Sometimes when traveling, the backup plans land up being infinitely more exciting than you could have expected. In October this year I’d planned to visit the Val Gadena in the heart of the Italian Dolomites with two friends. All had been arranged until at the last minute the trip fell through. Someone recommended I visit Lake Como instead – a destination I’d never heard of before. After spending a few minutes on Google images, I knew this was going to be a worthy substitution.
Lake Como sits at the foothills of the Dolomites, and since Roman times has been the playground and summer retreat of the rich and famous. The lake looks like an upside down ‘Y’, and with a generous length of 46kms, the multiple towns that hug the scoreline provide ample opportunity to explore. I have a particular penchant for the tropics, and one of my favorite activities is Island hopping. At Como I met my inland match and began to explore lake hopping, visiting three lakefront towns over the week.
A good starting point is the city Como itself – the biggest on the lake, and easily accessible from Milan by a short train trip. The town is surprisingly big, and an absolute delight to explore on foot. You need at least a few hours to walk along the streets and squares, and then the elegant waterfront. Of course make sure you try the ubiquitous gelato stores with the magnificent variety of flavours. The best views of the town are from the top of the funicular, which makes return journeys up the hill every 15 minutes. From the top you can either make yourself comfortable at one of the several mountain top cafes and enjoy a glass of wine or cappuccino, or if you’re feeling energetic, I recommend the 25 minute walk to the lighthouse – a steep climb, but with great views and the chance to stretch the legs a little.
The cathedral is gargantuan – it will take your breath away when first you turn the corner
and discover its towering presence. I enjoyed the sacredness of the voluminous interior space, and exploring the various side chapels. There are countless restaurants to choose from – along the waterfront, adjacent to the cathedral or around the several squares. For DYI meals there is a supermarket underneath the COIN department store, a short walk from the Cathedral.
For our one night’s stay in Como I chose the Hotel Metropole Suisse – a four star hotel located on the waterfront itself, therefore offering unparalleled vistas of the lake. The hotel exudes old world charm that has been dazzling visitors since 1892. Our room was furnished with period furniture which perfectly complimented this historical hotel, and ts surrounding ancient town. Its location and elegance make it the number one choice for Como.
Traveling around the Lake is done either via bus or water boat – we took the boat as it felt like combining transport and an excursion in itself! Our trip from Como to Gravedona was a 3 hour leisurely cruise along almost the length of the Lake. Extravagant villas and picturesque villages cover the shore, all dominated by the towering mountains above.
Disembarking at the jetty at Gravedona, we took the 10 minute walk to our accommodation – The Hotel Regina. The hotel is a friendly 3 star hotel on the water’s edge, with a rather
homely feel to it. I chose it as it is one of the few waterfront hotels with its own pool overlooking that lake. The hotel has a great lounge at the ground level that opens up onto a garden and the pool, all adjacent to the breakfast fall where superb breakfast buffets prepared us for each day. The Hotel Regina is brilliant for families, and managed by a wonderful couple.
The balconies have expansive views of the lake and Gravedona – with the Gallio Palace standing proudly over the rocks. Once a villa, the palace is now a cultural centre that hosts concerts and other cultural offerings. After spotting a poster for what seemed to be a choral concert that evening, I wandered in – only to meet one of the performers for the evening. I was gracious offered some snacks and wine, and had the opportunity to play the concert grand Steinway and Sons piano (the Porsche of the piano world). We returned that evening to hear three different choirs give flawless performances to the hall bursting with locals – and three South Africans. The little village boasts several inviting little restaurants, and the local parish is also worth visiting.
The last destination on our lake hopping adventure was the town Bellagio. The quaintest of the towns we’d visited, Bellagio is significantly at the midway point on the lake where it separates into two legs. It’s worth the 10 minute walk to Bellagio Point, where a small park and pier are the perfect spot to take some pictures of the lake’s confluence. Gorgeous cobbled lanes lead you around the little village, and back down to the little water’s edge where one simply has to sit and enjoy a glass of Prosecco, watching the coming and goings of the elegantly dressed town folks and tourists climbing off the boats.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni for the last night on the Lake. This is the only 5 star hotel in the village (in fact there are only 3 on the whole lake) and ranks in the top three hotels I have ever visited. Originally designed as a private holiday villa, it was later expanded, and has been welcoming discerning guests since the 1870’s. It’s grandiose exterior is perfectly complemented by spacious and extravagant interior. Having breakfast in a 19th century ballroom will always be etched firmly in my memory. Although it is a pricey option, when compared with some of the lesser rated hotels around it, it is definitely worth squeezing the wallet a little extra to experience this grand dame which lives up to it’s reputation as one of the most prestigious hotels in the world! Thinking he would know a good local restaurant to dine in, we invited the young man who carried our bags from the concierge desk to join us for dinner. Imagine our surprise to discover he was the owners son! Needless to say, we dined in style that night…
Although lake hopping may not boast tropical beaches, I simply cannot wait to visit Como again, and cruise from town to town.