Lake Como gained a lot of fame when George Clooney bought a villa here in 2001 and for most North Americans Lake Como is inextricably linked to George. While I think he is a fine actor, I don’t much care where he lives so for us Lake Como was an attraction unto itself. Interestingly, it looks similar to the Shuswap Lakes in British Columbia, Canada and I spoke to an Italian gentleman who also felt it looked like Canada. He seemed to wonder why we were here when Canada is just as beautiful. Well, it’s still Italy and not the same as Canada at all 😊
Lake Como has long been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times and has many prestigious villas and palaces lining the lake shore. Created over the centuries by glacial movement the lake is the third largest lake in Italy and at 1,300 ft deep, the fifth deepest lake in Europe. Our fabulous apartment was in the tiny village of Nesso, just over a 30 min drive up the lake from the city of Como. We are a good way up the hillside giving us fantastic views of the lake and mountains. By the way, that is Switzerland across the lake and over those hills. What comes with being up a hill with great views…a very steep walk to get anywhere. The roads along the lake are extremely narrow and stressful to drive therefore we decided to park the car for the 4 days we spent here, using buses and ferries to get around. This meant we had a 10 min downhill walk on steps to reach the bus and a further 8 min walk down 340 more steps to reach the ferry dock. And these are old, uneven cobblestone staircases which adds an extra element of difficulty. But, this was the preferred option over driving plus we enjoyed our ferry boat and bus rides.
On our first day, we bought an all-day ferry ticket thinking we would spend most of the day touring the lake and taking in the views. We hopped off the ferry in the town of Lenno where we had hoped to visit Villa del Balbianello but by the time we had lunch along the waterfront, there was not enough time to walk the 30 minutes there and make it back to catch the next ferry. We did pass by the Villa a few times on the ferry during our stay here and it looks absolutely beautiful.
From Lenno, we took the ferry further north up the lake to the town of Bellano where we visited the Orrido di Bellano. This natural gorge was formed over 15 million years ago by the glacial waters of the Pioverna river flowing off the Adda glacier. Catwalks and walkways have been anchored on the walls inside the gorge allowing visitors an up-close view of the waterfalls inside the gorge. Tickets to access the walkways cost 5 Euros (USD $5.26) each and can be bought at the entrance. From Bellano we enjoyed a leisurely 2-hour ferry ride back to our home in Nesso.
A few months ago when my cousin Steph from the UK learned we were visiting Lake Como, she decided to fly over with her friend Carole and spend a couple of days visiting us. They stayed in a hotel high above the lake in Brunate so for our first day together we took the bus from Nesso into the city of Como to meet up with them. Our day was spent wandering around the town, visiting the Cathedral, walking along the waterfront, and having lunch in one of the many piazzas dotting the city. I have not seen my cousin in a few years, so it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with each other.
The next day we all agreed to meet in the town of Bellagio, they would take the fast ferry from Como and we would take the slow ferry from Nesso. Unfortunately, one of the fast ferries was broken so they did not arrive in Bellagio until early afternoon. Prior to their arrival we enjoyed a walk around the town and had lunch overlooking the lake, and while it’s quite touristy here the town is small and very pretty. Bellagio sits on a tip of land at the junction of the three arms of Lake Como. From this location the northern arm reaches up towards Switzerland, the western arm goes down to the city of Como and the eastern arm ends in Lecco. Once my cousin arrived we had a couple of hours together before it was time for us to say farewell and take the bus back to Nesso. It was a whirlwind couple of days but we are always grateful when we have the opportunity to meet up with family or friends during our travels.
So, what’s the verdict on Lake Como. Well, it is spectacularly beautiful and get’s more amazing the further north you go from the city of Como. Personally, we would skip Como itself other than maybe a day trip, it’s too busy and crowded here for us. The smaller villages lining the lake are much prettier and well connected by ferry service to all the other villages around the lake. Nesso, where we stayed, is very small and not as well serviced by the ferries, plus it was a very steep hike up the hill to our apartment so I’m not sure we would stay here again. Some of the smaller villages we visited had more of a flat area along the water with quite a few restaurants. Bellagio would be a great choice, but it’s definitely one of the more popular (ie busier) towns on the lake.
Ferry tickets can be bought at every stop around the lake, either at a ticket office near the dock or on board the ship if the office is closed. The ferry timetables can be found here.
If you are interested in taking the bus around the lake here is a link to the bus schedule. Bus tickets can be bought at a few shops in the towns and also onboard the bus, although you pay a premium for buying tickets on the bus.