You may not have heard of this somewhat under-the-radar Italian destination until recently, but the hype around one of the most awaited celebrity weddings in the country has definitely put Lake Como on the travel map. As Deepika and Ranveer take their six-year-long relationship to the next level by tying the knot in Lake Como, Italy, we take a look up close at what makes this destination special enough for the Italian Prime Minister to remark “who doesn’t what to get married in Lake Como?”
Lake Como – A Destination with a Timeless Appeal
Surrounded by the snow-capped Rhaetian Alps and a lush green cover of steep wooded hills hemming its periphery, Lake Como is undoubtedly the most spectacular lake in the region and known for its timeless appeal. Shaped like an arm-less wanderer, the lake boasts of a winding shoreline that is dotted with opulent villas and quaint ancients hamlets.
The place has charmed celebrities like George Clooney and Richard Branson enough to own their private villas flanked by the sprawling blue waters of the lake and the towering Alps in the distance.
The destination has always had a romantic charm associated with it. Even in the Roman era, the lake was a preferred spot for couples to escape the city life and steal some revitalising moments with each other.
Things to See in Lake Como
Ancient villages, grand villas, dainty towns and a vibe of tranquillity all around – that’s Lake Como in a nutshell. To soak up these experiences to the fullest, here are the top places you must add to your itinerary:
Of course, no Lake Como travel itinerary can be complete without a visit to the lake that’s right at heart of it. While the lake will be clearly visible from almost every place in the region, we recommend you take time out for a long early morning stroll along its periphery, preferably on the uninhabited stretches. The lush green surroundings juxtaposed with azure blue waters and a spread of exotic colourful flowers make it a spell-binding experience for anyone who appreciates nature.
The Quaint Villages
The Lake Como region is a cluster of tiny towns and small villages flanking the lake’s periphery. While these villages may not offer much in terms of tourist attractions, they are definitely a sight to behold unto themselves, characterised by a fairyland-like setting with colourful houses, gothic architecture covered with creepers and vines, arched bridges and stairways leading straight into the lake waters. A boat or cruise ride on Lake Como offers a great vantage point to catch a glimpse of the myriad villages from where they look the most spectacular.
Bellagio is perhaps the most popular tourist town on Lake Como and for good reason – it serves as the meeting point of the two arms of the lake that lend it that distinct armless wanderer Y-shape. A boat ride to get to Bellagio is highly recommended, as the view when approaching the town is absolutely breathtaking. You can spend hours wandering about the cobbled streets, peering at the cosy buildings, quaint cafes and shops along the way. The heart of Bellagio is its lakeside promenade that comes alive particularly during the summer months with pop-up restaurants and cafes as well as a public swimming pool.
If shopping is on the agenda, Como is the place to be. This thriving city is a shopper’s paradise with a vast variety of exotic offerings on the offer but their silk collection stands out in particular. Keep an eye out for beautiful silk ties and scarves up for grabs at fairly reasonable prices. The historic city also boasts of an impressive architecture that reflects a mix of Renaissance and Gothic influences. Wrap up your Como explorations with a meal at restaurants and cafes at the Piazza del Duomo and walk along the waterfront, which is lined with serene parks that serve as the perfect setting to take in the expansive view of the lake.
Tour the Villas
Lake Como is best known for its villas. While some these villas have now been converted into luxury resorts, others remain private properties open to the public for some time of the year. Touring each and every one these sprawling villa can prove to be an arduous task that’ll leave you drained out and hard-pressed for time to do anything else but we definitely recommend exploring three of the most iconic villas on Lake Como:
Villa Melzi in Bellagio: Easily accessible from the Bellagio city centre, Villa Melzi is best known for its English-style gardens that stretch along the lakefront and comprise a mix of sculptures, plantings and a water lily pond. The gardens also house an Orangery with a small museum inside. The villa itself is out of bounds for visitors as it is a private residence but the gardens are thrown open to the public from March to October every year.
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo: One of the finest villas in all of Lake Como, it was built as a wedding gift to Prussian princess Carlotta in 1847. Today, the villa, as well as its sprawling botanic gardens, is open to the public. The azaleas and rhododendrons that bloom in spring are a huge drawcard for tourists, in addition to an assortment of exotic flora like Cyprus trees, giant sequoia, a Japanese garden and a fern valley. With its period furniture and furnishings still intact, Villa Carlotta also serves as the backdrop for musical events and art exhibitions. It is open to visitors from mid-March to October.
Villa del Balbianello in Lenno: Villa del Balbianello, which was chosen by Deepika and Ranveer as their wedding venue, is one of most prized properties in all of Lake Como and one that has had its brush with fame in the past too. Situated predominantly on the tip of a wooded peninsula that nearly juts into the lake, Villa del Balbianello dates back to 1787 and was built as a destination for quiet reflections. The place still serves that purpose perfectly, except when hosting celebrity weddings or serving as a movie set. The villa has been featured in Star Wars Episode II and Casino Royale 2006 version. Apart from its brush with fame, its well-manicured elaborate terraced gardens are a big attraction for tourists. Villa del Balbianello can be explored only by a guided tour from mid-March to mid-November, all days of the week except Mondays and Wednesdays.
Varenna is somewhat of an underrated gem on Lake Como. While a majority of tourists flock Como and Bellagio, Varenna can be the real jewel for travellers who like to experience a destination away from the bustling crowds. The cluster of vibrant coloured houses around a small harbour, gorgeous lakeside setting and some stunning medieval structures to explore are just some of the reasons to put Varenna on your Lake Como itinerary. The Castello di Vezio, a walled castle situated on a high cliff, is definitely worth checking out. Not only does it offer a great panoramic view of the Lake Como region but also gives you a chance to witness rarities such as a real drawbridge, restored battlements and falconry displays up close.
Lake Como is just an hour’s drive from Milan. You can fly to Milan and take a cab or train from there to Lake Como. Self-driven rentals are not advisable on the route especially during the summer, as the roads are narrow and often chock-a-block with the huge influx of Milan residents who love to retreat to Lake Como for weekend getaways.
Hotels, luxury resorts, hostels, apartments, homestays and Airbnb properties – whatever your preference, Lake Como has got you covered.
Where to Eat
There is no dearth of cafes and restaurants in the Lake Como region. Every little town and village in the lake’s vicinity has its fair share of eateries with more temporary al-fresco dining options springing up along the waterfront during summer. The native cuisine relies heavily on fish but you will find all sorts of dining options here albeit with limited choices for vegetarians and vegans.
Meals with a view usually come with a steeper price tag, so if you are operating on a budget, it is a good idea to explore dining options inside the city lanes.
If you visiting Lake Como to celebrate a special occasion, an evening at the high terrace La Vista restaurant at Albergo Milano in Varenna is the way to go. Spend some quality time watching the sunset at this al fresco dining destination overlooking the lake and follow it up with a candlelight dinner. Advance bookings are recommended.
Best Time to Go
Obviously, summer months are ideal to enjoy Lake Como. However, this is also the time when Lake Como sees a crazy influx of tourists from Italy as well as around the world. If you are not a fan of crowds, avoid the peak months from June to August and plan your visit in shoulder months of April-May or September-October.