My recommendations for what to see in Lake Como are written below as a daytrip from Milan, but it’s not possible to do all of this in one day. Take the short train ride from Milan to Como (check timetables at www.trenitalia.it) and spend some time walking around this ancient town. I would take a peek into some of the churches or sit in the main square and have a coffee before boarding the boat up to Bellaggio. I definitely recommend taking the slow boat (2 hours) up to Bellagio for the scenery but if you’re in a rush take the hydrofoil.
Check boat timetables here.
Visit Lake Como’s Villa d’Este
Take the ferry 2 stops from Como to Cernobbio and walk around the gardens of the famous high-end hotel, the Villa D’Este. At $1000/night (average) even Butterfield & Robinson doesn’t stay here. But tourists can visit the gardens and have afternoon tea. The gardens are gorgeous, the views are spectacular, and the service is first-class, but some people say that the price is not worth it as the hotel is a bit run down in some areas.
Visit Lake Como’s Villa del Balbianello
Take the boat from Como to the Villa del Balbianello, a 17th century villa with amazing terraced gardens and even better views, as it sticks way out into Lake Como on a promontory. It’s also famous for being featured in the films Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002); Ocean’s Twelve (2004); and Casino Royale (2006).
Visit the beautiful town of Bellagio
Once in Bellagio, spend some time walking around the town; don’t miss the lakeside promenade. Bellagio is also a great place for (somewhat touristy) shopping, and for a workout (just walk up and down some of the steep streets a few times!).
Visit Lake Como’s Villa Melzi
From Bellagio, walk along the lake towards Loppia (keep the lake to your right) to visit the gardens of the Villa Melzi. Click here to read a small write-up of the Villa Melzi.
Visit Lake Como’s Villa Carlotta
Catch the short ferry (see link above for timetables) from Bellagio to Cadenabbia, and walk towards Tremezzo to visit the Villa Carlotta. For a ticket price of 10 Euros, visit the Villa Carlotta’s gardens and then go inside the villa itself to see the artwork.
When I was guiding for Butterfield & Robinson, we stayed in the 5-star Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio. If you can swing it, it’s nice: in a great location, with amazing views, excellent service, and a nice pool area. But I found the hotel a bit worn in places and I don’t know that I’d stay there again. The huge gardens have some small private villas which are used by artists and authors who have won Rockefeller grants. On the other hand, I have very fond memories of time spent in my student days at the youth hostel in Menaggio, which is northwest across the lake.
Hop on another short ferry to the quiet and picturesque town of Varenna (see photo), a great place to get a late-afternoon ice cream or have dinner, and take a walk along the lakefront path, or Passarella. It’s possible to hike up to the tower on the hill but a bit anti-climactic. A nice walk though.
At the end of the day, catch the train from Varenna for the 1-hour train ride back to Milan.
Photo by Sanjay
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