Civilised relaxation – Lake Como
Oh boy – I love the Italian lakes. They are just wonderful. I have an apartment twenty minutes away from the west side of Lake Como and come here a lot. Mennagio is a beautiful flower filled town in a stunning location. Across the lake from it by boat is the gem Bellagio. The latter is now almost entirely given over to neat tourism and is virtually closed down by mid to late October. It is very beautiful and well worth visiting, particularly in the shoulder months of April, May, June, September and early October. Mennagio is a working town and is open all year round. I particularly like the quiet, melancholy mood in November there.
Where to Stay
In Bellagio, there are a number of lake front hotels which are of a similar standard.
All are standard three star and not very exciting but more than adequate and face the lake. The Metropole has some rooms which have large terraces very close to the lake, so this hotel would have the (marginal) edge for me.
Menaggio and beyond
- The Grand Hotel Menaggio and the Grand Hotel Victoria are good choices right by the lake.
- The immaculate family run Hotel du Lac in Mennagio is in a lovely location and their Caffé Centrale is a favourite of mine (see above)
- If you prefer to be pampered in 5 star style although your appreciation of Lake Como is certainly not dependent on this, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and the world famous Hotel Villa d’Este are two of the most famous on Lake Como.
Where to eat
In Bellagio, lunch on the terrace at the Hotel Metropole is very pleasant and not at all expensive given the location and the reasonable standard of the food.
The family run Ristorante Bilacus (Salita Serbelloni, 32 – tel +39 031 950 480) has a gorgeous terrace that is covered with trailing flowers and is very popular. For tremendous pizzas in Bellagio, go to the tucked away Babayaga (via Eugenio Vitali, 8, phone +39 031 951 915) and ask for a table on their terrace. To get here, walk along the lakefront, pass the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on your left and follow the road up to the left.
In Menaggio, the main hotels will have restaurants there, but I have gone to the Pizzeria Lugano (Via Como, 26) which is a very unpretentious and friendly family run restaurant.
What to do
Bellagio is a small compact town along the lake with several streets leading from the lakefront uphill. The main lakefront and these sidestreets have many shops selling jewellery, men’s and women’s clothes and shoes, arts and crafts, wine and my favourite which is a beautifully elegant shop selling linen and babies clothing called Ciappesoni – it is right next to the Hotel Excelsior Splendide. I buy lovely little linen cocktail napkins here and feel completely vindicated in doing so now that Mad Men is so popular. There are naturally many cafés, but my favourite is the Bar Rossi (next to Hotel du Lac) which still has its original cabinetry. Bar Rossi makes a lovely caffè latte – not in a tall glass, but in a cup with the milk heated, not foamed brought separately in a ceramic jug. It’s lovely to while away some time watching the boats stopping off at the picture postcard jetty.
Menaggio has been popular with the British for two centuries. It is ideal for taking the air in the well maintained foodpaths by the side of the lake which are bordered by palm and blooming borders of flowers. Caffé Centrale is one of my very favourites, especially in the clear late autumn months when you can sit in the immaculately clean café and look across the lake to Bellagio.
I love the interior shop Deccio which has now opened a second shop across the main street. The linen is wonderful and I buy far too much, so thrilled am I with the crisp, pastel deliciousness of it all. Then to step out, catch the breathtaking view and have a coffee at Centrale what is not to love?
From Bellagio, you can visit the beautiful gardens at the Villa Melzi which are on the edge of the town so you can walk there without difficulty. Lake Como is renowned for the many villas dotting its shore. The most famous is the Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo which is about a ten minute’s drive from Menaggio in the direction of Como and is beyond belief. This is a truly magnificent villa with beautiful gardens and has a sensational view across to Bellagio. Italy can do this like no other country. It combines such mega doses of exquisteness – here for example, amazing villa, stunning gardens, lovely town and sensational view – that it could overwhelm normal people who could become quite teary frankly. The Italians however, shrug it off, absorb all the beauty without flinching, cook an amazing lunch and play some opera!
Beyond Lake Como is the Valtellina region, a whole other kingdom of wines, cheeses, pizzoccheri and wonderful scenery – fully deserving of a post of its own, which it will have. Soon.