Ah, Lake Como in northern Italy. It's been one of the country's most renowned summer playgrounds ever since the Romans headed to its shores to escape the heat. With magnificent aristocratic villas and medieval villages dotting the shoreline and views that will take your breath away, it's a must-see destination on a trip to Italy.
The charmingly beautiful town of Bellagio is situated 30kms north of Como, sitting on a peninsula which splits the lake in two. The tiny cobblestone streets, stunning mountain and lake vistas and majestic villas make it one of Lake Como’s most popular tourist destinations. We headed there for the day to find out why.
Do And See
To be honest, I didn't expect Bellagio to live up to the hype, but it does. It is utterly charming and truly beautiful. There are flowers in bloom around almost every corner and perfectly preserved little cobbled streets lead up the hill from the main piazza. It's a lot of fun poking around these ancient laneways. If you want to shop, you'll find little places selling everything from stunning silks to Italian leather shoes and handbags, authentic Italian ceramics and jewelry. There are also art galleries and studios and lots of restaurants and bars to discover.
After looking around in town, we took a romantic stroll through the botanical gardens at the neo-classical Villa Melzi. Situated right next to the old town, the villa was built in 1808 - 1810 as the summer home of the Duke Francesco Melzi d’Eril, the vice-president of the republic of Italy under Napoleon. The tranquil gardens stretch along the lake and include a private chapel, orangery, egyptian and roman statues, a Japanese garden with a pond and blooming rhododendron and azealea trees. The villa isn't open to the public, but this really is one of the most enchanted places on the lake and a must-see if you're in town.
Image on left courtesy of Villa Melzi Facebook
The old fishing village of Pescallo is a 10 minute walk from the piazza. Be sure to wear your walking shoes because you need to head up the hill and through the town to get there. Pescallo is quieter than the main areas of Bellagio and it’s here that you can enjoy water sports such as water skiing and kayaking.
If you have a few days in town then take the ferry across to Tremezzina to visit the magnificent 17th century Villa Carlotta, another of Lake Como’s grandest villas and most beautiful gardens. The villa now houses an art museum which includes sculptures by Antonio Canova and the botanical gardens contain 20 acres of blooming flowers, citrus trees, fountains, a rhododendron forrest and a bamboo garden.
Eat and Drink
In the late afternoon, the portico on Piazza Mazzini gets packed with people sipping their Aperol spritz and taking aperitivi as they watch the activity on the lake. It’s a lovely place to relax before heading off for a late dinner. There are many food options in town, including the Michelin star Mistral restaurant which specialises in molecular gastronomy and is part of the magnificent 5 star Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.
A 10 minute walk from the main square brings you to La Punta restaurant, which sits on its own at the end of the promontory and enjoys spectacular natural vistas. Even if you don't eat here, you need to check out the view. The restaurant was packed when we arrived and we found the menu a little touristy, so we headed back into town in search of a typical Bellagio dining experience.
We ended up at a bar tucked away in one of the tiny laneways, where we sampled the local dish Pizzoccheri, created in the Valtellina area up towards the swiss border and adopted by Bellagio locals.
Flat buckwheat pasta is layered with potatoes, bitter vegetables like swiss chard and Valtellina Casera cheese, then dressed with a garlic-scented butter sauce and finished with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. It's delicious and totally worth trying, even on a warm summer night!
There are lots of excellent hotel options around town, plus quite a few Airbnb offerings, with prices as you’d expect in a tourist town in summer. The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is one of the oldest and grandest hotels on Lake Como and the only 5 star offering in town. The three star Hotel Metropol enjoys the prime position in town, situated directly on the lake with a restaurant right on the water. The three-star Hotel Du Lac sits on the town square and has a roof terrace with stunning views over the lake. Up the hill and away from the crowds is the Hotel Belvedere, which overlooks the bay of Pescallo and offers a feeling of peace and space, with its own private garden, pool and a wellness centre.
Image: Hotel Du Lac rooftop courtesy Hotel Du Lac Facebook
We love a road trip, so we chose to take the 57 minute coastal drive from Como to Bellagio, a narrow street that winds through the tiny towns which cling to the side of the mountain and teeter towards the water. We’re used to the careless Italian attitude to road safety but the locals and bus drivers here take it to another level of stupidity, hooning around hairpin bends like they have a death wish. The views are spectacular but we were very nervous about getting out of the car to capture them on camera.
The less terrifying way to get to Bellagio is to take the train from Milan to Como and then hop on a ferry up the lake. You’ll pass little villages along the coastline and the views are sublime.
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