Three epic Lake Como drives

With Mandarin Oriental, Milan offering guests the chance of a vintage Ferrari driving experience, here are three unforgettable – but very different – road-trip routes to try near Lake Como


BY RORY FH SMITH
Rory FH Smith is a motoring journalist who writes for titles including Wallpaper*, Gentleman's Journal and Condé Nast Traveller

 

FOR SIGHTSEEING: MILAN TO TREMEZZINA

This route, down the left-hand side of the western branch of the lake (via SS340), takes in some of Como's finest villas and villages. Heading northwest out of Milan, it takes less than an hour to reach the city of Como – the lake's main gateway and the perfect place to stop and walk around the mediaeval square, browse the boutique shops and delicatessens, before heading over to Piazza Cavour by the lakeside for a coffee.

With views all the way down the lake, ferries and even flying boats pass by regularly, providing transport for locals and tourists. Once back in the driving seat, hug the shoreline and take the SS340 – a wide, fast road that narrows progressively towards the head of the lake. It's a short blast to Lenno, a charming town in a sheltered bay, with restaurants and café bars overlooking the gardens of Villa del Balbianello. Aside from its role as a location in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, the villa was once home to Italian businessman and explorer Count Guido Monzino and can be visited as one of the region's best-preserved villas.

From Lenno, drive on and wind your way up the hill above Tremezzo, branching off the SS340. Halfway up, you'll arrive at Al Veluu – one of Como's best spots for lunch, serving the freshest, seasonal food with unparalleled views over the lake, Lenno and the surrounding area.

FOR REAL AND RUSTIC COMO: MILAN TO BELLAGIO

Keen drivers can use this route as a chance to get to grips with the real driving character of the Ferrari Dino. Heading northwest from Milan, you'll arrive in Como city. Here, take the SP583: a narrow, snaking road that travels north, perched halfway up the limestone and granite hills above the lake. With its twists and turns, it's a great place to sample the Dino's performance with the narrow lanes and blind corners testing even the most experienced driver's ability. The road snakes its way through quiet, rustic villages with breathtaking views over the lake, and authentic lakeside restaurants and lidos down below. 

Stop in Torno and enjoy the gentle pace while walking the narrow, cobbled streets before an espresso on the waterfront. Heading north again, follow signs for Bellagio. At the heart of the lake, Bellagio has been an important strategic city since the 7th century, becoming a prominent tourist spot in the 19th century. With its cobbled streets, local ferry port and bustling cafés, bars and restaurants – the town is the focal point for many visitors to Como. 

Lunch is best had at Barchetta, situated in the steep streets of the old town, with a cosy terrace, friendly service and great local specialities. Follow that with an ice cream from one of Bellagio's many gelaterias and take a chance to soak up the atmosphere and gentle pace.      

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: MILAN TO VARENNA

Head northeast out of Milan on the SS36 towards Lecco, at the tip of Lake Como's eastern branch – a path less populated by tourists and holidaymakers. As a gateway to the lake, Lecco rests at the foot of Mount Grigne, San Martino and the crest of Resegone, which tower above its bustling town centre.

Take the opportunity to break the journey after the blast from Milan and stop for a coffee by the lakeside in Lecco, taking in the views of Como's eastern branch stretching out before you. Once back on the road, continue on the SS36 for a little longer before joining the SP72, which twists its way through the lakeside towns, villages and fishing boat bays, with plenty of chances to stop and admire the view. 

From Lecco, Varenna is a 30-minute drive. Its charming, colourful architecture is crowned on all sides by lush vegetation and trees. Much of Varenna was destroyed during the mediaeval period, giving way to more modern but authentic Italian architecture. Stop and admire the view over lunch at La Vista restaurant on the terrace overlooking the lake and old town.

After lunch, it's worth taking a leisurely stroll around the gardens of Villa Monastero soaking up the history of the region with a trip to the ruins of Castello di Vezio or blasting up the tight, hairpin bends of Via per Esino.

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