Your Guide To A Sublime Lake Como Vacation, According To Insiders

Il Sereno Hotel, Lake Como

Renowned for sprawling scenery, charming towns and storied hotels, the Italian lakes never lose their magnetism. Below, insiders from the five most spectacular places to stay in Lake Como share their expert recommendations for a lakeside vacation like no other. By KATIE BERRINGTON

Fashion assistant Haajira Muzzamil
The Grand Hotel Tremezzo offers a majestic lakeside setting, a stunning pool with magnificent views (complete with multicolored parasols) and classic interiors

The secret spots

“The top of the hill at the back of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo is called Belvedere, which literally means ‘watching beauty’, [and delivers] incredible views,” shares Valentina de Santis, the owner and CEO of beautiful new hotspot Passalacqua and the legendary Grand Hotel Tremezzo. “It is there that Bobo – the hotel mascot bear – always waits for me with open arms, making me feel at home, making me happy, and filling my heart with Lake Como love.”

For Carlotta Fontana, of the eminent Villa d’Este Hotels, her most-loved spot on Lake Como is Cascata Villa Pliniana, a waterfall that “dominates the ancient Villa. It is a really special place. This spectacular waterfall is definitely worth seeing.”

And for Samy Ghachem, of the incredible, design-led il Sereno hotel, a favored place for aperitivo hour is Piazza Volta, located in the old town, “which is filled with several outdoor cafés and bars that are buzzing with people around 5pm”.

La dolce vita: The Passalaqua is the epitome of opulence and elegance
Take in the captivating views of Lake Como from Villa Làrio’s infinity pool

The once-in-a-lifetime experiences

“Hire a Riva boat with a driver from Como Classic Boats and bring a picnic and an aperitivo to enjoy whilst taking in the most breathtaking views of the lake,” says Flore Pilzer, head of brand at the serene, hidden gem of a hotel, Villa Làrio, where they “offer picnic baskets with delicious locally sourced ingredients”.

At il Sereno, guests can rent custom-made, self-drive boats to take themselves on a tour, shares Ghachem, and a champagne hamper from the hotel’s kitchen greatly adds to the experience.

“Lake Como is one of the few places in Italy that offers the opportunity to experience a flight aboard a seaplane,” says de Santis. “So, if you want to admire the area from the sky in all its majesty, and you enjoy the fresh breeze coming from open windows while in the air, this is a very rewarding and adrenaline-inducing experience that you should not miss.”

Meanwhile, Fontana recommends taking “a boat tour of the most beautiful villas, such as Villa Carlotta, Villa del Balbianello or Villa Olmo. These historic villas are incredibly beautiful and elegant, and represent true masterpieces of architecture, all surrounded by stunning formal gardens. From Villa d’Este, you can take a ride on our electric wooden boat to enjoy the atmosphere of the lake, reach the villas or admire the majesty of the mountains.”

Villa del Balbianello is one of the most beautiful historic properties on Lake Como

The unmissable views

“In my opinion, the most beautiful view is from the mountains around the lake – there are many walks that, with little effort, allow you to get to scenic spots with breathtaking vistas. From there, you can have a 360-degree view over the whole lake,” says Fontana.

For Pilzer, the vista from Villa Làrio’s incredible private pier is one of the most stunning. “If you want some height, though, a hike to Pognana Lario, the 13th-century church, will give you amazing views.” And one of her favorite ways to unwind at the end of the day is to have a swim as the sun sets in front of Villa Pliniana, a private villa and estate.

De Santis’ favorite hike on the lake takes you from Tremezzo along a winding path to reach San Martino, “a little church that looks like it has just been dropped on a perch of rocks. From there, you can look out and let the marvel embrace you. Sky, water, mountains – the most perfect combination – makes it the most whimsical place I know,” she says. “If you want another perspective to admire the lake from, I suggest going to Como town to take the cable car to Brunate, and then from there enjoying a short but steep walk up to the lighthouse, Faro Voltiano. It is from here on clear days that your eyes will be able to embrace the most vast views you can imagine, embracing the lake, the Alps, Switzerland and as far as Milan and Monte Bianco.”

The picturesque lakeside town of Varenna is a must-visit

For the height of relaxation

“Take a paddle boat out after sunset, when there are very few boats out,” suggests Pilzer. “The light is incredible, and the lake is totally calm.”

“First of all, a lakeside walk is a must to enjoy the beauty of the landscape,” recommends Fontana. “Another very relaxing activity is to visit the gardens of Villa Balbianello, which are known all over the world (scenes in Star Wars: Episode II were even filmed there). And, in the summer, sunbathe by the floating pool at Villa d’Este – the first on Lake Como – before enjoying a sunset stroll through the park, which has countless varieties of plants and flowers.”

Ghachem recommends rejuvenating strolls, too: “Villa Pliniana is the oldest palazzo on the lake and offers stunning gardens with one of the best views – though it is available for private hire, so you would need an invitation. Villa Carlotta and Villa Melzi in Bellagio have beautifully manicured gardens that are perfect for a peaceful walk.”

The local delicacies

Whenever de Santis has friends visiting Lake Como for the first time, she always makes sure they have a toc experience. “Toc is a unique kind of polenta preparation that belongs to the traditions of Bellagio and that you can find only here. To enjoy a good toc, you must have the patience to wait while the ‘Maestro del Toc’ blends the three ingredients this special delicacy is made of: cornflour, butter and local cheese. You should taste the result using only a wooden spoon and your own hands, accompanied by local salumi, plenty of red wine, plus great company and tons of laughter.”

“Como has its own unique dishes that must be sampled,” adds Fontana. “Missoltini is a Como delicacy – it’s a small flat fish found in the lake, which is salted and air-dried in the sun. Another unmissable experience is Veranda restaurant in Villa d’Este. The terrace is a fabulous place to people-watch whilst sipping a negroni and soaking up the sun.”

“You have to eat the ravioli al limone from Locanda La Tirlindana – it is beyond delicious,” says Pilzer. “And, if you have a sweet tooth, you must try the uva fragola ice cream. It is only available on Lake Como at Gelateria Rossetti and has won awards.”

Ghachem recommends risotto con pesce persico – “a creamy risotto made with perch”; and pizzoccheri – “a hearty dish made from buckwheat pasta, potatoes, cabbage or Swiss chard, cheese (usually Valtellina Casera), garlic and butter. You can enjoy both dishes at one of my favorite places: Ristorante Crotto dei Platani in Brienno.”

Something only insiders know

“Perhaps not everyone knows that it is possible to look at the whole of Lake Como from a precise point,” Fontana shares. “If you reach the center of the lake by boat, you can admire all three branches: Como, Lecco and Colico.”

The best-kept secret is the “Sagra di San Giovanni”, says Pilzer: “a fireworks event that normally happens in June. Book a boat, take some wine, a dessert, and join the hundreds of locals to watch the fireworks.”

While many tourists flock to the famous towns of Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio, there’s a lesser-known ancient path known as the Greenway del Lago di Como, shares Ghachem. “This walking route, approximately 10km, connects the village of Colonno to Cadenabbia. It offers spectacular views of the lake, charming ancient alleys and old villas. It’s less-frequented than the main tourist spots, offering a quieter, more authentic Lake Como experience.”

“Many people don’t know that it is beautiful even in wintertime,” adds de Santis. “It is famed for being a summer destination, but only locals really know the beauty of the lake when it is transformed into the most magical winter wonderland.”