Lake Como has been a popular destination for centuries because of its beauty and mild climate. Located in northern Italy, the area around Lake Como begins to take on the crisp air of the Alps, becoming slightly cooler and drier than the country’s southern peninsula. The entire area has hosted some of the world’s greatest writers, composers, performers, painters, actors, and diplomats while continuing to astound its visitors with breathtaking scenery and priceless monuments. In fact, a mere one-week stay is enough to take the visitor through several centuries of history.
The vibrant and bustling city of Como, found in the southernmost tip of the lake’s left arm, offers its visitors many museums, churches, fine cuisine and numerous recreational activities. On the list of every itinerary to this city should be its imposing cathedral, the Duomo, which started construction in 1396 and underwent many changes until it was finally completed in 1740. While the primary style of the building is Romanesque, such touches as the rose window and the other decorative accents show the influences of later styles as well.
Visitors interested in science should also pay a visit to the Tempio Voltiano in Como. This museum honors the work of Alessandro Volta, whose research helped further the development of the electric battery. Much of the actual equipment that Volta used in his experiments is still in the museum. After having traversed through the interactive exhibits, the gift shop can be a good place to stop and buy some unique souvenirs.
The Teatro Sociale is one of the most venerable locations in northern Italy. It is here that locals and tourists alike can get together to hear their favorite modern performers or simply enjoy a classical play. The seats are made of plush velvet and showcase the utmost care that has been taken to keep the theater in perfect condition. Also, the intimate size of the venue ensures that there are truly no bad seats in the house!
From Como, one can travel by ferry, bus or car to explore other popular towns such as Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna. These quaint villages are wonderful getaway locations where one can truly relax, whether it be through inspiring walks, tasting local dishes such as polenta or by taking part in thrilling water sport activities. The slow ferry can also make a stop at Isola Comacina, the lake’s only island. It hosts numerous archeological sites such as the famed Gothic spire at the Romanesque basilica of St. Mary Magdalene.
Some of the oldest buildings in this area of the lake include the 11th century castle Castello di Vezio, just up the mountain from Varenna. It only takes about half an hour to hike up the mountain using a cobblestone path but rewards its visitors with breathtaking views in all directions. Another very interesting destination is the 12th century church of Santa Maria del Tiglio, found even further north in the town of Gravedona, featuring well-preserved frescoes and an impressive, wooden crucifix.
A few more ideas for exploring Lake Como off the beaten track…
There are numerous hiking opportunities all around Lake Como offering spectacular, majestic views of the mountains that surround the lake. For those who prefer to take a cable car to reach some of these viewpoints, there is one cable car that leaves from Argegno leading up to Pigra, and another that leaves from Como, leading up to the small village of Brunate. Coming down, you can either return on the cable car or take a hike back down the hill, enjoying the views along the way.
The Museum Moto Guzzi, in Mandello del Lario, commemorates the manufacturing of one of the oldest brands of motorcycles in Italy. Make sure you stop by between 3:00 and 4:00 PM, as that is when you are allowed to tour the old factory. There is no guide, but as you walk by the old bikes, you can read the plaque by each one to learn more about them. There is a small gift shop, and it is a convenient walk from the town’s train station.
Most architecture aficionados visit Italy for its diverse array of World Heritage Sites. However, the Ex Caso del Fascio, designed by architect Guiseppe Terragni for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini may offer an interesting alternative. It still stands next to the city’s historical center and combines all of the major architectural movements that were at work in the 1930s, engaging its viewers with an interplay of many different architectural elements and geometric designs.
Not everyone comes to Italy to play golf, but the Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf Club in Menaggio is quite interesting as it follows the British “links” style of course design. Indeed, the “19th hole” takes one back to the way that golfers played in the 1920s and 1930s. The views of the surrounding area are truly spectacular while one engages in a game.
For further details and other interesting activities around the lake, browse our Como Guide site.