The towns and villages that nestle on the shores of Lake Como have been home to some of the most influential people in the world, and they still are today
Lake Como is situated in the north of Italy, in the region of Lombardy. The clear waters and the snow-covered alps that create the stunning backdrop to the lake make Como postcard beautiful and a destination that few other places in the world can beat.
The ancient villages that surround the lake, house dozens of palatial villas have seen the powerful, rich and famous flock here since Roman times. Today it is still home to many of the world’s elite – George Clooney famously got married to Amal Alammudin at his summer house Villa Oleandra. Sir Richard Branson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Donatella Versace and Madonna have all owned villas here and it’s the summer holiday destination of European royals, rock stars and sporting heroes.
The lake itself is shaped like an inverted Y and stretches 46 km from north to south. The village of Como itself is the largest of the lake towns and sits in the south-west corner at the bottom of the 'left leg'. Like many Italian towns, there are a number of churches found here including the Basilica of Sant’Abbondio and the Duomo of Como. This Roman Catholic cathedral (or Duomo) is one of the most important holy sites in the region and houses statues of both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger – previous resident of Como. Stop at one of the nearby cafes and soak in the splendour of 15th-century gem.
The town of Bellagio, which sits at the base of the inverted-Y, has become one of the most famous towns in Italy and retains an exclusive feel in this most celebrated corner of the country. Bellagio has become synonymous with luxury. Many visitors flock here for the shopping that is available at the many boutique stores but the town is steeped in history and the many villas and palaces tell the history of the lake through its architecture. From before the Roman-era, through the Renaissance and the Baroque periods until the modern age, it has been home to writers, royals and rulers that have shaped Europe’s history.
The 15th century Villa Serbelloni has variously been home to the wealthy Sfondrata family, German royalty, a luxury hotel and the Rockefeller Foundation. The nearby Villa Melzi d'Eril built for the once vice president of Italy, has impressive English style gardens and Venetian gondolas (imported especially) moored up beside it.
Across the lake from Bellagio is the sleepy fishing village of Varenna, the only town with a train station and a great base from which to explore the lake area. Quieter and more romantic than the bustling Bellagio the nearby Vezio Castle also offers fantastic views of the village and lake.
Incredible villas are dotted all around Lake Como and are best visited by boat. But whether it is by land, water or air, a trip to Lake Como isn’t complete without stopping in at the 18th century Villa Balbianello. Recognisable from its starring role in James Bond’s Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II, the stunning views and the vast grounds are reason enough to visit. But inside, guests can explore the villa, enjoy the art collection picked up from Guido Monzino, the eccentric previous owner’s, adventures, all whilst feeling incredibly regal.
Nearby Villa Carlotta, with its botanical gardens, orange trees and an oriental-style zen garden is another of Como’s more impressive Villas. Built in the 18th century by a Prussian King, it was given to his daughter ‘Carlotta’ in 1847 for her wedding. And to think you were happy with that fruit bowl…