With a language that encourages romance, cobbled streets that invite curiosity and landscapes only memories will do justice; Italy is the ultimate travel destination. It may be small, but this little boot-shaped country has a lot to offer. Spoilt for choice, chances are, your European holiday will see you trying to conquer as much land as possible within a limited time-frame. So, the question remains - without time on your side, which part of glorious Italy makes for the best short visit?
The sleepy town of Como in Northern Italy is the perfect weekender's escape. Set amongst the foothills of the Lombardy Alpine region, the lake plays host to a multitude of accommodation and dining offerings and with its imperial beauty, has even the most meticulous of travellers trading their itineraries for an Aperol spritz. If it's unwinding and relaxation you are truly after, this little pocket of Italy should be on your travel agenda.
Best time to visit
Summer brings with it energy to Lake Como. Villas that may otherwise be closed during off season, reopen to house some of the world's most prestigious, while the shopping and dining precincts come alive. For those who would prefer not to battle the crowds and rather immerse themselves in the serenity of what the lake has to offer, between September and November is the best time to visit. With weather averages of 21 degrees, the tourists become few and far between and prices decrease. Keep in mind though, during the week Como can seem a little deserted (stores shut up shop and some restaurants only open during the evening) however, come Friday, the streets are bustling again with neighbouring European visitors and locals alike.
Where to stay
The city of Como is the transit hub for reaching the little lakeside towns like Bellagio, Verena and Lezzeno. Though, if you're short on time, there's absolutely no reason not to base yourself in Como and take day trips to neighbouring villages via the ferry. If you're still after a room with a view, the Palace Hotel (above) is the perfect setting. With pristine landscaped gardens, only a five minute stroll from the heart of Como and the ferry terminal, you can choose to book a room overlooking the lake or of Como cathedral, both of which offer a stunning outlook.
For those visiting the lake for a weekend of pure indulgence, the trip to the Grand Hotel in Tremezzo (above, about an hour fast ferry ride from Como), is totally worth your while. In an idyllic waterfront setting, the Grand Hotel is nothing short of jaw- droppingly spectacular. With a wine cellar, day spa, a lake-view infinity pool and even a private 'guests only' beach, there's almost no reason to leave this resort- style setting. They do, however offer private 'water limo' hire, so you can cross the lake to Bellagio in style- naturally.
You'd be hard pressed to find somewhere offering less than inspiring Italian fare anywhere in Como, but as the saying goes, 'if it's busy, it must be good', right? In the heart of Como, Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini hosts Vintage Jazz Wine, a cosy restaurant always buzzing with a mixture of locals and tourists. The food is homely and affordable and the extensive wine and cocktail list is sure to please everyone. Hot tip: the classic bruschetta and Pomodoro pasta are an absolute must try - bueno!
Particularly in the off-season, breakfast can be a little harder to navigate in Como. Keep your eyes peeled for a bustling bakery (the locals know best), where you can pick yourself up fresh bread, pastries or even a slice of hot-out-of-the-oven margarita for less than €5. To really get a taste of Italian culture, stop by an espresso bar for a coffee and biscotti - no need for seats, these bars are made for lingering, so take your time.
Things to do
For a spectacular view over Como city and the lake, the Como-Brunate funicular is a must. For only €5 return, the ride takes seven minutes and the photo opportunities at the top are breath taking. If you're up for the walk, just a 2.5km stroll towards the lighthouse will provide you with multiple reasons to get the selfie stick out and the panoramic scenery makes the hike worthwhile!
Take a ferry or private water taxi to the Villa Del Balbianello (above) - famous for its cameo in James Bond film Casino Royale. With incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountain ranges, the villa makes for some impressive photos and it allows you to embrace a touch of Italian culture and history (whether you choose to do the tour or not). Once you're ready for something a little more lively, a short water taxi can take you straight across to Bellagio, where your sunset aperitif awaits.
- Como Lago train station is the central stop for visitors coming from Milan, or Malpensa Airport.
- You can book tickets in advance here, or do so at the station. If you're arriving at Linate airport, you will need to take a €5 bus to Milano Centrale where you can ride the green line to Saronno and change to the direct train to Como Lago. The trip in its entirety is approximately 2 hours.
- If you're after a spot of shopping Como central, Bellagio and Menaggio are all great for quality leather shoes in on-trend designs. For designer wear, Emporio Armani, MaxMara and Tessabit (Italy's very own one-stop designer wear shop, from Balmain to Dolce) can all be found in Como central, so be sure to top up your travel money card before you arrive!
- There are two types of ferries operating out of Como, the normal service and servizio rapido fast ferry. To get to Bellagio, the fast ferry takes one hour and the normal service takes two (one way!), so to make the most of your time, we suggest you purchase tickets to the fast ferry which is just as pleasurable a journey and only an additional €8 for a return trip.