Tucked away in the mountain ranges of Northern Italy is the illustrious, charming and low-key Lake Como. Once a getaway for European aristocracy and now home to Hollywood's finest, Lake Como is one of Italy’s most romantic destinations, boasting a heavy-hitting combination of jaw-dropping scenery, rich culture and food.
From Australia, two flights to Milan and just a one-hour drive will see you at Lake Como. If you’re looking to swap out your umpteenth trip to Bali or Paris for something different, we’ve picked out the winners of this food and culture-oriented trip and given you a head start on how to get stuck into what Como has to offer.
With 24 villages and towns surrounding the 40km long Lake Como, the options for places to stay at Lake Como are wide-reaching. There’s no need to stay right in the town of Como itself, as the areas outside of Como and further along the shores offer plenty of authentic Italian options with better views of the lake and mountain ranges.
A former 16th-century royal residence, Villa D'Este is widely regarded as one of the best hotels in the world. Sitting on 25 acres of enchanting gardens overlooking Lake Como, the Villa was built in 1568 as the summer residence of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, and transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873, quickly becoming a favourite destination for the European aristocracy and global elite.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo
For an extravagant, world-class visit that will make you feel like you’re in a set out of the Great Gatsby, look no further than the renowned Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Sitting lakeside in the Tremezzo region of Lake Como, GHT knows how to get the job done in style. The stay here was supreme. The cracking lake and mountain views, supreme service, spa facilities, dining options (and more) gave me some insight on why this place has been frequented by A-class celebrities, athletes and the business elite for the past century.
Sheraton on Lake Como ($$)
The Sheraton on Lake Como will have you covered on all fronts. Tucked in its own private park with views of the Rhaetian Alps and just a short ferry ride from the town of Como, the Sheraton on Lake Como is an ideal mid-range option, offering a premium buffet breakfast, spacious rooms, ideal areas to get work done and home to the renowned Gusto and Kitchen restaurants (see below).
Be sure your metabolism is running hot because this carb-obsessed nation will have you eating a disturbing amount of calories. Lake Como is no exception, with its own rich history and a locally refined, unique food culture, here are some tips on how best to discover the food here.
The easiest way to get started is with a snapshot of the region's food culture through a local food tour. A food tour of Como covers the local hot spots that aren’t too obvious to a foreigner, revealing local preferences on the essential cold cuts, wines, cheeses, oils and breads (€95 p.p).
You can have a bonafide Italian lunch at Locanda dell’Isola on the Island of Comacina. Just a two-minute boat ride from the shores of Lake Como, this restaurant has been serving the same five-course set menu for over fifty years, with beautifully simple roast vegetables, baked trout, parmesan from the wheel, fresh bread and wine, all perched beneath a leafy outdoor setting overlooking the Lake (€70 p.p).
If you’re wanting to look cultured upon your return home, you can take home the Italian Aperitivo tradition - the pre-dinner drink and light finger food. The Aperitivo scene is prominent in Lake Como, with bars, restaurants and delicatessens scattered throughout the villages of the lake, offering their own unique Aperitivo service. If you can’t afford a stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo (and would like to pretend for an evening), outside guests are welcome to slide into their T-Bar (or restaurants) for a classy Aperitivo hour.
Lake Como is home to Materia Restaurant, one of only 2,290 restaurants across the world to receive a Michelin star. With cuisine deeply rooted in Como’s local produce and mains costing around €30, this is a great way to have a locally refined culinary experience without breaking the bank.
If you’ve got room for more options, the Sheraton on Lake Como is home to two highly renowned fine-dining Italian options. Tucked in the private park of the Sheraton is Kitchen Restaurant, offering a homely, intimate and modern Italian dining experience, while the in-house Gusto adds its own touch of class to some of the great Italian classics.
SEE & DO
Remember the scene from Casino Royale where Bond is recovering on the lawn of the hospital with the lush gardens and has a suitcase brought to him? That’s Villa Balbianello - a must-see. But the fact that scenes from Casino Royale and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones were shot here are mere side notes to the class of this 18th-century villa. A tour of this 25-room mansion and its gardens leading down to the lake is enough to give insight into how the upper elite would have done things at Lake Como in the last two hundred years (€17 p.p).
Scattered along the shores of Lake Como are some stunning Italian villas, churches, villages and mountain ranges that can only be seen from the water (one pointed out to us is rumoured to be Richard Branson’s). Taking a Riva-style boat (wood-panelled speed boat) or sailing the lake are the recommended modes of transport to see the lake in class. Sailing tours can be organised through Bellagio Sailing.
The 24 surrounding towns and villages of Lake Como each have their own unique character. Throughout the cobblestone alleys of these old, quaint villages you’ll find a world of modest cafes, restaurants and shops that make you feel like you’re in the depths of Italy and far from home. The towns of Como, Bellagio, Tremezzo and Varenna are well worth a visit and are accessible via the ferry service that runs between villages.
In every direction you look at Lake Como, you’ll see the lake or the commanding mountain ranges, meaning outdoors lovers can get their fix here. While I didn’t have time to delve into some activities, there are windsurfing and kitesurfing options, as well as a range of hikes that vary from sub-hour to multi-day lengths.
On the less intense end of the spectrum, spa treatments are available at the maxed out spa facilities of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, with sauna, steam room, massage, facial options and more. And, if you’re in the land of food, it would be rude not to take an Italian cooking class. Most cooking classes in the Como area cover pasta making, mains, desserts and wines (approx. €90 p.p).
All up, there’s a slim chance of going wrong on a visit to Lake Como. The benchmark for food quality is freakishly high, the options to eat are numerous and every town has a depth of history, art and architecture, all surrounded by postcard-worthy scenes of nature. The points above can get you off to a start, but this is an area best suited for following your nose, asking locals and simply exploring what this region has to offer.