Wandering through the beautiful lakefront villa gardens, accidentally missing the last ferry ride back to the train station, and enjoying some delicious seafood from Lake Como, I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend my short weekend trip at the exquisite Italian lake of Lago di Como. Here we are with another weekend adventure - short but sweet!
Originally, I had planned Lake Como to be a solo trip and decided I was just going to "go with the flow" but instead last minute decided to invite a friend who I had only recently met for lunch once and decided she would be the perfect travel candidate! Miki and I hit it off great as we both connected through our love for traveling! Both of our husbands were away for work training and we would be spending our birthdays alone that month so we decided to spend this trip together.
It was only about a month out when I saw a super cheap deal through RyanAir from Nuremberg to Milan-Bergamo. Although, I've been to Milan before and wasn't too impressed, I figured there had to be something more than Milan that I could enjoy through this cheap deal. How cheap was it? $22 round trip - That's right, twenty-two United States Dollars.
I only had a weekend to enjoy this trip though so I had to think of something to do near Milan quick! Sometimes, when I don't know exactly where I want to go, I just look on Google Maps and poke around to see what are nearby towns I can chase after. Lake Como seemed quite reasonable for me to be introduced to in a weekend. My first choice was Lake Garda because I've heard such great things about that area but it was just a bit further from Milan than I wanted to be, so Lake Como it was!
A planning and informative resource I used for this trip, as mentioned in previous weekend adventures, are my Lonely Planet books. Reading The Italian Lakes book gave me insight of Lake Como, Lombards, and the history behind the villas and gardens (worth learning about).
Arriving to Lake Como
This trip I solely relied on public transportation and I wouldn't have wanted it to be any other way. Although the bus and train rides from Bergamo to Lake Como area were longer than I wanted it to take, we were able to avoid driving in Italy which is a huge goal for me when traveling!
Arriving into, say for instance, Bellagio, looked a bit like this:
-Bus ride from the airport to Bergamo, about 12 minutes, 2 Euro
-Train ride from Bergamo to Lecco, about 40 minutes, 3,60 Euro
-Switch trains to Varenna, about 30 minutes , 2,90 Euro
-Ride the ferry to Bellagio, 4,60 Euro (ferry prices here)
Since the Airbnb we stood at was in Lecco, we used that as a base and took the train and ferries to the neighboring lakefront villages. We were able to walk to the train station in Lecco which was great and convenient going towards the lakes and also going back to the airport.
Although our time in Lake Como was very limited, we were able to reach out to Varenna, Bellagio, Menaggio, and Bellano and were glad to see even just the smallest of Lake Como. Most of our time was spent getting on public transportation to see the different towns but we still were able to enjoy our time and if anything, it gives me a better reason to go back for more!
As much as I wanted to dine with the best waterfront views of Lake Como, I learned that the restaurants tucked away in the alleyways without the views had the better choices of restaurants! Also, look for restaurants that don't have pictures being advertised out front or on the menu. We all know what pasta and seafood look like and if you don't, you could always ask someone what something means or what they would recommend. Most of the time, the presentation is not as appealing but the taste and the good feeling you get when you eat something delicious is what matters.
Bilacus in Bellagio was a delight after eating at a bistro right on Lido di Bellagio. Although it looked like a great place to have a small snack, even that wasn't great. Afterwards we headed towards the inner part of the town where we found Bilacus. The atmosphere felt traditional Italian but not anything over the top special. Service was good but it was busy as we went for dinner on a Saturday evening. They did charge about 2 Euro for their service charge which is called a "coperto" that most food establishments charge in Italy.
La Trattoria Costantin in Menaggio was great after walking all day and just wanting a large pitcher of vino and some pasta or pizza. Once we got off the ferry in Menaggio, all of the tourists rushed to the first restaurant they saw with the lakefront views. Miki and I knew that it would probably be cheaper and better to go a bit further into the town for some food. La Trattoria Constantin is a family ran bar and restaurant with various dishes to choose from. We certainly weren't disappointed!
Another great spot for a neat dinner that is not so much in an alleyway but definitely in a narrow street, is called Mamaioa in Lecco. Lecco was where we were staying during our short visit to the Lake Como area so finding a neat off the beaten path restaurant was exactly what we were looking for. The seafood was fresh and very tasty! The coperto there was at 2,50 Euro a person but we didn't seem to mind as the food and wine was so good. This restaurant is very tiny and intimate, it would be nice for a special dinner with a significant other but Miki and I felt just fine going as friends, ha! The dishes vary on the time of year and the availability so we ordered what the server suggested and loved it!
One of the reasons I wanted to check out Lake Como was not just for its beautiful landscape but also to check out the villas and gardens that were once made for wealthy Romans and their location for rest and relaxation. Not only were the villa gardens made for meditation and philosophy lessons but also for poets and other artists alike to express their talent.
There are two lakeside villas just in Varenna named Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero. The former is now a luxury hotel and the latter was once a convent and now turned into a vast residence. We were able to wander Villa Monastero and its gardens which shouldn't be missed when you're in Lake Como. The entrance fee is 8 Euro for the villa and 5 Euro for just the gardens. You can easily spend a couple of hours here wandering the villa and the gardens.
Gorge in Bellano
A short but beautiful and quaint hike to see the gorge in Bellano is worth checking out while you're in the Lake Como area. Bellano is a sleepy lakeside town just 5 km North of Varenna (1 stop over if you're taking the train). The only sight in Bellano is to see the Orrido which is the gorge in town. It's just minutes away once you hop off the train. The entrance fee is 3 Euros for adults and 2 Euros for children. You'll find snacks for sale and a restroom available. If you decide to visit Bellano for the short hike, you may spend just about an hour or so before heading out to the next town.
Things you Should Know
Personally, I don't prefer to drive in Italy. Driving in Italy mostly gives me a headache so I try to stay clear of doing that if I can. If you can rely on just public transportation, do it. Although longer than driving, taking the train and buses to and around Lake Como felt relaxing - much more relaxing than driving! For some, long trains rides in which you have to switch multiple times may not be something you're up for doing since it adds more time in commuting than exploring. If you don't utilize public transportation, the only two options would be driving yourself or taking a taxi from the airport which comes with a hefty price!
If you haven't been to Italy yet, you may realize that when you are out dining, the menu or your bill will state "coperto" on it as I mentioned earlier. This charge can be named as a service charge, a cover charge, or simply as a tax. The coperto can range from maybe 1 to 5 Euro but can make a big difference when you are traveling in a group as this charge is per person, not per table. You may find that the best restaurants don't charge you for it or will waive it for you. Usually, the closer to the main attractions, the more expensive the charge is so beware as they sometimes get tourists to pay a coperto but also other charges on top!
Have you been to the Lake Como area? If so, let me know what you thought or if you have any other suggestions to do and see when I return.