Fancy a dose of La Dolce Vita? Gilly Pickup says head for the timeless appeal of Italy’s upscale Lake Como
Lake Como ‘a treasure the earth keeps to itself’ (William Wordsworth)
48 Hours in Lake Como
Wishbone-shaped Lake Como, one of Europe’s deepest lakes, is famed for sunshine, gorgeous villas, the glorious backdrop of the Grigna mountains and its celebrity residents and visitors.
A-listers have been drawn to this lake’s sunny shores for centuries. In days of yore, aristocracy and royalty put roots down here, leaving as testimony sumptuous villas and botanical gardens, many of which are now open to the public. Eminent families Versace and Heinz and more recently Madonna and Richard Branson, all have or had homes here. Besides that, it still makes headlines as George Clooney’s hideaway – the 22 room Villa Oleandra in Laglio, if you’re interested. The good news though, is that for ordinary mortals, a celebrity-sized budget is not required to enjoy a holiday here.
The best way to get around is to jump on a ferry between lakeside towns. There are frequent services, both fast and slow depending on your preference.
Shop and Sightsee
The town of Como at the foot of the Alps has an impressive marble cathedral (duomo) knee deep in treasures, ancient paintings and tapestries. Como is famed for producing motorcycles and glass, but most of all for silk, thanks to the Duke of Milan who in the 15th century planted mulberry trees around the lake which pleased greedy local silkworms. The town’s Silk District provides designers from Versace to Chanel with the fabric. While in Como, hop on the funicular railway to Brunate, a small town 750 metres above sea level, offering breath taking views.
Backed by mountains poking the sky, Bellagio ‘pearl of the lake’ has rows of hotels punctuated by ochre and red houses. The borgo, or old town, with its winding, cobbled alleyways is hemmed with pavement cafes and clutches of shops selling pasta and cheeses or silk shawls and leather handbags.
Mennagio is another upmarket little town knee deep in cafes and restaurants. If you go, don’t miss a visit to the lido, a short walk from the harbour. With its swimming pool and beach it is just the place to while away a lazy sunny afternoon.
Things to Do
If you are a fan of hiking and can’t decide between Como’s many trails, the 45 km path, ancient Sentiero del Viandante, is one of the most interesting. There are three hiking trails here which cross the east coast of Lake Como.
Take a ferry to tiny, tree covered Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only island. It is a retreat for artists and offers a fine collection of archaeological sites as well as an inn with friendly host and gorgeous views across the lake. Olives, linden and black mulberry bushes abound.
Visit a Villa or Two
Opulent villas are dotted around the lake like freckles. One of the best known is 18th century Villa Balbianello, owned by the Italian equivalent of the National Trust. The villa, with mildly eccentric décor, is preserved in memory of its last owner Count Guido Monzino who died in 1988. This man-of-action figure climbed Mount Everest and carried out many expeditions to far flung lands. One of the sledges from his expedition to the North Pole is displayed upstairs together with a room’s worth of objects from lost civilisations. With its secret passageways and bullet proof windows Villa Balbionello is just the place for James Bond to hang out and indeed Daniel Craig did just that when part of the Bond film Casino Royale was filmed here. This is where he chilled out – well, recuperated – after being beaten up by a baddie. This film maker’s dream location was also the Naboo lakeside retreat in Star Wars 11. It’s a popular wedding venue too, this summer Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was married here.
Another Villa well worth a visit is the three-hundred year old Villa Carlotta, so named when Princess Marianna of Prussia gave the villa to her daughter Carlotta as a wedding present, hence its name. It is noted for Canova sculptures and terraced botanic gardens embellished with baroque fountains, waterfalls and collections of exotica including orchids.
Drink in the views from neo-classical Villa Melzi’s gardens where sycamore lined lakeside paths, a Japanese water garden and marble statues offer plenty of opportunities for camera clicking tourists.
Be like a celeb and enjoy a leisurely lunch and a Prosecco (or two) on the covered terrace by the lake at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni www.villaserbelloni.com Many great names have flowed through this hotel’s doors – roll those credits for Winston Churchill, President Kennedy, the King of Spain, Clark Gable and Queen Victoria. For a special dinner, the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant is hard to beat.
You might bump into George (yes, that one), or at least a politician or two if you hie off to the Gatto Nero restaurant www.ristorantegattonero.it/en-gb . With far reaching views over the lake, candlelight dinners don’t come any more romantic than this.
One week at five-star Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, costs from £2071 pp b&b, including flights and transfers. The hotel has a spa, sauna, diving platform on the lake, tennis court, two swimming pools and a Michelin starred restaurant. Thomson Lakes & Mountains thomson.co.uk/holidays/lakes-and-mountains
A less expensive option is the pretty Hotel Britannia Excelsior in Cadenabbia with lido, floating pool and stunning views across the lake. An all-inclusive week costs from £908 pp including flights and transfers. This hotel is also bookable at thomson.co.uk/holidays/lakes-and-mountains
For Meet and Greet services at all major UK airports visit HolidayExtras.com.