Though we enjoy the picturesque vistas of the Amalfi Coast, we freely admit that we feel the Italian Lake District to be the most idyllic, beautiful area within Italy. Ringed by snow-powdered mountains and exquisite villas, the lakes offer a heavenly family-friendly place to relax and play. Based on our recent travels, please note our various observations and overview.
Set in an idyllic landscape of blue waters against the majestic Alps, Lake Como is rich in history as it was home to many Renaissance nobles. Shaped like an upside-down Y, Lake Como is Italy’s deepest lake with over 100 miles of coastline. Its surrounding coastal villages are easily accessible and each offers something unique. Bellagio, the aptly named “Pearl of the Lake”, is the ideal place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Without an agenda, one is free to wander the charming narrow streets and take in the expansive views of the lake and mountains, manicured promenades, and tiered pastel buildings before stopping at a café for lunch. We recommend Ristorante Darsene di Loppia for delicious, fresh seafood served on the veranda.
Another excellent stopover we recommend is Tremezzo. Just across Lake Como, on its western shores, you will find this small municipality and one of the few waterfront villas open to the public. Villa Carlotta, built by Milanese marquis Giorgio Clericia in the late 17th-century, has an impressive art collection within its museum but most captivating are its 20 acres of romantic Italian gardens.
Lake Como Walks
Two of our favorite walks/hikes are the Lake Como Greenway (approximately 10 km/6.2 miles) and Spring Verde.
The Como Greenway hike is a leisurely walk through ancient villages, exquisite villas, and gardens, along with Romanesque and Baroque churches; all in the backdrop of the beautiful landscape of Lake Como! Two notable hamlets you will pass are Colonno (set across the slopes of Monte Costolone) and Sala Comacina on the western shore of the lake. Sala Comacina sits within the “Zoca D’Oli“, a peaceful national inlet that takes its name from its usually satin waters (said to be as smooth as oil) and from a particularly mild climate, which has allowed olives to be formed here since Roman times.
Spina Verde Park is a protected forest covering 3.8 square miles, located southwest of Como. Within the park, there are many panoramic trail options, including the municipalities of San Fermo della Battaglia, Cavallasca, and Colverde. We suggest a stay at Castel Baradello, resting on a hill facing the town center of Como. This military fortification was built in the 6th-century by locals under the rule of the Roman Empire.
Built in 1568, the Villa d’Este on Lake Como is a Renaissance patrician residence in Cernobbio and is as enchanting and beguiling a place as you can imagine. This palatial resort has hosted royalty, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries alike throughout its 152 individually unique rooms and suites. A stroll through the gardens leads you past terraced water gardens, a mosaic wall, old fortresses, and enchanting views of the lake and Alps. Pellegrino Pellegrini, the architect of the main villa, constructed a Nymphaeum with the perspective of the fountain of Ercole from which the water flows over 130 granite basins.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo
With over 100 years of history, this Art Nouveau palace in the heart of Lake Como has unparalleled views of Bellagio and the Gringe Mountains. Established in 1910, this seven-story hotel maintains its lure just as when 19th-century aristocrats descended upon its old world charm. Each of its 90 rooms and suites boast incredible views that look out over Lake Como to the town of Bellagio. Unique to the Tremezzo, at turndown, one not only finds chocolates but also written extracts from old diaries which add to the dramatic setting. Numerous dining options can be found on the property, ranging from upscale Italian cuisine at La Terrazza or T Beach restaurant to a more casual pizza bar in the gardens. For a relaxing afternoon, we suggest enjoying the “water on water” floating pool that rests on the lake’s surface.
Private Lake Como Boat Tour
No trip to Lake Como is complete without experiencing the area from the water aboard a custom-built Riva boat. The Riva family has been building these boats by hand in Northern Italy for 300 years. Founded in Sarnico on the shores of Lago D’Iseo, their philosophy is to “never build a boat that is the same as another” which means each handcrafted piece (built strictly of mahogany) is a functional work of art.
Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy, stretching 43 miles long and six miles wide. Its surrounding villages were a popular weekend getaway for wealthy Italian families in the 19th-century, many of whom built their beautiful villas and accompanying gardens on its shores.
Stresa and the Borromean Islands
Easily reached from Milan, Stresa has been a favorite for artists and writers seeking inspiration, most notably Hemingway. In fact, a pivotal scene in A Farewell to Arms is set at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees.
Just a quick ferry ride from Stresa lie the Borromean Islands, Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola dei Pescatori. This chain of islands, owned by the Borromean family of Milan since the 17th-century, form one of the most beautiful corners of Lake Maggiore.