Just two hours by plane will get you from London to Milan, and then it’s just an hour by car or bus to the city of Como and the lake that shares its name.
Lake Como is a very well established holiday destination and has a wide choice of luxury accommodations, excellent restaurants, charming cafes, and a host of relaxing and interesting activities and things to see.
What can you do at Lake Como?
The area is beautiful to see, and that in itself is a pastime, but while you’re soaking in the sun, breathing in the fresh air of the lake, and enjoying those hearty Italian masterpieces in the kitchen, you may want to take in some of the local attractions.
Here are a few of our favourites.
Olive Oil Tasting
Little puts one in touch with the real soul of a place like tasting its food. For Italy in general, and Como in particular, a great way to start is to become acquainted with the nuances and delight of olive oil. We’ve all had it. We all probably have some in the cupboard at home. But do we understand it?
To an Italian, it is obvious that olive oil must be fresh. From that single trunk though, grow many branches. The aspects of olive oil are best compared to those of wine. Colour, texture, bouquet, clarity, taste, aftertaste, and cooking qualities all come to play, in different combinations, to make the appreciation of olive oil a complex and interesting endeavour.
Where to start? Try the Vanini Osvaldo Oil Press in Lenno.
‘Funicular’ is a fancy way of saying ‘a railway that runs up the side of a mountain.’ Where regular railways can only angle upward at modest degrees, a funicular is made to climb height quickly and efficiently, and usually functions much like a ground-based cable car.
The funicular that runs between Como and Brunate, though by no means a bullet-train, is the fastest way between the two centres, and offers spectacular views of the lake as it climbs. You may have the destination in mind when you board, but your attention will soon be on the journey instead, and many visitors take it more than once, just to bask in the panoramic views of the water and surrounding hills.
Three hundred and fifty years in the making, this Gothic treasure is spans the lifetimes – and displays the varying inputs – of several artisans, architects and artists.
The building itself is a work of art, but within it are other treasures to behold. Five hundred-year-old tapestries, frescoes, paintings and sculptures line walls, populate aisles, and sit nearly hidden in tucked-away nooks and alcoves. It’s worth a walk through even if you’re not an avid art or architecture fan – but if you are, slot in a good half-day for it, and take your time. They will be hours well spent.
Once a thriving abbey, then a ruin, and reconstructed in the 1300s, the Abbazia di Piona is worth the visit for a number of varied reasons.
The first is the history and architectural interest of the place. Built-in the Lombard Gothic style with French influences, the site includes excellent frescoes that were once lost and only rediscovered in 1906. The 17th-century bell tower is worth some consideration, and a walk around the grounds will reveal little glimpses of the history and changes the place has lived through over the centuries.
Another great reason is that it is still a working abbey, and the resident monks produce a traditional liquor, from the ancient recipe, that is said to have health-giving properties. Look for a bottle of this Gocce Imperiali, add a little to some water, milk, or even a hot drink like tea or coffee, and partake in an activity that has been happening there since the UK was in the Dark Ages.
Lake Como is shaped like an upside-down letter ‘Y’ with Como itself located on the bottom of the left hand (western) branch. Varenna is located about half way up the lake, just north of the spot where it splits into its two branches.
You can get to Varenna from Como in about 45 minutes by hydrofoil, or you can take a slower craft and spend more time appreciating the scenery. Once there, you can visit the Castello di Vezio, a beautiful medieval castle nestled in a grove of olive trees. You can walk the tiered terraces of the Villa Cipressi Gardens and sample some locally-sourced food in one of the charming lakeside cafes or restaurants.
The trip is easily accomplished in an unhurried day, and allows you a greater appreciation of the beauty of the lake, and of Como itself as you return to it from the unique vantage point of the water itself.
The Boat to Bellagio
You might want to combine a trip to Varenna with a stop at Bellagio. Just across the lake from Varenna, and a favourite tourist spot in its own right, Bellagio’s narrow streets climb up the side of the valley, overlooked by beautiful multi-coloured homes on either side. The community caters to a high-end tourist population with excellent high-end boutiques, traditional restaurants, and views out over the lake that are second to none.
San Fedele Church
Almost a thousand years of reverence, contemplation, and appreciation of the fine stained glass windows and colourful frescoes is a tangible feeling in this old church. Some quiet moments within will prompt a deep breath of appreciation for your holiday, the beauty you’ve seen and the warm, friendly people you’ve met along the way. It’s replenishment for the soul.
Step outside and replenish your body too, taking in a meal or something lighter at one of the cafes across from the church as you admire the architecture from the outside, and reminisce with your travel companion: Como, Varenna, Bellagio… you’ll taste the olive oil on your meal with a newly-developed appreciation, detect a hint of local flavours in the wine… maybe even catch a phrase or two in Italian that isn’t quite as foreign as it seemed a few days before.
A Holiday Well Worth Taking
Lake Como is a classic holiday destination, true, but it remains of great value for your time and investment. It will touch your life with the essence of that Italian charm. It’s a holiday well worth taking.