Italy – Experience Lake Como, Italy
Just half an hour from noisy, bustling Milan, Lake Como is a jewel-like oasis of tranquility, a magical combination of lush Mediterranean foliage and snowy alpine peaks. One of the best vantage points for this breathtaking view is in Piazza Cavour, on the banks of the lake in the town of Como. The cathedral here is often cited as the best example of transitional architectural styles: to immediately understand what this means, compare the stunning gothic façade with the 18th-century dome above it.
Lake Como (Lago di Como) is one of the famous Italian Lakes destinations, not far from Milan in the north of Italy. Lake Como is long (50km), slender and extremely deep. The southern end forks into two long ‘legs’, with the picturesque town of Bellagio situated on the promontory between them.
According to the Koppen climate classification, Como, although in a Mediterranean area, does not enjoy a typical Mediterranean climate, but has a humid subtropical climate instead. Winters are usually dry and cold with averages in the low 40°Fs (~4–6°C), while summers are moderately wet and hot, with averages in the high 70°F (~24–26°C) range. Humidity levels are high all year round.
About Lake Como
Along the western side of Lake Como, between Como and Bellagio, lies a journey of discovery of the Sacro Monte of Ossuccio on the Island of Comacina, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is a cluster of old Medieval towns, 18th-Century villas and mountainous nature trails.
The territory of Como is rather varied, with the aforementioned mountainous areas, lakes and valleys. The City of Como lies at the base of Mount Brunate and is surrounded by hills and the Alpine foothills that watch over the southern part of Lake Como.
Beginning with Como, at the furthest point of the western arm of the lake, one encounters beautiful communities one after the other, tucked away in the mountains that lie alongside the calm waters.
All the lakeside towns are perfect vacation spots year-round. They are accessible reached by boat, funicular or car, via little roads with splendid views of nature unspoiled. Everywhere in Como, homage is paid to native Alessandro Volta, the celebrated inventor of the battery.
What to See
The Province of Como offers many natural routes for excursion. The most luxuriant of them are in the Val d’Intelvi, between Lake Como and Lake Lugano.
The 7.5-mile long Intelvi Valley is a mix of lush plains and gentle hills that lead to the Alpine foothills, and at its center is Lanzo, accessible from Ardegno by crossing the woods and roads dotted with ancient town centers and noble villas; and San Fedele, which also offers tourist accommodation facilities.
In summer, stroll through the natural surroundings of the Lariani Hills or pick a sport to practice on Mount Sighignola in winter.
A trip to Comacina Island is a must: enjoy its archaeological remains from the 2nd Century B.C., including a beautiful Romanesque abbey church located in amidst the woods of Mount Costone; here, only silence and calm reign, and the only sounds are those of the fishermen at work in the bay. Facing the island is the Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, leading up to the Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine del Soccorso via a mountainous pathway marked by olive trees, hills and 17th-Century chapels.
The most famous place is Bellagio, which has preserved its historic town center surrounded by ancient city walls; its narrow roads begin at Lake Como’s shores and run through the hills to a series of lakeside luxury hotels and elegant shopping streets. The town’s ancient origins are visible in its Romanesque Cathedral dedicated to San Giacomo, the interior of which seems unchanged from the 12th Century. At the height of the promontory are two classic examples of 18th and 19th-Century noble villas: Villa Serbelloni and Villa Melzi. Be sure to visit their extensive grounds, boasting beautiful views and gardens in the styles of their times.
Brunate is the town closest to Como, and can be reached via the old funicular. Halfway between Como and Brunate lies a hermitage, the Eremo di San Donato, awash in the plant life of these upper reaches. The hamlet of Brunate abounds in paths that touch on Art Nouveau architecture and eventually lead to the Church of Saint Andrew.
Then, another evocative place is Laglio that, in addition to its charm, also lies near an enchanting patch of woods and the “Bear Cave” (buco dell’orso) where fossils of the prehistoric bear and other remains were found and are now displayed in Laglio’s Town Hall. In Moltrasio, the music of its river accompanies those that walk its banks, while stately villas recall the nobles’ affinity for this area where they built their summer residences: Villa Passalacqua, Villa Pasola, Villa Erker Hocevar and Villa Ghisio (which also hosted composer Vincenzo Bellini time to time).
Special mentions go to Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo and its splendid gardens and museum, extraordinary masterpieces of both natural and human ingenuity.
Finally, Briennio is a typical Medieval hamlet tucked smack-dab between the lake and the mountains; it is dotted with typical little roads that retain its ambiance that whispers of history. The Church of Saints Nazaro and Celso makes for an intriguing visit – with its churchyard commanding an evocative view of the lake – as does the Church of Sant’Anna, one of the oldest churches in the Romanesque style. A trip to Baradello, a couple miles from Como, should be on travelers’ to-do list. A tower and a 12th-Century castle stand in the hills, surrounded by the Spina Verde Park and fortified walls. The ancient monuments, the natural beauty and the panorama make this a highly-pleasant route. Baradello also lends its name to the annual Medieval Palio that takes place at the beginning of September; a typical knightly jousting contest between the various districts, it is actually staged in Cernobbio, an internationally-renowned touristic destination.
What to Do
Lake Como is the most important of Lombardy’s lakes. A trip aboard a sailboat or motorboat offers thrilling emotions and sensations for those that find the Lake’s inlets and coves, hidden by the green of lakeside woods.
Those that prefer a bit more activity have a wide range of choices at hand, from windsurfing courses on the lake and paragliding on Mount Cornizzolo, to golf courses, trekking and mounting biking.
In summer, take a reviving nature walk along a trail traveling the Lariani Hills; or, if here in winter, practice winter sports on Mount Sighignola.
High-quality shops stocked with local products, particularly silk, are scattered along the charming roads in Bellagio’s town center, as are numerous artisan bottegas producing ties and scarves as well as clothing and household materials.
Como Province’s cuisine is closely tied to its primary natural resource, the Lake; the locals thus churn out their favorite fish platters based on trout, tench and perch.
Yet the taste of the mountains is also alive and well, with polenta and game dishes pleasing many a palate daily.
Really, the typical dishes are many and varied, and run the gamut from savory to sweet.
Visitors should taste the luganega sausage, the length of which starts at about seven inches but which can reach epic proportions; liver mortadella; and the missoltitt, dried, salted fish.
The area’s most common cheeses are crescenzine and Zincarlin, spicy goat cheese. Curious about the dessert menu? Ataloc di Menaggio and the Paradell di Tremezzo will certainly tempt your taste buds.
Finally, among the red and white wines are the Rosso di Bellagio, Vespertò di Canzo, while the best liqueurs are made by the Piona friars using local herbal essences.
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