Visit Lake Como in 2020/21 with SNO® Visit Lake Como in 2020/21 with SNO®
More compelling waters than Como’s cannot be found: silver speckled in the sunshine, then vibrantly dashed with the colourful villages and promenade blooms they mirror. While miles long and dreamily deep, the lake seems mere droplets to the pine-clad mountains all around it – a sight to behold that’s wowed artists through the ages.
Fresh alpine air, pampering hotels and epicurean delights lull you into the lap of luxurious dolce far niente at Lake Como, where everything’s unfussily fabulous. When - rather if - you stir, adventure awaits: wild and wonderful hikes, bike paths with views (and gradients) that make your knees weak… And more besides than you can shake an aperol spritz at.
This is Italy’s deepest lake (touching down at 410m) and size-wise, the country’s third largest after Garda and Maggiore (stretching a good 20 miles). It’s shaped like an upturned Y, with steep, pine-coated mountains all around.
Between the foothills and lakeside sit several villages and towns – colourful clusters of curious old buildings along webs of cobbled streets: Belle époque houses, Neoclassical villas, Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance palazzos and more...
Como and Lecco are the main towns, found on the lake’s two southernmost points. Jutting into the water between them’s Bellagio – a postcard-pretty peninsula positively brimming in class. Meanwhile, the sunny western shores bag the best of the sunshine, making Menaggio, Cadenabbia and Tremezzina (the new name for the merged villages of Tremezzo and Lecco) a real treat for tourists.
It’s Lombardy in Northern Italy that this lake calls home - a region of mountains, hills and plains that rub shoulders with Switzerland. Lombardy’s capital is Milan, and half an hour’s train ride from the Fashion Capital of the World lands you by Lake Como.
Lake Como’s a spectacle all year round, but there might be a time that particularly suits you depending on the kind of holiday you’re looking for.
In term of what you can see, when - the famous villa gardens are usually in full bloom across May and June (though we think they’re just as stunning through summer and autumn). Late spring and early summer also see the mountain meadows filled with wildflowers, and the promenades tend to be fabulously flowery too. Come September and October, autumn coats the surroundings in gorgeous golds and oranges – a true sight to behold especially just before sunset.
For sun worshippers, the warmest months are July and August when you can enjoy long days, lots of sunshine and average highs of 27°C. The months either side of these still tend to be sunny, but with a little less heat (highs around 22-25). If you want to swim in the lake, the water is usually warmest in August, followed by July, June and September.
If you’re coming for an active holiday of cycling or hiking, May, September and October often have the perfect balance of being not to hot and not too cold. October’s when the iconic Giro di Lombardia takes place if you want to experience the buzz of one of the world’s greatest bike races. Fishing season is the end of July to the beginning of September. Kitesurfing and windsurfing season is April to September.
Up and down mountainsides, over to other Italian lakes and between ancient churches, castles and monasteries… High altitude paths, former mule tracks, old railways and modern lifts open up all kinds of hiking opportunity whether you’re looking for full day hikes, multi day trips or just a brisk hour or two of exploring.
Not every lake dedicates a shrine to cycling, but if you cycled Lake Como you’d want to worship the sport too. Giro di Lombardia territory, legendary routes here include the Madonna di Ghisallo (to the aforementioned shrine), Muro di Sormano with its teeth-gritting gradients and the ever scenic circuit of the lake.
Take to the tracks of the Italian Alps following old smugglers routes, shepherd’s paths, rugged woodland and more. It might be better known for road cycling, but the MTB offerings around Lake Como are excellent including some seriously steep singletrack, trails to Switzerland and stop offs so scenic they’ll blow your helmet off.
Minutes or miles, the things you can discover on foot around Lake Como are incredible. Wander through woodlands, olive groves and wildflower meadows, amble along primped promenades and explore historic villas and villages. Our favourite route for ramblers is the ancient Greenway along the western shore.
Shopaholics should head to the city of Como where you’ll find everything from vintage boutiques to foodie deli’s. Silk is the local speciality – check out A Picci, Como’s oldest silk shop selling ties and scarves. Elsewhere around the lake, there are the ancient alleys of Bellagio and Menaggio where you can stumble across local treasures.
Steady winds up on the northern half of the lake make for some truly wonderful windsurfing and kiting – the Tivano wind in the morning then the Breva later on. Domaso’s a super place to start while Dervio and Colico and the very tip of Lake Como are excellent spots too. Centres like Windsurf Valmadrera offer lessons and hire.
Paddle along the Pescallo cliffs, under historic bridges and aside pretty promenades on either kayak or paddleboard. Both are available to hire through companies like Bellagio Water Sports, with some places offering guided tours. One of our favourite things about exploring Lake Como from the water is the views you get of the villas, castles and villages.
You haven’t experienced Lake Como properly until you’ve hired a boat and zipped across the water. Though a licence is a key to some of the bigger bareboat rentals, small motorboats are available to drivers without a licence and you can also hire a boat with a crew who’ll take care of the navigating.
The nearest airports to Lake Como are Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate and Bergamo. Flights from the UK take around 2 hours. Most of our packages include transfers, but if you’d rather drive, each airport has car hire facilities.
The other option is train travel: Malpensa has its own train station while Linate and Bergamo have buses connecting to Milan’s rail stations.
When you reach the lake, there are ferry services connecting Bellagio, Cadenabbia, Varenna and Menaggio. The ASF Autolinee buses run between Como and Argegno, Menaggio, Bellagio, Lecco and others as well as between Menaggio and Lugano. Linee Lecco runs between Bellagio and villages on the east coast including Lecco.
Five seconds and you’ll see why the world’s greats have always been drawn here: the natural beauty inspires every kind of art and the refined but unfussy atmosphere lets even the most recognised visitors simply be.
It’s no secret that the Clooneys are homeowners, the Versaces were regulars and that many a celebrity wedding – John Legend and Chrissy Tiegen’s, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s… – have brought busloads of big names to the lake.
Rumours are rife, like the one that Richard Branson has a house here (which was news to him when he visited) as well as Madonna (your guess is as good as ours). But whether today’s A-Listers own properties or not, notable names are no new thing in this neck of the woods.
Hop back to the late 1400’s and you might spot Leonardo da Vinci, scrutinizing local waterfalls for his Virgin on the Rocks piece. Leap further back to Ancient Rome and you’ll find Pliny the Younger writing one of his legendary letters in one of his legendary villas. Many wordsmiths have wondered at the waters here – Wordsworth, the Shelleys and Twain included.
Composers have been captivated by Como too, Verdi composed La Traviata here, and Rossini Tancredi.
And the lake’s no stranger to political figures, including Napoleon, Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy and Mussolini who was actually assassinated here.
AND, Como! thou, a treasure whom the Earth
Keeps to herself. c.1790 (Como, The Lake)
This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty, with the exception of the Arbutus Islands in Killarney. It is long and narrow, and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and forests. … The union of culture and the untameable profusion and loveli-ness of nature is here so close that the line where they are divided can hardly be discovered. 1818 (Letter to Peacock)
A great feature of Como’s attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides. They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when everything seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper-bells comes stealing over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.
From my window here in Ballagio, I have a view of the other side of the lake now, which is as beautiful as a picture. 1869 (The Innocents Abroad)
At Lake Como, you live your life the way you're supposed to live your life if you're lucky. 2011 (Esquire)
… the loveliest of all lakes…
I ask myself, Is this a dream?
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?
Sweet vision! Do not fade away;
Linger until my heart shall take
Into itself the summer day,
And all the beauty of the lake. 1876 (Cadenabbia)
Greatest Larius – c. 29 BC (Georgics II)
When you write the story of two happy lovers, place them on the shores of Lake Como. I do not know of any land so conspicuously blessed by heaven … here, under a blue sky where the air is soft, the heart expands and our senses open to all the joys of life. 1837 (To Louis de Ronchaud)
For me the most special place is Lake Como, Italy. There’s just something so picturesque and so quiet about it. When you look out on the lake it looks like a painting. It’s completely silent. 2017 (Travel + Leisure)