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Lake Como is a beautiful lake area in northern Italy, less than an hour north of Milan. The beautiful mountainous landscapes surrounding the beautiful inverted Y-shaped lake are a slice of paradise. Some of the best-known towns are Como, Bellagio, Menaggio, Lenno, Tremezzo, and Varenna, but there are many more to explore around the lake. In this article, we used Varenna as our base and used the ferry in Bellagio, Lenno, and Tremezzo to discover the best things to do in Lake Como.
Stay in Varenna
Rick Steves and many other travel experts have noted that Varenna is an ideal base when visiting Lake Como. This small, picturesque town sits along a hilly cliff overlooking Lake Como, with views of both branches of the lake and the town of Bellagio. Another huge factor for its growing popularity is Varenna’s convenient central location. Local attractions include Castle Vechio, Villa Montero, Villa Caprissi, and old town Varenna.
With a railroad stop (Varenna Esino) and a ferry stop in town, tourists can easily bop over to Bellagio, Lenno, Menaggio, Tremezzo, Como, and other prime destinations on the lake fairly easily and quickly. By combining the many wonderful attractions of Varenna with the easy access to other popular stops, Varenna has become a not so secret secret.
We stayed in the lovely Varenna Guest House, just a five-minute walk from the train station. The ferry stop is another five minutes from this family-owned lodging. There is a convenience store and also plenty of bars and restaurants within easy walking distance, and taxi service is available if needed. Some apartments here have lovely lake views. Note that Varenna Guest House does not have air conditioning, which is common in this area. Since the weather in mid-May was rather mild, the evenings were cool and comfortable with our ceiling fan on. Book your room here>>
Wander in Bellagio
Bellagio is probably the most recognized name on Lake Como. Located where Lake Como and Lake Lecco meet, the ideal location, hilly vistas, beautiful lakefront, and fabulous restaurants and shops all make Bellagio a favorite of visitors worldwide. Just be aware that there are many other wonderful towns with their own character on Lake Como that deserve a traveler’s time and interest.
Gardens of Bellagio and Melzi Villa
The famed gardens in Bellagio feature acres of sloping green grasses and trees and a wide variety of flowers and plants. We were amazed at the bright reds and pinks of roses and begonias on the walk from central Bellagio towards the fabulous gardens of Melzi Villa.
We stopped and rested on one of the many benches, relaxing and taking in the beautiful views of the gardens and the lake. Many other people, including a man walking an enormous Mastiff, were also having a great time enjoying Mother Nature at her best in beautiful Bellagio.
Dine With Luigi at the Fabulous Salice Blu in Bellagio
With so many great restaurants in Bellagio, Salice Blu stands out because of Luigi, the young, enterprising owner, and head chef. This iconic Bellagio landmark was started by Luigi’s parents, and since a young age, Luigi has been creatively and actively involved.
On our first night in Lake Como, a ferry whisked us away from Varenna and delivered us to the dock in Bellagio in a mere 15 minutes. We took advantage of the fantastic views from the water in anticipation of our dinner at Salice Blu. Luigi himself picked us up near the Bellagio ferry stop and drove us the one mile up the scenic, winding road to his restaurant.
From the start, we could see Luigi was a special person with an enormous passion for food, wine, and making his customers feel special. The restaurant’s décor, the menu, the service, the staff, personalities, and the whole experience were all outstanding. We sat on the outside terrace with a lovely view of the mountains as a backdrop. This elegant but casual restaurant was one of our favorites during our time in Italy.
We ordered the Good Memories Tasting Menu. One of my favorite dishes was the Bellagio Black Truffle Pappardelle creamed with alpine cheese. Delicious! The presentation was flawless, with the thinly sliced truffles combined with the flavorful cheese sauce and pasta for a wonderful dish. We paired this pasta with a fabulous Costamolino, a crisp Vermentino from Sardinia.
We also enjoyed a delicious tomato soup and a flavorful egg dish served on a bed of spinach with baby tomatoes. In addition to our Black Truffle Pappardelle, our main included a Trio of Lake Como fish, consisting of salmon, steamed zander, and lake trout. To complete our fabulous meal, we had the Crisp Puff Pastry Millefeuille with mango sauce for dessert. The light, flaky crust combined with the flavorful custard, fresh fruit, and sauces was superb.
Eat at Osteria Quatro Pass in Varenna
On our second night in Lake Como, we were treated to another fabulous meal at Osteria Quatro Pass. Nestled in the old town of Varenna just a five-minute walk from Varenna Guest House, Quatro Pass is one of the highest-rated restaurants in Varenna.
Vaulted ceilings with exposed stone walls make for a refined setting suitable for romantic dinners, family, or group dining. Chef Giuseppe has put together a small but awesome menu, using the freshest local ingredients. An extensive wine list of 120 labels, focusing on some wonderful local wines, accompanies this excellent menu.
From the time we entered this charming restaurant to our final bite, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Quatro Pass. Our welcome by Chiara, our friendly and capable waiter Stefano, and the fantastic dishes prepared by Chef Giuseppe and his staff combined to make this a most memorable evening.
We started with a tasty bread puff with burrata and creamed lentils accompanied by a crisp Benjamin Leroux Chardonnay. This intimate setting has an elegant, comfortable, welcoming feel – the perfect spot for a romantic meal in Lake Como.
My wife loved her Ravioli della casa con robiola di capra di asparagi, riduzione al parmigiano e riccioli di asparagi fritti. Translation: Home-made ravioli with goat cheese, robiola, parmesan cheese reduction, and fried asparagus curls. I also enjoyed my very flavorful, tender Iberian pork cooked at low temperatures with seasonal vegetables. Both mains were artistically displayed and were as pretty as they were tasty.
For dessert, we had a delicious chocolate mousse with fresh berries. So fresh, so flavorful, so yummy. Having spent the previous few days in Venice, Varenna and Osteria Quatro Pass provided a more peaceful, serene view of Italy. Varenna is now one of our new favorite Italian destinations (along with many others!), and Quatro Pass is our go-to place to dine. We can’t wait to return.
Hike the Greenway Walk
To get some exercise and to take in some of the beautiful scenery on foot, we decided to hike part of the gorgeous Greenway Walk. On the west side of Lake Como, this scenic walk covers about 10 miles in total, starting in Colonno and ending around Griante. Because of time constraints, we covered about half of the walk, starting in Lenno and walking to Villa Carlotta, just south of Griante. It was a beautiful walk along the lake, through neighborhoods, rural areas, and old downtowns.
From Varenna, we arrived at the Lenno ferry stop around 10 am. Looking southwest we could see parts of Villa del Balbianello, sitting at the tip of a peninsula jutting out into Lake Como. We then made our way northeast along the lake towards Griante, enjoying the views of the lake, the mountains, pollarded plane trees, pine trees, and flowers. Around noon, we arrived at the wonderful wine bar Cantina Follie in Tremezzo.
Cantina Follie is a popular wine bar in Tremezzo owned by Deborah and Joost. Natives of The Netherlands, this enterprising couple has created the perfect wine bar and shop. Just uphill away from the main drag, the main shop of Cantina Follie is in a cellar in the center of the old town. This super friendly couple speak fluent English and were very accommodating in explaining the menu and answering our many questions.
With suggestions from Deborah and Joost, we each ordered a wine flight consisting of the following wines (only 14 Euro each):
- Emozione Brut Villa
- Lugana 2008 pas dose Zenato
- Curtefranca Ferghettini
- Le Calderine Angelinetta
- Le Prudenze Marsetti
We ordered a meat, cheese, and bread plate to go along with the wines. The four white and one red wines were a perfect pairing with the fresh food selections. The seven cheeses included Goat cheese, Caprino, Piattone, and Parmigiano. Flavorful meats were 24-month cured ham, dried beef, pancetta, spec, and salami. In addition, fresh-baked bread and three spreads – fig, honey, and onion – completed our tasty board. Such fantastic flavors!
Our two hours at Cantina Follie were full of fun, flavors, and friendly conversation. Sitting in the shade of the grape vines growing overhead, the cozy terrace and the friendly smiles of Deborah, Joost, and their son was the perfect setting for enjoying some of the great foods and wines of Lake Como. If you are lucky enough to visit the area, I would definitely put Cantina Follie on your must-do list of things to do in Lake Como. Tell Deborah and Joost that Scott and Julie said hi.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Villa Carlotta
After saying our goodbyes at Cantina Follie, we made our way down the steps and back to the path along the lake. Turning left towards the ferry stop, we passed several beautiful villas and hotels. Among them were the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and its sister property Villa Sola Cabiati, two gorgeous properties on the lake. We took a peek into the lobby and the grounds of these lovely properties and would love to stay some time in the future.
Just past the Grand Hotel Tremezzo sits the beautiful Villa Carlotta. Located at the top of a terraced garden, with sweeping views of Bellagio and Lake Como, Villa Carlotta is currently a museum and botanical garden open to the public. Inside, artwork includes works by Francesco Hayez, Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Giovanni Migliara.
The beautiful gardens encompass about 20 acres surrounding the villa. Within several sections of the gardens are colorful flowers including rhododendron, camellias, and azaleas. There is a bamboo garden as well as numerous palms, cedars, redwoods, intricately sculpted plane trees, and other exotic plants. After spending some time exploring Villa Carlotta, we went to the ferry stop, conveniently located directly in front of the villa.
Lake Como Ferries and Trains
There are several helpful websites to help visitors navigate the excellent ferry system in Lake Como. One is the Lake Como Travel site, which includes tips, maps, and ferry schedules. We also found the Rome2Rio app to be very helpful in planning for transportation in Lake Como and throughout our European trip. For train travel, the Omio app was also very useful.
So Many Fun Things to Do in Lake Como
Our three days in Lake Como passed by so quickly. We are very thankful we had the opportunity to experience one of the most beautiful areas of Italy. There is so much to see and do. Now that we have had a small taste, we will be sure to return for another helping.
Thanks to IC Bellagio, Salice Blu, Cantina Follie, and Osteria Quatro Pass for graciously hosting us. All opinions are my own.
Story and some photos by Scott Kendall written for EuropeUpClose.com.