We flew into Milan from Cyprus, having spent a week in Paphos and made our journey to Lake Como via bus, train and ferry. You know you’re in Italy when there’s a guy on a monocycle in the middle of the road, while the traffic lights are on red, juggling some clubs to earn a few euros. As a picture, it’s ‘the one that got away’, sadly. I love Italy.
Lake Como has been on our to-do list for many years. This part of the Italian Lakes conjures up glamorous images. It was a location for some of the early James Bond films, Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker got married there in ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clones’. There are opulent villas (George Clooney is a resident these days) beside the 30-mile-long lake, set against the stunning backdrop of the Lepontine Alps. Check out the video for a taste.
There’s no easy way to get to Bellagio from Milan. On our return journey there was a train strike so we paid £120 for a taxi. However, the final leg of our outbound trip was a 15-minute trip on the ferry, which gave us a wonderful introduction to Lake Como’s scenery. Be aware, the Italians are very strict on covid protocol in public. They suffered badly at the start of the pandemic, and insist on FFP2 masks. The ferry refused to let us on and we had to buy some. When I questioned him, he threatened to keel haul me. Our standard issue WWII gas masks were inadequate.
The quayside at Bellagio is very picturesque, and it was good to see our gaff as we came into the pier. The Hotel Bellagio, is certainly in a prime spot. Actually, it seemed a little odd that the hotel is only 3 star. I think this is down to amenities. It doesn’t have a pool, for example. However, in terms of room quality, it felt rather more 4 star. Our room was ‘well appointed’. Nice bathroom, firm mattress, good Wi-Fi, brewing facilities, very clean throughout, etc.
Pay the extra and book the room with a lake view. It is superb! We were on the 4th floor. The hotel is situated in the warren of narrow streets that make up the town of Bellagio. There’s no access by car, but the stroll up from the lakeside to reception is fine if you’re fully ambulant.
The reviews we read praised the hotel’s breakfasts. Hmm… What is served is very good, but I thought there could have been more choice. The dining room isn’t big though, maybe that’s the reason. That stated, the cappuccino coffee was outstanding. Staff were helpful and professional and we had a lovely four nights here. I’d come back for sure.
The town, like many on the lake, climbs up the steep slopes from the shore, with narrow, pebbled lanes separating the buildings. Its history goes back to Roman times at least. Bellagio ‘took off’ as a chic holiday destination in the early 19th century and it has been exploiting that caché for 200 years. It appealed to the ‘romantics’ back in the day and I guess it still does.
The downside of this fame is that it can be swamped by tourists in the summer months. We arrived on Easter Monday and it was busy. There was a noticeable decline in numbers after the day trippers left (rather like Venice). I would recommend visiting in Spring or autumn if that’s an option. Even out of season, there are queues to get in some restaurants and it is advisable to book the more popular ones, if they allow for this.
We ate at La Grotta on the first night. I’d describe it as essentially a pizza/pasta place. It serves local dishes and fish too, but we didn’t have that. The pizza was excellent, the house wine was reasonably priced and of good quality. We got a free glass of prosecco on arrival, which was a nice touch – and a nice tipple too! I noticed they served the freebie drink to those stood in the small queue, which was a clever move. I’d recommend this as a very reasonably priced joint.
As it was recommended in the Michelin Guide (though it doesn’t have a Michelin star as yet) we ate posh on the 2nd night in Ristorante Alle Darsenne di Loppia. It was a four-course event. We chose the ‘paired wine’ option, as we weren’t familiar with the contents of the wine list. Service was pretty nippy, and the wine waiter came over promptly to pour us a small (ahem…) glass selected to compliment each course. At times my wife and I had to supress our giggles but, to be fair, he did a good job and fielded my questions about the chianti very knowledgably. Fine dining in near silence isn’t my thing, however, and I was very disappointed when my salutary pig noise failed to get the laughs it deserved. For the record, the courses were:
- Scallops with parma ham with a red pepper drizzle
- Lamb Ragu with spinach gnocchi and pecorino cheese fragments
- Veal, with celeriac puree and black truffle shavings
- Chef’s Tiramisu (this was gorgeous!)
- Deep fried Mars Bar with custard (inserted here for comedic purposes)
It was an excellent meal, but cost £150 for two people. Fair enough, and I’m not being mean, but I have enjoyed meals just as much for half the price. And got more pissed.
Speaking of which, our favourite bar was Taverna Gambrinus Bellagio. There’s a very nice view out towards the lake from the terrace. Just the ticket for an early evening drink and, once we found it, we went every night. The bar is situated just down the road from the main church. There’s a range of excellent beers on the list. Not the cheapest, but you pay for quality so, fair enough. When it wasn’t busy, they brought us olives, crisps and peanuts, too.
It is a lovely town to meander about. We walked over to Pescallo (see pic above), which is a fishing village (hamlet) on the south eastern side of Bellagio. On the tip of the peninsula is La Punta. It’s a little harbour and park with a viewpoint up to the north of the lake.
On our last day, we caught a few ferries and crisscrossed the lake visiting cute towns and strolling aimlessly about. A mellow and agreeable way to pass the time for sure. We explored Varenna and Tremezzo in a leisurely manner. Popped in a few churches and chapels, gazed at the sumptuous views, had a coffee. What’s not to love?
Should you go?
We were only there 4 nights and I guess we only got a taste of what Lake Como has to offer. It’s a big walking and cycling destination, and we didn’t do any of that. In some ways, inevitably perhaps, Como reminded me of Windermere and there are plenty of parallels one could draw between the English and Italian Lakes. However, Como is visually grander and more dramatic, the lake is 3 times bigger, the mountains 3 times higher. I love Cumbria and the Lakes generally; I’ve been many times. But honesty demands I state that the local offerings aren’t on the same scale as their Italian cousins.
I think both regions have problems with over exploitation and getting too crowded in the summer holidays. I wouldn’t go to either at those times of the year.
Lake Como is definitely worth a visit. Bellagio is a great base to stay in, Varenna too was lovely. Anywhere on the lakeside has easy access to anywhere else, given the regularity of the many ferries.
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