The Towns around Lake Como
Lake Como is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It’s no wonder celebrities flock here to buy up the luxurious pastel-painted villas that sit on the side of the lake. This spectacular shoreline has been a popular destination for the rich aristocracy of Milan for at least a five hundred years.
After spending two nights in Como Old Town (which I’ll write about in another post), I was sitting on a water taxi making my way from Como to my next stop for two nights, Menaggio.
Halfway up the lake in the little town of Lenno, I came across the most beautiful villa sitting on a promontory sticking out from the rest of the lake. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful and looked familiar to me, but at the time I didn’t realise that it was a well-known film location used in a couple of films that I’ve seen.
That night I did some research and found that the Villa Balbianello was built in 1787 as a Franciscan monastery for the Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini. It’s so stunningly beautiful it’s been used as a popular movie location for such films as Casino Royale (2006), where Daniel Craig recouperates in a sanitorium; and in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), where Padme and Anakin share a kiss on the balcony; and another lesser known film, A Month by the Lake (1995), with Uma Thurman and Vanessa Redgrave was filmed here and also at the Villa Olmo in Como itself. You can walk around the Villa and see the beautiful interior and gardens for €8.
And that’s not the only location used for filming. Further up the lake, Ocean’s Twelve was filmed at George Clooney’s Villa Oleander in Laglio.
The Golden Triangle and the other towns on the Lake
Lake Como is one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. It’s located in Lombardia, in the very north of Italy, at the foot of the Alps which share the border with Switzerland. It’s shaped like an upsidedown ‘Y’, with Como Town at the bottom of the left leg, and is around 46 km long.
The Golden Triangle
At the centre of the lake are the three little towns of Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio. Car ferries and water taxis run between these three towns very frequently, every 10 minutes or so, as tourists and locals like to jump from town to town to see the sights in the different towns along the lake.
Considered to be the pearl of Lake Como, Bellagio is a very upmarket town with expensive shops and hotels that line the waterfront. It’s situated on the tip of the land between the two legs and is a major stop on the tourist trail where hundreds of holidaymakers arrive on the ferries every day.
Prices here tended to be a bit more expensive than the other towns but it still wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be. Capuccinos and lattés were around €3.50, delicious creamy gelati was around €2.50, and huge pizzas were around €9, so not bad!
A short walk from the ferry at Bellagio is the beautiful Villa Melzi, with its immaculately manicured gardens. You can walk round and explore and it’s only €6.50 for the day.
Just 20 minutes by ferry from Bellagio or Menaggio is the gorgeous little town of Varenna.
I loved this town and thought it was much nicer than Bellagio. When you get off the ferry it seems like there’s nothing here, but you have to walk around the coastline along the red iron-work pathway, until you come to a gorgeous setting overlooking the lake….. and here you’ll find the actual town.
I spent two nights in Menaggio as I was using this as a base at the centre of the lake to visit the other towns by ferry. With hindsight, I should have stayed in Varenna as there was more to do in Varenna, especially in the evenings, with more cafés, restaurants and bars to sit and people watch!
Menaggio was still a very pretty town with a lovely square full of cafés and restaurants. There’s a shopping street with lots of independent shops and this leads up to the church.
Menaggio is a hub for transport and you can get a ferry and bus into Como and also a bus to Lugano on the lake in Switzerland which takes around 1.5 hours.
Another lovely town to visit on the lake is Tremezzo and here you will find The Grand Hotel Tremezzo, a beautiful old villa with its own floating swimming pool sitting on the lake.
Next to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo is the Villa Carlotta, another huge tourist attraction on the lake which is open to the public for a glimpse of the interior, it’s art museum and fabulous botanical gardens. It’s only a few metres away from the ferry stop at Tremezzo and costs €9 for entry.
Getting around the Lake is easy. Ferries run from Como and stop at all the towns along the lake. For instance, my fare from Como to Menaggio on the very large ferry was €10.45 and took 2 hours.
Each journey between Varenna, Bellagio, Tremezzo and Menaggio was €4.60, but you can get a day ticket for €15 where you can hop on and off all the ferries between Menaggio and Lenno as many times as you want.
The car ferries operate between Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio to get you to opposite sides of the lake if you are on a driving holiday.