This is the final chapter of a three-part series. If you have not had a chance to read Part I & II yet, please feel free to use the links below to read them.
There are numerous ways to get around the lake to explore other villages that may not be within walking distance. One of the best ways I found, was by ferry. Have a rental car? No problem! Some of the boats are car farries, which means you can drive right onto the boat, then drive off at your destination. The ferry boat company, Navigazione Laghi, has been the government-appointed ferry service for sixty years within the territories of lakes Maggiore, Garda, and Como. So they know what they are doing. They run a tight ship, no pun intended, so be sure to arrive early to give yourself enough time to purchase your tickets. Timetables can be viewed online at the Navigazione Laghi website.
Tip: Passenger transport with vehicles is allowed only between the following ports: Cadenabbia Verenna, Menaggio, and Bellagio. Passenger transport with vehicle tickets may only be purchased at the departure port.
Bellagio - "The Pearl of Lake Como"
My first ferry trip was from Cadenabbia to Bellagio. Cadenabbia is part of the comune of Griante, between the town of Menaggio and comune of Tremezzo. The ferry from Cadenabbia to Bellagio takes about 10 minutes and will cost you approximately € 4.60 for an adult one-way ticket and € 2.30 for children 12 and under.
Filled primarily with shops and restaurants, Bellagio is probably the most expensive area on the lake. Famous for its position on a promontory in the middle of Lake Como, Bellagio is often referred to as "the Pearl of Lake Como". It even inspired hotel mogul, Steve Wynn to throw away 10 months of design work for a French Riviera-themed hotel to develop Bellagio Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, NV. The view of the village as you arrive by ferry is undoubtedly beautiful with colorful buildings situated along the waterfront and in the hills. Once I disembarked from the ferry boat, I was shocked to see just how busy the streets were—jam-packed to be precise. Granted, it was the high season and mid-day when I visited.
I made my way along the waterfront promenade (Lungo Lario Manzoni) lined with restaurant patios, shaded by trees and vine-covered pergolas. To explore the town center, Piazza della Chiesa, you will need to take one of the many uphill cobbled streets and alleys to the main street of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. Here, you will find the Basilica of San Giacomo. The original structure of the church is said to have been built in the early 12th century. On the inside, you will find numerous works of art and furniture from different periods of history. The church still holds regular Mass from 8 am-11:30 am every Sunday.
I wandered through the streets when I was caught by the beautiful glass balloon display in the window of I Vetri di Bellagio. Unfortunately, it was 2:30 pm, I had arrived during Riposo. Similar to the Spanish Siesta, Italians close their shops at midday to go home, cook, eat with family, and rest a little. They typically return between 3 pm and 3:30 pm. Peering in the window, I decided it was worth the 30-minute wait. Boy, was I right! My breath was taken away by the wall-to-ceiling glitter of traditional blown glass ornaments, jewelry, decor, glass animal figures, and art that I found inside. If you are looking for something unique and truly Italian to take home, this is the place to find it. You can find this beautiful shop at Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 60, 22021 Bellagio CO, Italy
Because of the time that I got to Bellagio (I did this excursion the same day as I did the San Martino Hike from Part II), it was very hot and humid. I had already hiked that day and therefore, did not walk via Lungo Lario Manzoni to the world-famous Villa Serbelloni or Villa Melzi. Next time I am in Lake Como, I will make a point to get up and out to Bellagio early, not only to avoid the crowds and heat but to have time to see these amazing Villas.
Besides Tremezzo, Menaggio was the village I visited multiple times while in Lake Como. It was the quietest Village of all that I visited, even though it is the most centrally located on the Lake. My first visit to Menaggio was on the only rainy day. It was perfect! From the Hotel Rusal, you can easily get to Menaggio by car. But when you do not have one, the ferry is an excellent choice. Menaggio has so much to offer. Walk along the Lake Promenade of Viale Benedetto Castelli where you can find speed boats and kayaks for rent. Lido di Menaggio, the only official beach of Menaggio. Explore the shops at Piazza Garibaldi or take a moment for prayer in the Church of Santa Marta or the Church of St. Stefano. Menaggio is also where the closest substantial supermarket, Conrad City, is located. I made a few trips to the Conrad, located at Via Guglielmo Marconi, 3, 22017 Menaggio CO, for packages of water.
Tip: Water is not free in Italy as it is in the USA. Due to the heat, it was important to stay hydrated and carry water. Make a trip to the supermarket and pick up a 6-pack of water (1.5 liter a bottle) for as little as 84 cents. Water is available in sparkling and natural.
The heart of the Menaggio has to be Piazza Garibaldi at the lakeside end of Via Calvi. This picturesque pedestrian-only square overlooking the lake is lined with shops, gelato stands, and restaurants. It is exactly how I pictured a traditional Italian Piazza. Founded in the 19th century, the flooring is made of different stone materials in geometric designs. Taking the Via Calvi away from the Piazza, you will find beautiful boutiques. One that cannot be missed is the Lavender del Lago. Filled with the most delightful smell, this purple-decorated boutique sells soups, lotions, pouches, and oils filled with fresh-cut lavender grown in Italy. In case you decide you want more Lavender, they even have a Lavender cart selling goodies on the lakefront promenade. For more information about their crops and history, visit the Lavender del Lago website.
At the top end of Via Calvi is the Church of St. Stefano. The Church has three naves and was frescoed in 1899 by Tagliaferri, an artist originally from Pagnona. But this is not the only church along Via Calvi. Nestled among the shops and colorful apartments along the street toward the Piazza, is the neo-Gothic Church of Santa Marta rebuilt in 1885. Back at the lakeside end, take the flower-lined promenade and enjoy the panoramic views of Lake Como. If you need to cool down, you will find a few spots along the way where stairs will take you down to the water where you can soak your feet and skip a rock for fun! Make your way along the Promenade and you will find Lido di Menaggio, as well as The Italian Rent. Here you can rent a stylish Vespa starting at €50.00 for a 4-hour rental or €80.00 for the day. Each rental includes 2 helmets, insurance, and unlimited miles. This is the perfect way to see the surrounding villages and countryside. Book your Vespa in advance at The Italian Rent website.
Varenna - Saving the best for last!
By far my favorite place on the Lake to visit was Varenna. Quite, romantic, and absolutely gorgeous. Queen Victoria even made a visit in 1839. Again, I reached Varenna by ferry, this time leaving from Menaggio. I arrived on an early boat, wanting to beat both the heat and crowds. From the ferry station, I walked Largo Enzo Venini, the waterfront passageway past Riva Grande, toward the Greenway dei Patriarchi which takes you around the edge of the village to the two majestic villas Varenna is known for. Villa Cipressi welcomes visitors to its lush private gardens while Villa Monastero is open for garden tours and villa tours. I opted to tour Villa Monastero, and boy was it magical!
Villa Monastero has so much history to devour. The Villa, whose name comes from its origins as the site of a female monastery, dates back to the 12th century. The monastery itself closed in 1567, but the site still lies beneath the current standing building. The Villa had a succession of owners and was even requisitioned by the Italian State as a war debt in 1918, before finally being purchased by the De Marchi family originally from Switzerland in 1925.
In 1939, the family donated the property back to the State to be used as a museum and conference center. The gardens, which extend for almost 2km along the lakefront, were opened to the public a year later in 1940. The conference center was built in 1953, and is still in use today. In the summer, the center hosts courses for the Italian School of Physics, which have been attended by over sixty Nobel Prize winners. In 2003, the house museum was opened to the public. The house consists of 14 fully furnished rooms, which have retained their original decorations and furniture.
In the Botanical Garden, there are over 900 specimens of plants and flowers. Among the different species are various types of Jasminum, a collection of English roses, as well as a special collection of ferns and multicolored peonies, which stand alongside oleanders and evergreens on the lakeside frontage. Tickets for the House + Garden combo tour are €5.20. You can take a virtual tour of the Villa on the official website.
Once I had finished my tour of the Villa Monastero, I made my way to the Piazza San Giorgio, Varenna's main square. Flanked by old hotels, restaurants, and three churches. The largest church, for which the Piazza is named, is Chiesa di San Giorgio, which was consecrated in 1313. The flooring of the church is made of black Varenna marble. To the right of the central door is the fresco representing Saint Christopher, protector of the ferrymen. The altarpiece dates back to 1533, the work of the Como painter Sigismondo De' Magistris. . The bell tower was completed in 1653 and can be seen from miles around. I had become pretty used to the sound of church bells during my stay in Italy, but the bell of Chiesa di San Giorgio had the purist sound.
I decided to find a spot to eat in the Piazza to enjoy the view of Chiesa di San Giorgio and the sound of its bells. Once I had finished, I made my way back toward the ferry station, slowly strolling the streets and taking in the last views of the lake. The next day, at 4am, I left Lake Como for Milan and started my journey back to the United States.
Honorable Mention - Villa del Balbianello
I did not visit the Villa del Balbianello on foot, however, I did have the opportunity to see its famous veranda by boat. The Villa del Balbianello is the world-famous property known best as the backdrop for movies such as Star Wars and James Bond. The view from the lake was grand, I can only imagine what the inside looks like.
Thank you for reading!
All photos by Hannah Cossa