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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · italy · Italy · Three destination for intelligent sun lovers

Lake Como

Author: Anothertravelguide.com2 COMMENTS

Lake Como

A holiday at Lake Como, whose natural beauty has been widely appreciated since the Roman times, is pleasing to the eyes and soothing to the soul. Nowadays, white-hulled boats drift unhurriedly along the lake's deep blue waters, with the majestic panorama of the Alps beckoning in the background. Historic villas surrounded by picturesque gardens dot the shores of the lake, many of them open to the public as museums.

Although Lake Como has been inhabited by illustrious personalities for as far back as anyone can remember, perhaps its most famous native son is Alessandro Volta. The legendary Italian scientist is best known for inventing what is now called the voltaic pile in 1799, which was the first true chemical battery to produce a continuous and stable electric current. Taking the significance of this discovery into account, a vital unit for measuring electrical current, the volt, was named after him in 1881. The neoclassical Volta Temple (Tempio Voltiano) houses a museum dedicated to the scientist and his accomplishments, complete with some of his original work instruments and other artefacts. It is one of the most visited buildings in the town of Como.

Of Italy's three largest and most famous lakes - Como, Garda and Maggiore - the first is doubtlessly the most beautiful and charming, the oldest (in terms of habitation) and the most Italian. Due to building restrictions, you won't find any Hilton or Sheraton chain hotels here - only authentic villas belonging to local families, with attendant boat piers built beneath the foundations of the buildings themselves.

At the end of the 19th century during the Belle Époque, Lake Como and its surroundings began to be frequented by wealthy tourists. Many of these rich patrons chose to spend their summer months there and had ornate villas built up along the shores of the lake. Some of these manor houses have been turned into luxury hotels, including the legendary Villa d'Este, which was erected in 1568 as the summer residence of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. Already converted into a hotel back in 1873, the villa is worth visiting even if you can't afford to spend a night there, as it is surrounded by a stunningly beautiful park.

Foto: Lake Como

The gorgeous parks and gardens in the area draw visitors seeking to unwind in pleasant surroundings, as well as artists in search of inspiration. Numerous movies have also been filmed there. The Villa del Balbianello on the lake's western shores, for example, was turned into a picture-perfect lakeside sanatorium where James Bond (Daniel Craig) recuperated from his wounds in Casino Royale, while in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, it doubled as a lakeside retreat. Located on the tip of a small wooded peninsula, the villa was built in the 18th century on the site of a former Franciscan monastery. Its last private owner, Guido Monzino, was an explorer who filled it with artifacts acquired on his expeditions, including Chinese and African works of art, as well as early 18th-century English and French furniture. The terraced garden is a true masterpiece, full of magnolias, azaleas and cypress trees.

Foto: Lake Como

The Villa Carlotta, for its part, was also built in the 18th century and stands out with its event-filled past. Located in the village of Tremezzo, it initially belonged to the influential Clerici dynasty of textile merchants. During the 19th century, one of the family's heirs, a passionate art collector, completed the construction of the villa. However, he ended up squandering the wealth that he had inherited. The villa was sold in 1843 to Princess Marianne of Nassau, wife of Prussian prince Albert. Marianne then gave it as a wedding present to her daughter Carlotta (who married the crown prince of Saxony) and hence the villa's name.

Among other things, the grounds' scenic eight-hectare garden is rich with numerous species of rhododendrons. A walk through the lush green space brings various surprises, particularly upon leaving the older section with its rock garden and entering an idyllic Japanese setting, complete with hundreds of species of bamboo. The Saxon crown prince was an ardent botanist who had various tropical, citrus and other plants transferred to the grounds. Today, more than 500 different species of flowers, trees, bushes and other flora are complemented by the sculptures of Antonio Canova.

Foto: Lake Como

Another interesting place is the Villa Monastero, constructed in an eclectic mix of Baroque, classical and Moorish styles and located in the small and beautiful medieval village of Varenna on the west side of the lake. A church and a Cistercian monastery for nuns, first mentioned in writing in 1208, once stood here. Although some of the historic architecture has been preserved, the only testimony to the previous existence of a church is a small gothic fresco inserted in a wall niche. A landscaped garden stretches out to the very edge of the lake and one of the best months to visit it is July, when hydrangeas, cannas, callas and lilies are in full bloom. You will also find cypresses, Lebanese cedars, an impressive citrus tree collection and various other exotic plants in a backdrop of countless sculptures, statues, small temples, vases and fountains.
Numerous ferries criss-cross the lake every day, making it easy to reside on one side of the lake and go out for dinner on the other. Although single fare tickets are available, one can also buy a comprehensive ticket that includes the admission price to a number of villas (www.navigazionelaghi.it). All you have to do is get off at the relevant stop to visit a villa and then continue your journey on another ferry.
No less charming are the small towns in the vicinity of the lake, including Lecco, Bellagio and Tremezzo. Mount Sighignola, also known as "Italy's balcony", offers a breathtaking view of the Alps and the Swiss city of Lugano far below. The roads are extremely narrow there, with barely enough room for two cars to squeeze past each other. As you can guess, traffic does not flow quickly and barely exceeds 40 km/h at its fastest.
Where to stay. Lake Como is famous for its luxury five-star hotels, and finding high-priced accommodations isn't difficult at all. However, if you are looking for a medium-priced hotel with excellent value for money, then La Darsena in the town of Tremezzo (Via Regina, 3, Tremezzo Como; www.hotel-lago-como-ladarsena.it) is a great place to go. The hotel's superb location on the edge of the lake is in itself worth a goldmine; here, you are so close to the water that it practically laps at your feet. The small premises boast just 13 rooms, a romantic terrace with a splendid view of the lake stretching out towards the horizon, and a boat pier only a few steps away from the building.

Relais Villa Vittoria (Via Regina 62, Laglio; www.relaisvillavittoria.it) in the town of Laglio formerly belonged to a prosperous Milanese family. Now it is a small and charming hotel with 13 rooms right at the age of Lake Como. Dinner is served on the terrace, with the lights of the towns on the opposite side of the lake shining in the distance. It is hard to imagine a more romantic location than this one!
Where to eat. La Punta's fantastic location at the tip of the peninsula in Bellagio is reason alone to visit it. The restaurant is surrounded on three sides by Lake Como, whose waters bathe the shoreline barely 30 metres from the dining tables. Its vantage point directly in the centre of the lake permits one to view all three branches of the Y-shaped body of water. The cuisine is also outstanding, with traditional pastas, fresh lake fish and homemade tiramisu that taste just great! (Via E.Vitali 19, Bellagio www.bellagio.co.nz)
Osteria Il Pozzo
can be found in the main square of the village of Menaggio. Nothing pretentious here; just a couple of tasty items to choose from in a menu that changes every day. A genuine family-run establishment that serves good food at a decent price. (Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi, Menaggio)
Locanda dell'Isola Comacina
. A legendary restaurant named after the island on which it is located. The menu hasn't been changed in over 30 years and there is no need to do so, especially if you are served trout that has been freshly caught in the lake and fried on an old wood-fired stove. You can also take delight in the fact that famous politicians and entertainment stars - including Barbara Streisand, Elton John, Joe Cocker and Madonna - have sat at these same plain-looking, waxcloth-covered tables. (22010 Ossuccio, Lago di Como,+39034455083, www.comacina.it)

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