Your essential guide to Lake Como

Paula Hardy

By Paula Hardy

Paula has been working in Italy for 20 years writing more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet and contributing reviews, travel tips and features to The Telegraph, The Independent and Gulf Business magazine

Find your bearings

Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como is set in the 18th-century Villa Roccabruna in the charming village of Blevio on the southeastern shore of Lake Como. Ease yourself into lakeside living with a stroll around the majestic botanic gardens that surround the villa, before hopping onto a Riva boat for a cruise along the shore to admire the magnificent neighbouring villas. On subsequent days, venture further afield to historic Como for dining and shopping, to beautiful Bellagio for a touch of la dolce vita and the small island of Isola Comacina – where you can take a tour and even enjoy a drink in the Osteria.

Feed your mind

Lakeside living is a leisurely affair, but can be interspersed with excursions to nearby towns and villages. In Como, visit the spectacular Duomo, the last of the great Gothic cathedrals to be built in Lombardy, which is filled with three-centuries’ worth of frescoes and treasures. At Lenno, you’ll find Villa del Balbianello, a villa and garden so beautiful it has featured in numerous Hollywood films, most recently Casino Royale. Come sundown, book in for the opera or a classical concert at Como’s neoclassical Teatro Sociale, where mezzo soprano Giuditta Pasta, one-time owner of Villa Roccabruna, once performed.

Ceiling of Duomo di Como

Duomo di Como

The construction of the cathedral began in 1396 – ten years after that of the famous Milan Duomo. Photo: Getty Images

Teatro Sociale exterior

Teatro Sociale

Teatro Sociale was designed by architect Giuseppe Cusi. Photo: Getty Images

Villa del Balbianello

Villa del Balbianello

Villa del Balbianello is a popular location for weddings. Photo: Alamy

Shop like a local

The mediaeval core of Como is full of bijoux boutiques selling all the finer things in life, such as perfectly curated leisurewear, silk accessories, handmade jewellery and wine. Follow the chic crowd to Benzoni Gioielli for fine jewellery fashioned in a sleek Modernist style, and then on to 18 dal Pero for Como silk scarves and seductively soft handbags. Modish Milanese men caught out in a lakeside storm should head to A.Gi.Emme for lightweight jackets and cashmere cardigans in soft pastels. Excellent local Lombardy wines can be found at vintage deli Castiglioni and you can stock up on rare mountain honey at the covered market, Mercato Coperto. Also worth a wander is Via Vitani, one of the oldest and most atmospheric streets in Como, lined with antique and vintage galleries.

See some sights

Lake Como is surrounded by fabulous botanic gardens, grand Liberty-style villas and dramatic mountain hiking and cycling trails that will keep you occupied for days. Take the promenade along Como’s beautiful waterfront from the Tempio Voltiano past a string of Art Nouveau villas to the grand Villa Olmo. Alternatively, head north up the lake to Bellagio to wander the Italian gardens of Villa Melzi d’Eril. Across the water in Tremezzo, you’ll find Villa Carlotta, once home to a Prussian princess, the villa is set in one of Italy’s finest Romantic gardens and is still filled with a fine collection of Canova sculptures and paintings by Hayez.

Toast your arrival

There’s nowhere better to start your evening than CO.MO Bar & Bistrot at Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como, where original cocktails and all-time classics are served up with a parade of amuse-bouche out on a terrace overlooking the mountain-framed lake.

Make time to unwind

The floating swimming pool at Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

The floating swimming pool and five-star luxury spa are undoubtedly an outstanding feature at Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como. For maximum relaxation make the most of the spa’s extensive facilities – including a salt room, a Kneipp sensory path sauna and Turkish bath – before a signature treatment.

Dine in style 

While at the resort, enjoy creative seasonal dishes at L˜ARIA, on one of the loveliest terraces on the lake.

For a dash of even more glamour, book a table at Il Gatto Nero on the opposite side of the lake in Cernobbio. It’s one of George and Amal Clooney’s favourite haunts and features a fish-focused menu – and dishes are served up beside spectacular views. For those in search of a smart lunch in Como, try Davide Maci’s contemporary dining room The Market Place, which has a focus on seasonal ingredients.

An artfully-plated dish at The Market Place

The Market Place

The Market Place offers local produce with an international feel

Interior of Il Gatto Nero

Il Gatto Nero

Il Gatto Nero also houses a well-stocked wine cellar

Statues on the facade of the Duomo

Time travel

Lake Como has been a luxury vacation spot for millennia ¬– at least since Julius Caesar established a settlement here in 1st century B.C. Philosophers Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger (who wrote the famous first-hand account of the destruction of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79) were born here and are commemorated with two statues on the facade of the Duomo – a rare honour for two humanist philosophers.

And finally

Como is famous for its seaplanes and has one of the oldest Aero Clubs in the world, founded in 1930. Take off from the water for a thrilling tour over the lake, its villas and villages – there’s no better way to see it

Villa Balbianello

Villa Balbianello

Villa Balbianello. Photo: Getty Images

Villa Carlotta

Villa Carlotta

Villa Carlotta. Photo: Image Source

Villa Melzi d’Eril

Villa Melzi d’Eril

Villa Melzi d’Eril. Photo: Image Source

Villa Serbelloni

Villa Serbelloni

Villa Serbelloni. Photo: Alamy