Lake Como, Italy

A view of Como town from the bow of a ferry boat in Italy

A ferry approaching Como town. Note limited seating in the bow pole position, probably totalling no more than 30 seats so get in line early!

Visiting Lake Como

Set in a spectacular landscape of mountains, hills, yellow and pink villages, the massive expanse of Lake Como (Lago di Como in Italian) has been a popular holiday destination for centuries, offering soothing views, slapping waters, gorgeous waterside villas and escape from the internal combustion engine.

This last was not a problem for the English poet Shelley in 1818 when he wrote ‘This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty, with the exception of the arbutus islands of Killarney. It is long and narrow, and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and the forests’.

Lake Como town

Como town's Duomo [cathedral] seen from the piazza, Italy

Como town’s Gothic/Renaissance Duomo (cathedral) a 14th century structure scattered with fine carvings, reliefs, paintings and tombs.

Como town has a relaxing ambience and some interesting architecture but in truth there’s not much here to hold a demanding tourist so let’s get down to the waterfront 200m away and get on the ferry for some serious sightseeing.

Lake Como sights

A typical town jetty at Cernobbio, the Lake Como ferry's second stop from Como town, Italy.

A typical town jetty at Cernobbio, the ferry’s second stop, where wealthy tourists head for. . .

Villa d'Este seen from a Lake Como ferry, Italy

. . . Villa d’Este’s opulence while the hoi polloi stroll around the town. Photo by K. Weise.

Villa d’Este is a vast summer residence built in 1570 for the Cardinal of Como and later home to various members of the aristocracy. It is surrounded by a large park in the town of Cernobbio on the shore of Lake Como and now a first class hotel with minimum room charges of €1, 000 a night.

Villa Erba and public swimming pool, Lake Como, Italy

. . . have a swim in a public swimming pool beside Villa Erba.

Things to do in the Lake Como region

1) take a ferry trip

2) do a mountain hike (Menaggio or Dongo are good starting points) or lakeside walk (e. g. the 4 miles of the Lake Como Greenway on the west coast).

Windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking and dinghy sailing. Swimming in the lake is not recommended unless you’re bacteria-proof. After a visit to the lovely, pricey town of Bellagio the next most popular destination in Como is Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo and its magnificent gardens and views over the lake to the Italian Alps.

Swimmers in Lake Como, Italy.

The bugcrew would not hesitate to swim in a Swiss lake but knowing how inefficient and dilapidated Italian infrastructure is we would think twice about diving into this possibly bugridden lake.

Driving around Lake Como

One activity beside Lake Como that needs to be approached with caution: Dreamy Driving beside the lakes, especially in the early evening rush hour…

Cars in Como fall into the 4 wheels bad category, particularly those with a foreign numberplate, any size above compact and any condition other than well-dinged, as this two lane road around the lake is narrow, with blind bends, protruding rocks, sudden chicanes, wandering bikes, staggering old ladies and deranged local drivers hugging bumpers and flashing lights. The bugcrew have driven all over the world and two of our most dangerous incidents in the last ten years were in Italy.

Sad because the Como road is spectacularly beautiful. The solution is to stop, find a lakeside restaurant and chill until the boy racers have gone home. Or take the bus. Or get an Italian to drive you around.

Ferry Trips

Sadly the most cost-effective way to see Como these days is via an internal combustion engine, albeit a marine diesel set into a leisurely ferry that zig-zags up and down the snaking lake every few hours. Still, the engine’s at the stern while savvy travellers will have lined up early to grab a place – preferably a seat because it’s a long journey – in the bow (we suggest left side for best views, 4/5 rows back as the bow is quite high and will impede vision unless you are a giraffe).

Urio village, a typical west coast lake view seen from the Como ferry, Italy

Urio village, a typical west coast lake view seen from the Como ferry.

As the Como ferry heads up the long, narrow lake there are sights on both sides but the bugcrew chose to sit/stand on the left side at the front, and in retrospect we felt that this was the right choice with more interesting villages and villas well lit by the morning sun. The right side, east, was of course in shadow.

Don’t forget to apply plenty of sunscreen, the journey to the main tourist holiday resort of Bellagio, with stops to pick up/drop off passengers, takes at least two hours.

One of many iWantthat Lake Como villas, Italy

One of many desirable Como villas not owned by Mr and Mrs Clooney.

Best Seasons

Lake Como weather tends towards mild as the lake water mediates temperatures, making the region warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The winter temperature average 1C – 7C (January is the coldest month), while summertime (July and August) they reach 18C – 30C. Nights are cool due to the mountainous surroundings.
May and October are statistically the wettest months, while winter (November to March) can get cold and many attractions are closed but accommodation is much cheaper.

So. . . the best months to visit Lake Como would be June, September (warm and fewer tourists), July, August (dry, very warm but lots of other travellers) and April (a bit chilly but fewer non-locals) unless you’ve got a resistance to cold.

Another lovely little Lake Como island villa.

Our favourite Lago di Como island villa not owned by Georgio Clooney.

Villa Balbianello museum, Lake Como, Italy

And yet another magnificent Como mansion not yet possessed by the great Georgio. Villa Balbianello was built in 1787 and is now a museum of exploration.