One of the larger Italian lakes, Lake Como is also one of the most beautiful. Surrounded by the mountains of the Italian southern Alps it can be easily reached by train from Milan which is only 25 miles away.
We had no fixed itinerary and flew into Milan airport, heading north from Milan railway station to spend 5 days in the north of Italy and Italian speaking southern Switzerland.
We hosteled on the shores of the leg of Lake Como closest to Como town. Walking from the town along the shore to the hostel was a taste of what was to come, very stylish villas and stunning lakeland panoramas. It was a trip where the camera came out early and stayed out, it was just so nice.
The hostel was situated by Villa Olmo, a neoclassical house built for the Italian aristocracy. The gardens were free to wander in, the house was only open for exhibitions.
The architecture dotted along the lake shore was impressive with many other villas by the waters edge. It lent itself well to black and white photography if you still have a film camera.
The lake forms a Y shape, with Como town at its left southern leg. At its right southern leg the town of Lecco. At its northern tip a park and gardens. At the centre of the Y, the town of Bellagio. Bellagio is very pretty and not too spoiled by tourism and can be reached easily by ferry from Como.
If you take the ferry at a less crowded time, you will get a good experience of the lake and can see the villas and villages along the side of the lake from close up. Depending on which ferry you take, it may make a number of stops going up the lake to Bellagio, and if you like you can carry on to the northern tip of the lake. There are also hydrofoils for a quicker journey but we enjoyed the slower older style ferry with more time to enjoy the journey.
Bellagio has been inhabited back to Roman times and there are signs of ancient civilisations through to medieval times including ancient steps and churches. There are also villas to look around with beautiful parks and gardens to chill out in. The trees are particularly beautiful in the parks.
There are a number of walks you can do in the Bellagio region from gentle lake side walks to more serious treks in the Larian Triangle – the area between the two southern legs of the lake.
The lake has water sports such as sailing and windsurfing, and also its possible to see kite surfing. The warm weather of the summer season means falling in the lake is much less of a problem than falling in a freezing English lake.
Local dishes are excellent with many of the ingredients being sourced from the farms dotted along the lake shore. These sell honey, diary products and meats. Polenta and Risotto are specialities of the region.
Como itself is a popular city with visitors and as well as hostels has many hotels. Spring and autumn are good times to go with warm temperatures but not too warm. Be prepared for occasional rain and there are sometimes thunderstorms in summer.
The town has beautiful buildings and churches to see and a number of museums covering art, archaeology and silk. It has Roman origins, dating back to Julius Caesar who decided its current location. You can take the funicular to the top of a nearby hill for great views across the lake. The locals are now employed increasingly in tourism as the older manufacturing businesses that used to occupy the workforce have declined.
After a few days we moved on to Bellinzona which is in southern Switzerland about an hour from Como on the train. The town is set in alpine foothills and has three main castles to visit. If you are lucky you may get a hotel view across to the fortifications and hills.
The castles were built due to the town’s important strategic location between Switzerland and Northern Italy and there have been fortifications in the Bellinzona valley back to Roman times. Most of the current buildings date to the 12th century onwards though there are still some medieval ruins to be found.
Bellinzona is quite a small town and a good place to unwind. It was a nice contrast to the Italian Lakes and made a pleasant two stop trip in the region.
Image by Michael Costa (cc), flickr