Lake Como is Italy’s third largest lake and is made up of about 24 towns and villages. In 1818 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to Thomas Love Peacock: “This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty, with the exception of the arbutus islands of Killarney. It is long and narrow, and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and the forests”. We certainly found it to be beautiful after visiting these three must visit towns on Lake Como:
A short ferry ride across the lake from Bellagio brought us to the steep hillside village of Varenna. Some consider Varenna to be the most heavenly of all the towns on Lake Como. Only a population of 882, the residents have an odd tradition keep water bottles just of outside their houses to keep stray cats from peeing on their door!
After enjoying a lunch of the lake fish and seafood, a climb up the hillside overlooking Varenna to the Castello di Vezio is well worth the effort. As we approached the castle, a panorama of the lake opened up. From here,we could see the peninsula where Bellagio is situated and divides the lake into two parts: on the left is the Lecco side and to the right is the Como side.
There are ghosts in the castle grounds which are made from white chalk. Willing tourists who offer to pose in the spring and summer will be covered with gauze and the white chalk to make the ghost sculptures. The sculptures remain in the castle grounds until the snow comes and destroys them.
We climbed the castle turret for more stunning views of the lake. The turret also has a permanent collection of Lairosauro, a water reptile with a long neck and head. Most of the species of the Lairosauro have been found in the area of the lake, but recently some have also been found in China.
The Castello di Vezio also has a falconry in which it trains and cares for birds of prey. The birds (two hawks, a buzzard, and a barn owl) are outside in the olive grove during the day until showtime so that visitors can observe the different birds of prey close up. The great horned owl is called Artu and he is one of the few left in the world.
Bellagio is called the “pearl of Lake Como” and is strategically situated at the intersection of the three branches of the Y-shaped lake. It was already famous in Roman times, long before Americans began visiting, wanting to see the village the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is infamously named after. Even Pliny the Younger spent a short period in Bellagio and left us some of his works where he described his studies about the place, hunting and fishing.
The lakeside promenade offers stunning views of the Alps across the lake. The Basilica di San Giacomo can be reached by a short walk up the cobbled steps of Bellagio. The church was built between 1075 and 1125 and is famous for its Romanesque exterior and gold-accented interior. When your legs tire of all the up and down hills, there are ample benches to enjoy gelato while taking in the views of the lake.
Lecco is famous as the centerpiece of Alessandro Manzoni’s masterpiece “The Bethrothed,” which weaves its story into the landscape of the local mountains and lakeside. The steeple of Basilica di San Nicolo dates back to 1864 over the base of an ancient tower under which underground passages were used as shelter during WWII aerial attacks. A WWI and WWII monument to the fallen stands in one of the main piazzas.
Lake Como truly is one of those places you must visit, which is why several celebrities have homes here. It has made appearances in movies such as Ocean’s Twelve, Casino Royale, and Star Wars, and was even the backdrop for Gwen Stefani’s music video “Cool.”
Which Lake Como town is your favorite?