Our decision to go to lake Como in Italy was rather accidental. At that time I lived in Sheffield, United Kingdom with my husband, studied for MA and we both had part-time jobs, so it allowed more time and less budget for the trips.
When you are a poor student, the way you plan your trips is the following: open the Ryanair webpage, check the cheapest destination, get the tickets, and then research, whether you can do something nice around the area. In our case the destination was Bergamo for around 30 British pounds return, and you can do amazing things there, believe me! After we bought the tickets, I started my research on things to do in Lake Como, and found out that even a month there would not be enough. This lake is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and has a lot to offer starting from spectacular views to tasty food and stunning architecture.
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Getting to Lake Como
You can fly to Bergamo or Milan in Italy, these two would be the closest points to the lake Como. You can also fly to Lugano in Switzerland, and cross the border from there. The lake is very close to the Swiss border.
There is one train from Milan to Como and another train from Bergamo to Lecco, continuing further along the lake stopping at Varenna and Colico.
Always a good option. It just wasn’t an option for us, because renting a car in Northern Italy is not cheap at all.
Travelling around Lake Como
We tried several ways. If you came by car or have rented one, then this chapter might not be that relevant for you. But if not, don’t be sad. There are great ways to get around without the car.
Firstly, if you are going to travel around Lake Como or even further, and you came for several days, it might be worth getting a weekly local Lombardy transport pass. It costs under 50 euro for the whole week, and you can get it at the train station. The pass includes busses and trains (and also boats on Lake Iseo, just fyi), so you can also use it to travel from Bergamo and Milan to the coast of the Lake.
When you have reached the Lake, a great option for travelling is of course the boat. The timetables change quite a lot, so I will not link them here, and anyway the time is relative when travelling in Italy (“oh, can we just stop for a gelato for 10 mins?”), but there are boats going from town to town across the lake. Do check the timetables on arrival, as they can be not that frequent, especially off-season.
And then another great option is of course hitch-hiking. This way you travel fast, meet the locals and save the money, so if you are into that, it might be a good place to start. Actually, hitch-hiking is forbidden in Italy, but you can easily meet some friendly locals, driving along the coast of lake between the small towns, and some of them will be happy to take you along. For us it was one of the most fun things to do in Lake Como, the one I will remember with a smile.
Things to do in Lake Como: Towns
Lecco, or Lecch in Lombard language, is a town of just under 50,000 inhabitants. It has four beautiful bridges over the river Adda, a historical old town and great mountain views.
For us it was the first place, where we learned about Lombard culture and language. Our host was a great local patriot and told us about his struggle for keeping the Lombard language alive. It is spoken rather widely, but mostly by elder population of the region. Marcel, our host, originally spoke Italian, but has learned Lombard from his grandmother and decided, that it is the language he should be speaking instead. He jokingly told us about his grandmother’s reaction to this change. Instead of being proud of her grandson, she actually thought it’s a shame he is speaking some village language instead of TV-Italian.
Como is the biggest town on the shore of Lake Como. With the overnight visitors counted in, it’s over 200,000 inhabitants. Among those people are some I know by name: George Clooney, Madonna and Gianni Versace. So, if those people liked Como, we decided to see it as well.
After visiting Como, we were slightly disappointed. Sure, it had very nice villas, lake views and Rationalist architecture. But we very much preferred the smaller coastal towns, where you just stroll through, enjoy seeing crystal clear water, sit down for a coffee, and only one car would pass you in the whole hour.
Apparently, George Clooney and us have different tastes.
Other Lake Como towns: Mandello, Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio
These are the cities I’m speaking about! Small cities with no great historical monuments to see, but providing a never-ending supply of amazing views: lake, mountains, narrow ancient passages, small churches, cozy cafes, shadows on colourful house walls, sleeping cats and absolute silence of siesta.
I am a bad guide for you here: the thing I enjoyed most during this trip was strolling through the towns, forgetting their names and not visiting the sights, but enjoying sweet oranges and coffee, sun on my face and wind in my hair.
Things to eat in Lake Como: The food
If you let me stereotype, the cuisine of Lombardy is more similar to the German than what you would normally imagine as Italian. It includes a lot of polenta, meat, lard, maize and butter.
We found out that an imaginary cuisine border divides Northern and Central-Southern Italy. In the South the essential ingredient is pasta, while in the North it is rice. Pasta is not typical for the traditional Lombard cuisine, but you should definitely taste the local risotto!
While staying in Lecco, I quickly glanced through one of many regional cookbooks in our host’s house, and was surprised to see several recipes of rabbit. Seeing me reading one of those rabbit recipes, Marcel dropped a comment:
“You know that when it says “rabbit” in Lombard cookbook, it actually means “cat”?”.
Since then I haven’t met anyone from Lombardy to discuss this fact. Any of the readers familiar with the region? Please tell me that it was a blatant lie!
The coffee is great, as anywhere in Italy. It was February, so still season for Panettone, the traditional Lombard cake, and oranges.
The biggest problem for us regarding the food was the timing. As usual in Italy, the mealtimes are very strict, and as usual for us, we were not synchronized with the rest of the country. During the season you will not suffer too much because of this, but off-season finding an open lunch spot or even a shop during the siesta can be very tricky.