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Lake Como 

By Richard Carroll; photography by Halina Kubalski
Lake Como is Italy’s third largest lake and the deepest.

A cluster of five mountains like ancient trusting friends encompass Lake Como with tales to tell. They tower to the horizon in a domineering maze of peaks, deep irregular valleys, and crusted sheer-sided facings. Deeply sculptured from wind and rain, and often cloud-covered, they stand like faithful world-worn sentinels. Tagged the Pre-Alps, the mountains cast long shadows across the lake’s glacier-formed deep blue water creating a textured moment of sun and shade. Residents and visitors alike recognize that in only a few places on the planet are water and mountains in such remarkable intimacy and the recognition inspires soft expressions of awe and delight.

The lake changes color throughout the day with long shadows and reflecting light.

The mountains of Lake Como, like so much of Italy, refer to the past, where the Romans once roamed, dusty cathedrals with rusty bells abound, and villages and towns such as Como, Bellagio, and other hamlets are entrenched on the shores of the lake or carved into the mountains with steep staircases. Tunnels were dug through granite and sandstone leading to narrow two-lane roadways originally designed for horse and carriage, all magically sculpted into the base of the mountains with a master chisel. The mountains have been compassionate and patient, but for those searching for a parking space is when a lucky moment can happen.

Throughout the years luxury villas have been built on the shores of the lake. Villa Balbianello, a grand estate open to the public, is on a small promontory on the lake’s western shore.

Lake Como, the third largest lake in Italy and the deepest, a short 40-minute train ride from Milan, resembles a scrawny, long-legged inverted “Y”. Master artists with easels in hand are challenged, writers and poets search for their voice, starry-eyed long- awaited proposals ring true, and where many experience a rejuvenation of spirit in the ever-changing and wistful essence of this extraordinary setting. The magic of Lake Como has exerted its pull for hundreds of years; aristocrats, royalty, and people with wealth were captivated and built fascinating palaces, mansions, and villas overlooking the lake with terraced gardens, sculptures, and fountains, some with enough rooms to house a small army, while others are only accessible by boat.

Somehow the homes, estates and hotels, were wedged in at the base of the mountains at waters edge.

Carefully maintained Taxi Boat Varenna motorboats operated by skippers with immense skills slice through the water leaving a trail of foam cleverly avoiding the reliable ferry and gleaming white sailboats with sails billowing, while taking passengers on a lake tour or to their hotel. Nevertheless, the mountains dominate: as resident and travel consultant Celia Abernethy said, “At any given time there are more hikers in Lake Como than sailors because the mountains offer some of the best hiking in Italy, laced with trails for all levels of fitness and with views forever.“

Cruising the lake via a motorboat or tour boat, villages and small towns appear at lake’s edge like a colorful mosaic.

Lecco Living

The Lake Como setting is among the most striking in Europe. The mountains and lake a splendid duo.

On this day in October, the sun glistens on the ruffled water and large groups of tourists have found their way to Bellagio, dining at sidewalk cafes, waiting for a lake tour, and crowding the Bellagio shopping passageway. Energetic servers bustle about to meet their client’s needs, and numerous languages collide in the lake air. To enhance and retain the magic of Lake Como and gently slip away from the tourist trail, the town of Lecco, a 30-minute drive from Bellagio on the eastern branch of the lake, where Lake Como narrows to form the Adda River, is an unspoiled and authentic homebase unfamiliar to most Lake Como visitors.

Mamma Ciccia Cooking Academy in the village of Mandello del Lario, is headed by Silvia Nessi who teaches fun-filled four-hour Italian cooking classes in English to Lake Como visitors.

A great strolling town with pedestrian walkways and a riverside promenade, Lecco is the perfect place to meet Lake Como residents and browse family-owned boutiques not found in Milan, to take pleasure in two large town squares lined with sidewalk cafes, and to see the remains of a Roman wall that once encircled the city and a striking stone bridge spanning the river dating to 1386. Hiking and cycling paths that could take weeks to fully explore can be arranged with or without a guide, and provide a chance to visit farms producing honey, cheese and produce, and with luck catch a quick glimpse of the elusive Lake Como fox. A few days in Lecco is Lake Como validated.

Lake Como Cooking

Remaining off the beaten path, Mandello del Lario, an alluring port village tucked away between Lecco and Varena on the eastern leg of the lake, is home to Mamma Ciccia Cooking Academy. Mamma Ciccia, ala Silvia Nessi, a tall, attractive blonde, has been offering the popular four-hour classes in English for ten years at her restaurant, and often features Michelin-starred guest chefs. For children ages four to ten, a session called “Cooking is a game” pulls them into the fun and art of cooking. Smiling, she said, “For visitors to really understand Lake Como and Italy’s culture one has to fully explore the cuisine.”

The intimate family-owned Hotel II Perlo Panorama, 1922, offers diners from their terrace, award-winning cuisine via chef Redolfi Alessandro, and noted among the best dining views in Lake Como.

In the hills above Bellagio, the 17-room, family-owned, Hotel II Perlo Panorama, circa 1922, offers one of Lake Como’s most spectacular dining vistas from a terrace that seems to be floating in the clouds. The meal itself is a romantic, five-minute-kiss lunch or dinner with award-winning Executive Chef Redolfi Alessandro who sources organic produce from local farms and perch and whitefish from the lake. For hundreds of international travelers to Lake Como the hotel is a priority and enhances the magic of Lake Como.

The city of Lecco’s Azzone Viscount stone bridge dating to 1386. Lecco is where visitors can meet residents and enjoy an authentic Lake Como experience.

When You Go

Contact Travel Consultant, Celia Abernethy for Lake Como and Milano itineraries and travel guidance at editor@milanostyle.com; Mamma Ciccia’s Cooking Academy, info@mammaciccia.it; www.mammaciccia.it; full day lake tour, Taste & Travel, guide, Elena Pettinicchio; www.tasteandtravelitaly.com; water Taxi & Boat, info@taxiboatvarenna.com; Hotel II Perlo Panorama, info@ilperlo.com.

Many steep stairways like these in Bellagio are the essence of Lake Como as homes and towns were constructed at the base of the mountains.
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  1. kristy petermann

    December 22, 2022 at 7:26 am

    Now I want to get to Italy ASAP, Uncle Dick!


  2. Megan Barrick

    January 4, 2023 at 6:37 pm

    Wow! Absolutely beautiful (the writing and the pictures)! I shared this with Cooper and it’s now on our list of places to travel.


  3. Adam Kubalski

    January 4, 2023 at 6:37 pm

    Great job! I love the photos and article. You both sold us on it, and now it’s been added to our bucket list for travel.


  4. Bill Jones

    January 4, 2023 at 6:37 pm

    We visited Lake Como when pregnant with our first child, 25 years ago. Amazing place. Scrolling thru Halina’s pictures just now gave me reassurance that it has not lost its charm!


  5. Lanny Aplanalp

    January 4, 2023 at 6:38 pm

    Dear Richard and Halina, this is, in my opinion, your finest travel writing so far. Wonderful, and the best on the internet.


  6. Cole Hutter

    January 4, 2023 at 6:38 pm

    That was a great read!


  7. Tommy Mcc

    January 4, 2023 at 6:38 pm

    Once again you and Halina have nailed it. You two have captured the essence, beauty and tradition of this grand destination that is Lake Como. Love it!


  8. Milano Style Editor

    January 4, 2023 at 6:39 pm

    Lecco is Highlighted in U.S. Publication Traveling Boy

    [California, USA, 17/12/2022] Award-winning travel writer Richard Carroll recently featured the Italian destination of Lecco, Lake Como, in the latest article of his series about destinations on “the road less traveled.” The piece was published on Travelingboy.com, one of America’s most popular online travel publications, with a yearly web readership of 6 million. The article features stunning photography by Halina Kubalski and mentions local businesses such as Celia Abernethy of MilanoStyle for itinerary design, Elena Pettinicchio of Taste & Travel for guided tours, Mamma Ciccia’s Cooking Academy and Taxi Boat Varenna for unique experiences, and Hotel Il Perlo Panorama in Bellagio for its cuisine and spectacular views.

    The article beautifully describes the setting and scenery of Lake Como and highlights the contrast between the bustling tourist town of Bellagio and the requiescence of Lecco.
    In the article, Carroll recommends that readers explore Lecco, “To enhance and retain the magic of Lake Como and gently slip away from the tourist trail, the town of Lecco, a 30-minute drive from Bellagio on the eastern branch of the lake, where Lake Como narrows to form the Adda River, is an unspoiled and authentic homebase unfamiliar to most Lake Como visitors.”

    Richard Carroll has won eight prestigious writing awards, co-authored four travel books, written for television, and published short stories. He said, “It was a true pleasure discovering this beautiful part of Italy. It will remain a treasured memory.”

    The visit was coordinated by Celia Abernethy of MilanoStyle a travel consultant specializing in custom itineraries for Milan and Lake Como. She says, “Lecco is a hidden gem, and I’m thrilled that Richard Carroll has brought it to light in his beautiful article. I often recommend Lecco to clients looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination that is still relatively unknown. It’s the perfect mix of scenic beauty, small-town charm, and big-city accessibility.”
    The article can be found on https://travelingboy.com/travel/lake-como/ .


    • SC Hutter

      January 8, 2023 at 2:56 pm

      Oh, sign me up! This is a dream trip. Delightful writing and photography. The story goes into such depth and detail. It’s the perfect itinerary for a trip to Italy and every detail has been provided. All I have to do is book the flight and make my reservations. Great story!


  9. Schrobo

    February 5, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    What a great and inspiring article! Makes me want to travel. Love the writing and the photos, congratulations to you both.


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