The beauty here is mesmerizing. One person after another sits and stares across the water’s surface. No phones, no distractions. Just gazing at the forested cliffs and colorful towns on the other side. It’s nice; peaceful even. This view is the kind that pulls you in, forces you to stop, makes you breathe a little deeper, and offers a little break from the current state of the world.
We’ve made the 4 hour drive north from Lucca, passing through the Apennine Mountains and the Emilia Romagna region, before arriving at the incredible Lake Como in Lombardy. We’re here to find the perfect hotel for the final stop on next year’s Italian Origins small group trip. Our three days here are jam-packed with meetings and hotel tours, and we constantly have to remind each other that we’re here for work - A not-so-easy task with views like these.
Since we moved to Italy, we’ve found that nearly every time we profess our love for Lake Como, our local friends and neighbors respond with a passionate preference for Lake Garda or Lake Maggiore. They tell us that Como is too expensive, too touristy, too posh. It’s true that out of all the lakes, Como has a history of drawing the rich and famous. Italian aristocrats have vacationed here since Roman times, when Pliny the Younger built the Comedia and the Tragedia resorts. Now, historic villas, ornate palaces and lush gardens span the shores of the lake, along with humble residences of people like George Clooney.
Okay, so it’s fancy. But there’s also a palpable peacefulness here. Maybe it has something to do with the sheer quantity of water, spanning 56 square miles and an astonishing 1,300 feet deep. Or perhaps it’s the gentle breeze that rolls off of the shore and through your hair. It feels like a place to sleep in, to soak in the sun from the deck of a boat, and to drink a Spritz at 3:00 pm. Some towns may be ritzy (ahem, Bellagio), but real, regular, non-famous people live here too and there are authentic experiences around every corner. All of these reasons combined make it the perfect relaxing destination to wrap up our 10-day group trip.
Our first stop is Villa Mojana, a beautifully restored historic villa located a few miles outside of Bellagio. Perched on the hillside above the lake, it offers epic views, a gorgeous infinity pool and cozy common spaces that offer all the feelings of home. After a quick ferry trip to Cadenabbia where we tour a prospective villa, we grab a late dinner and fall asleep in the delightfully plush bed. Breakfast the following morning offers a perfectly frothed cappuccino, lake views, yogurt from the local latteria and eggs to order, leaving us feeling both full and completely spoiled. Villa Mojana makes us think that we could really get used to this Como lifestyle.
Alas, with work to do, we hop on the next ferry to Varenna, a gorgeous village on the lake’s eastern shore. We were here in August 2018 and it’s just as enchanting as we remember, but with 1/10 of the people. With an arbor-covered walkway, narrow cobbled streets, and far more reasonable restaurant prices, it feels both laid back and luxurious at the same time. We visit the Hotel Royal Victoria, followed by Hotel Villa Cipressi - both exquisite - before taking a break in the villa’s botanical gardens.
Next, we meet up with Luca, the captain of a small fleet of traditional Venetian wooden taxi boats. We hop on board and he gives us a short tour around Varenna, pointing out a couple of famous villas along the way (including where John Legend filmed the All of Me music video). We work very hard to play it cool, like zooming around Lake Como on a gorgeous cloud-free day in a wooden speedboat like George Clooney is a normal thing for us. We likely fail, but leave with a great connection and an experience that will absolutely be included in next year’s small group trip.
Back in Bellagio, we stop for our almost daily gelato (not exaggerating) before dinner, because sometimes we like dessert first. It’s September so the melon gelato we’ve enjoyed all summer has been replaced with fig. These seasonal changes are so completely normal to Italians, but never fail to impress us.
Before leaving Lake Como, we drive to the highest point of Bellagio and take in the view. We’re on the peninsula on the “inverted Y” and can see all the way to the Swiss Alps. Steep forested cliffs, a result of the subtropical microclimate created from the lake’s surface, tumble down to the lake, reminding us more of Kauai’s north shore than one of the northernmost points in Italy. The air is fresh, clean and full of oxygen. This spot is truly one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever stood. And that’s why Pliny, and aristocrats, and movie stars have always come here. Because it’s mesmerizing, stunning, enchanting. It will be the perfect place to finish our trip next year. We know, because we already can’t wait to go back.
Travel with us to Lake Como as we explore beautiful villages, historic villas and cruise the lake on a traditional wooden boat, George Clooney style.
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