While driving across the Italian border at night, I was completely captivated by the contrast between the infinite blackness of Lake Como and the sparkling lights of the surrounding towns. This was the beginning of my love affair with the Italian lakes, and it has led me to favor this setting above all of mainland Italy’s other attractions. The Italian peninsula has so much to offer; over the years I have been mesmerized by its panoramic coastal resorts and labyrinthine medieval towns, but the enchanting lakes will always have a special place in my heart – Lake Como even more than the others, as I made a home for myself here and look back on this experience with great happiness.
Media attention brought to the area by VIP residents has substantially raised Lake Como’s profile. Millions of visitors from across the globe now visit the lake annually in hope of catching a glimpse of a Hollywood star on their private boat or the deck of their luxurious villa. In fact, in the small town of Laglio, close to George Clooney’s home of Villa Oleandra, fans can even visit the actor’s local coffee bar La Lanterna. Movies that have been filmed on Lake Como in recent years include Ocean’s Twelve and Casino Royale.
Prior to this rapid increase in tourism, visitors to the area came here simply to witness the elegance and exclusivity of the lake. However, this class of tourist should not be put off traveling to Lake Como by the recent public interest. The lake area’s winding roads and small towns present the ideal opportunity to experience the tranquility of this location without any nearby crowds or gelato vans. Simply standing at the lakeside and looking across the shimmering water can fill the visitor with complete serenity and the true essence of Italian beauty. It is this beauty that has inspired a nation of artists to express the peninsula’s charm through their paintings, songs and literature.
The allure of the town of Bellagio has inspired the theme of a very famous hotel casino in Las Vegas, but the replica comes nowhere near to the original. Bellagio is known as the ‘pearl of the lake’ and is a haven of cobbled streets, historical churches and breathtaking gardens filled with the most vibrant colors imaginable. The best example of these stunning gardens is at the neo-classical Villa Melzi – renowned for being one of the finest villas on any of the Italian lakes. This English-style garden stretches along the lakeshore and was inspired by many great artists of the 19th Century. The garden features many rare and exotic flowers such as camillias and azaleas taking pride of place alongside magnificent sculptures and monuments. These features work together to create a place of harmony that echoes the simplicity and grace of the surrounding countryside.
Another attraction of Lake Como is its accessibility. The bustling city of Milan is only 22 miles away, allowing visitors to experience both the lake’s serenity and the city’s style without having to go too far out of their way for either. The large town of Como has a lakeside piazza which often plays host to local craft markets and is surrounded by pavement cafés, offering the ideal opportunity to enjoy the Italian sunshine and observe the town’s daily rituals and elegant residents..
The easiest and most enjoyable method of traveling around the lake is by ferry. These boats travel from the Southern tips of the lake up to Colico in the North, and also offer the most convenient way to get to Bellagio from Western towns, such as Menaggio. Drifting along the tranquil water is a pleasure in itself, and this is the best way to get a good view of the lakeside villas and hillside mansions.
Most visitors to Lake Como come between May and September in order to experience the hazy summer days and late evening passeggiate offered by Italy, but I would also highly recommend a visit in the winter when the lake’s mystical charm is truly evident. This is when the crowds of tourists give way to the authentic Italian lifestyle; the highlight of a winter day on Lake Como is huddling up on the lakeside with a cup of delicious hot chocolate and watching the mysterious Lombardian mist descend over the water.
In 1818, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote ‘this lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty’ – a sentiment that is echoed by many who experience this location’s exquisite charm.