minds as the quintessential Italian glamorous experience. However, this area can be a quiet, rustic bastion for that slow-paced life we love so much. With this guide we want to show you how to appreciate the small things, like an ice cream in the promenade of a tiny village, the silence and fragrant camellia scent after a storm and the joy of a great pizza shared with the workers of the port. Far from paparazzi, ostentation and shiny shopping bags… Let us take you to a casual, laid back, slow-paced Lake Como getaway.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to get to Lake Como is flying to Milan (Malpensa or Linate airports) and then drive to the lake area. However, the roads can be a little tricky: very narrow and quite bendy, so if you are not an experienced driver, maybe you should consider hiring a transfer service. Most hotels around the lake offer shuttles to take you from / to the airport.
If you want to use public transport, you can take a train from Milan to Como and then the ferry or the bus. Sometimes you can even use the train until your final destination but not many villages are connected that way. If you are heading to the heart of the lake, you can take a boat in Como or the bus number 30, that connects Como to Bellagio and maybe take a boat afterwards if you are staying in the villages across the lake. Obviously, the bus takes more time so we will recommend the boat for longer distances and the bus for shorter ones. You can find the timetables of the different boat and ferry services here.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND
Since this weekend guide is focused on the heart of the lake, we will just talk about this area. Again, the bus number 30 is a great way to get to and from Bellagio. The service is extremely punctual. You can buy the tickets in lots of bars and stores around the lake. Sometimes you can even buy the tickets from the driver, though you will have to pay a little surcharge. The prices vary depending on the trip but from our hotel in Lezzeno to Bellagio (15-20 minutes drive) it was just 1.80 euro one way. Remember that if you want the bus to stop you have to make a sign with your hand!
However, the best way to move around is by boat, there are three different types of boats: the speed boats (perfect to cover longer distances), ferries (for those with cars or motorcycles) and regular boats. Again, fares vary depending on the trip and the destination. We will highly recommend the “Heart of the lake” day ticket: for 15 euro per person you can hop on and off the whole day. This fare covers all the villages in this guide. Beware that the timetables are a little bit strange and you will have to plan in advance which villages you want to visit. For instance, Varenna and Bellagio are the most connected, but if you want to visit Menaggio or Lenno, you will probably have to plan a little bit more. You can always buy a return ticket if you just want to visit one village. That will cost you 9 euro per person.
If you want to travel in the same shore, of course you can always take a taxi. A 20 minute ride will cost you about 25 euros. Ask the taxi driver, because they usually have fixed fares to go from one village to another.
WHERE TO STAY
There are plenty of options, since this area is a goldmine for tourism. As usual, we will advise choosing boutique hotels or go for an Airbnb if you want to experience the lake like a local. However, take into account that most of the streets that you see on the maps are not streets, but stairways. Ask your hotel about the location because if you don’t travel light and have to go over 300 steps to get to your hotel, chances are that your weekend won’t get off to a good start.
We chose the incredible Filario Hotel, in a small village called Lezzeno. We were extremely happy with our choice. Away from the crowds, we had the most peaceful experience. There was a bus stop just outside the hotel and a boat stop a little bit further down the road so it felt secluded but it was actually very well connected. And if we didn’t want to take the public transport, the staff would call a taxi immediately. The views were the highlight of our stay, followed by the amazing meals we had in the restaurant. If you want to read our review, click here.
WHERE TO EAT
Even though travelling to Italy usually means eating your weight in pasta and pizza, bear in mind that this area is perfect to savour amazing fish dishes. Trout or persico are absolutely delicious and most restaurants offer a catch of the day option in their menus, which you should opt for. If you want carbs, maybe you should try risotto in lieu of pasta since this part of Italy is famous for this wonderfully cheesy recipe. And as for pizza: make sure that you choose a pizzeria with a wood stove.
We recommend you the following establishments:
Bilacus: this restaurant overlooks the famous Salita Serbelloni and has a charming terrace where all your dolce vita foodie dreams would come true.
Pizzería La Grotta: a low-key lunch spot frequented by locals, specially the workers of the port.
Bar Pasticceria Rossi: an old fashioned cafe. Visit early in the morning and watch the port come to live while having breakfast Italian style: a strong coffee and a sweet pastry (Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini, 22).
Barchetta: traditional cuisine in a restaurant perched on the top of a hidden starway.
Vecchia Varenna: the dreamiest location gives this small but famous restaurant the best views over the lake. Try to book a table on the terrace and order one of their delicious fish specialities.
Caffe Varenna: a lovely spot for coffe or aperitivo. The shabby chic atmosphere, the homemade pies and the lovely views from the terrace make it perfect to stop your sightseeing and relax under the sun (Contrada Scoscesa, 13).
Plinio: the terrace of this traditional, unpretentious restaurant has one of the most beautiful views over the lake. Families and groups of friends guarantee a nice, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The food is just as cordial and has a perfect home-made feel to it (Via Carlo Lomazzi, 3).
OUT & ABOUT
Lake Como offers lots of possibilities: from a very active getaway hiking in the mountains and kayaking in the lake to the most relaxed stay, sipping drinks and letting life glamorously pass by. We always choose the charming, slow-paced side of life so we will recommend you opting for a couple of activities to do and lots of wandering around in the middle. And lots of eating as well, of course. The villages are so beautiful that it would be a sin not to get lost in their tiny alleys and steep stairways and the lake will give you the peace that you need if you just stop and admire the landscape. Remember: slow down.
We would suggest this schedule:
Friday: check in in your hotel. Explore Bellagio and the gardens of Villa Melzi.
Saturday: make the most of your “Heart of the lake” day ticket and visit Menaggio, Varenna and Tremezzo.
Sunday: spend a relaxing #SundayFunday and visit Villa del Balbianello and Lenno.
In our latest Lake Como series we have talked long about the most beautiful villages of the area so you click in the links to read our all about Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna and Lenno. We decided not to include Como in our route because the trip from Lezzeno, where we stayed, to Como takes approximately an hour so that would mean a two hour round trip. Since we were staying just for the weekend, we skipped it this time.
Tremezzo is another famous destination in the lake and you should include it in your plan if you want to visit one of the beautiful ville located in this village. We preferred off the beaten track villages over this majestic location, but make sure to stop in Tremezzo if you love architecture and want to visit Villa Carlota or Villa la Quiete.
Of course, you can’t miss the wonderful gardens dotted around the lake. Vegetations is impressive and the area is famous for its beautiful parks and gardens. We personally recommend the gardens of Villa Melzi, a botanical garden with species from all over the world and incredible views over the lake. Sitting in one of the benches overlooking the lake can be one of those serene moments in life that you never forget. But if you just want to visit one garden, do pay a visit to the refined, delightful gardens of Villa del Balbianello, they are out of this world.
For a luxurious and truly special experience, hire one of the wonderfully shiny boat taxis parked in all the ports of the lake and go for a private tour. The average cost is 100 € per hour, but you will surely have the best perspective of the lake and the villages around it.
Take your time to stroll along the promenades (preferably ice cream in hand). Menaggio has one of the most charming promenades, with a local feel to it, while the Lungolago Europa beautifully connects the center of Bellagio with Villa Melzi. And you can’t miss the charming Lenno promenade, small but so adorable.
If you want to buy some souvenirs, make sure to look for local pasticcerie or salumerie. Whatever you buy would make you happy. Food is the best souvenir, isn’t it?
Finally, stop, breath and take it all in. This is one of the most beautiful areas in Europe, every corner is picture perfect and exudes Italian charm. So don’t stress and if you find a small cafe that you love or a bench in a hidden viewpoint that appeals to you, just sit and admire your surroundings. You don’t have to do anything, just be (water, my friend;)