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Visit Nesso

Guide to Lake Como

Nestled at the base of the Alps in the northern Lombardy region, Lake Como has an international reputation for glitz and glamour. It’s been beloved among celebrities and jetsetters as a peaceful retreat for centuries—in fact, ever since Julius Caesar conquered the town of Como in 49 BCE and it became a fashionable destination for Ancient Romans. He named it Lario, a name you’ll still see all around the area (Lake Como locals are known as Larians).  

With a distinctive upside-down “Y” shape, Lake Como starts at the northern town of Sorico, then splits into two branches divided by the picturesque town of Bellagio. To the west, the lake ends at Como, the largest city around the lake’s perimeter, while the eastern branch is comparatively quiet, ending near Lecco.   

Wherever you stay by the lake, you’ll want to spend time exploring the many small towns that dot the lakeshore. Grand villas are among the main attractions here, many of them former residences of the rich and powerful that are now museums open to the public. Their imposing architecture and beautifully manicured gardens make a stunning contrast to the raw natural beauty of the Alpine hills and the blue waters of the lake.  

But there’s more to Lake Como than just beautiful sights! The eastern branch of the lake neighbors the mountainous Valtellina valley, a popular ski destination next to the Swiss border. Hiking is a popular pastime here year-round, and in the summer, it’s all about water activities like jet skiing, boating, and sunbathing (the beaches are rocky, so be prepared with sturdy water shoes!). With a unique culture all its own, including delicious local cuisine focused on rich cheeses and freshwater fish, you’ll find plenty to love in Lake Como. 

Getting Around

The southern end of Lake Como is about an hour north of Milan. If you’re arriving directly from abroad, the easiest way to get to the lake is to fly into Milan’s Malpensa airport, the second-largest airport in Italy. If you’re arriving from elsewhere in Italy, you can take the high-speed train to Milan, then transfer to a local train at either Centrale or Porto Garibaldi station. From there, you’ll be at Como or Lecco in less than an hour.   

Once you’ve reached the lake, the best way to get around is by water. A ferry makes the rounds of the towns that border the lake, making it easy to hop from one stop to the next. You can buy single-ride tickets or a day pass either at the ferry landing or online. If you want to tailor your itinerary or take a personalized tour of the lake, consider a private boat rental, which you can arrange in any of the larger towns. 

Eat

   Beretta il Fornaio 

Image Credit: Beretta il Fornaio 

This bakery, or panificio, has been satisfying the appetites of Como locals since 1950. Look for typical local baked treats like resta, a sweet bread that’s enjoyed at Easter, and their specialty, nuvola, a fluffy cake with sweet apricot cream that’s as soft and airy as a cloud (the name, in fact, means just that!). This local chain has multiple locations around the lake, including in Como’s historic city center, making it easy to grab a sweet snack as you sightsee.

Via Pietro Boldoni, 15, Como
+39 031 264159

   Luisita

Image Credit: Luisita

What began as a dairy in 1921 is now equal parts gelateria, bakery, and café. It’s still run by the family of the original Luisita, the woman who started the shop more than 100 years ago. They’re famous for their resta at Easter time, but it’s a great option for a classic Italian breakfast of cappuccino and brioche (the northern Italian version of a cornetto) any time of year. In the early evening, grab a seat outside for a perfectly low-key aperitivo complete with salty snacks and people-watching.

Via Pietro Boldoni, 34, Como
+39 031 268300

   Crotto Bercini

Crotto Bercini

Image Credit: Crotto Bercini

This covered open-air restaurant boasts a sweeping view of the lake from the mountain village of Stazzona, at the northern end of the lake. It’s a great stop for lunch or dinner after a hike, where you can refuel with rustic dishes from both the lake and the Alps. Try the lake trout tartare with mountain herbs, polenta with beef, or lavarello alla lariana, breaded local fish filets. Be sure to order a bottle of wine from the thoughtfully curated list—the location used to be a cave for aging wines, after all!

Via Vanzonico, 14, Stazzona
+39 349 7184241

   Crotto dei Plantani

Crotto dei Plantani

Image Credit: Crotto dei Plantani

Founded in 1855, this gorgeous restaurant is right on the water, offering panoramic views of the lake and its own dock for easy arrival by boat. The menu is known for its creative twists on traditional recipes; start with the antipasto misto di pesci del Lario for a wonderful mix of local seafood and check the menu of the day before ordering your main, which could include black truffle risotto or beef braised in Valtellina wine. 

Via Regina, 73, Brienno
+39 031 814038

   Da Ceko Il Pescatore

Da Ceko Il Pescatore

Image Credit: Da Ceko Il Pescatore

In the less-touristed town of Lecco, this family institution is worth the trip. As you might guess from the name, fish is the focus here—the Ghislanzoni family have been fishing the lake for generations and have been operating this restaurant and fish shop for more than 50 years. It’s all delicious, from the crostini slathered with fish pâté to fried filets with salsa verde, but you can’t miss the missoltini, a small lake fish that’s salted and preserved with bay leaves, with polenta.

Piazza Era, 8, Lecco
+39 034 1284101

   La Fattoria

La Fattoria

Photo Credit: La Fattoria

This hilltop restaurant overlooking the lake is the best place to taste the unique specialties of Valtellina without making the trip east to the famous ski region. Hearty, Swiss-influenced dishes include sciatt, gooey cheese-filled buckwheat fritters, and pizzoccheri, buttery buckwheat pasta with cheese, cabbage, and potatoes. While you linger over your meal, kids can have fun in the adjoining yard and playground—a win-win for families! 

Via Brenzio, 4, Gravedona ed Uniti 
+39 329 6944433

   Osteria del Gallo

Photo Credit: Osteria del Gallo

Tucked away on one of the winding side streets in Como’s historic center, this 100-year-old osteria is one of Como’s classic gems. Inside, you’ll find rustic stone arches, tables covered with green-and-white checked cloths, and shelves lined with a great selection of local wines running all the way up to the ceiling. The husband-and-wife owners circulate the room with pride, welcoming guests and reciting the short but substantial menu, which changes daily but focuses on northern Italian favorites such as pumpkin tortelli with butter and sage and veal Milanese.

Via Vitani, 16, Como
+39 031 3868025

   Ristorante La Madonnina

Polenta Toc at Ristorante La Madonnina

Photo Credit: Ristorante La Madonnina

If there’s one dish synonymous with Bellagio, it’s polenta tóc, and this refined restaurant in the nearby hilltop town of Barni is one of the best places to try it. A simple combination of polenta, butter, and a local cheese called casera, it’s stirred for hours in a copper pot until it becomes fluffy. The best part? You eat it with your hands! La Madonnina specializes in a number of polenta dishes, including rich polenta uncia with garlic and brown butter, and polenta al tegamino, topped with fried eggs.

Via per la Madonnina, Barni
+39 031 965148

   Trattoria del Porto

Trattoria del Porto

Image Credit: Trattoria del Porto

This family-owned restaurant in the charming hamlet of Nesso might have the most adorable exterior we’ve ever seen, entirely covered with lush greenery, with rustic stone walls and a white wrought-iron railing surrounding the cozy terrace. Sit outside to soak in the ambiance and some stunning lake views while you enjoy soulful local dishes like chub pâté and rice with perch, then make your way down the town’s cobblestoned stairs to the waterside.

Via del Pontile, 26, Careno
+39 031 910195

   Gelab Gelateria

Gelab Gelateria

Photo Credit: Gelab Gelateria

To get your gelato fix, you can’t miss Gelab, one of our favorite spots for an exceptional scoop (or two) in Como’s historic center. The small shop is lined with charmingly mismatched ceramic tiles in classic Como style, and the gelato comes in a wide range of flavors, from classic to creative. Check out seasonal specials like colomba di Pasqua and strawberry cheesecake, or stick with tried-and-true favorites like cremino, based on the layered gianduja chocolate. Bonus: their cones and brioches are gluten-free so everyone can enjoy a taste!

Via Cinque Giornate, 40, Como
+39 351 7080052

Do

   A. Picci

A. Picci

Photo Credit: A. Picci

For centuries, Como was one of the world’s top producers of silk, thanks to the thriving mulberry trees that grow in the area, which silkworms must eat to create the fine thread. Today, the area produces 70% of all the silk in Europe, particularly patterned and jacquard silks that are in demand from the world’s top fashion houses. This third-generation boutique has been weaving and sewing their own ties, scarves, and handkerchiefs from exquisite Como silk since 1919, a souvenir that just happens to be as useful as it is beautiful. 

 Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 54, Como
+ 39 031 261369

   Cantine Angelinetta Winery

Cantine Angelinetta Winery

Image Credit: Cantine Angelinetta Winery

While wine has been produced on Lake Como for millennia, it was primarily for personal consumption. But in the last decade, the local Terre Lariane IGT wine has started to gain some recognition, especially for its refreshingly elegant white wines. Cantine Angelinetta was converted from a family farm to boutique winery in 2008 to share their wonderful wines from a number of different grapes, including verdese, the lake’s only indigenous variety. Book your visit and tasting in advance to learn all about these special wines.

Località Pozzolo, 16, Domaso
+39 328 5742357

   Latteria Alto Lario

Latteria Alto Lario

Photo Credit: Latteria Alto Lario

A must-stop for souvenirs and picnic supplies, this shop specializes in products from the northern end of the lake and the nearby Valtellina valley. Shop for local cheeses like zincarlin, semuda, casera, and bitto; salami and cured meats; polenta taragna, made from buckwheat and corn flours; and other local goods like jams, olive oil, wine, and honey.

Via Statale, 178, Dongo
+39 0344 82184

   Mercato Coperto (Covered Market)

Mercato Coperto (Covered Market)

Photo Credit: My Lake Como

This is the place to immerse yourself in local life in Como! This lively market built in the 1930s has stalls dedicated to every kind of local delicacy, including cheeses, fish (of course), cured meats, olive oils, and rice from the nearby Po Valley. Shoppers come early to get the freshest produce; it closes at 1pm on most days except Saturdays, when you can browse into the evening.

Via Giuseppe Sirtori, 1, Como

   Riva Bianca

Riva Bianca

One of the area’s most distinctive beaches is the Riva Bianca, where the crystal-clear emerald water of the lake laps onto the white-pebbled shore. Unlike many Italian beaches, it’s free to spend time here, either sunbathing or dipping in to the lake for a quick swim, making it a favorite among locals. There are no sun loungers or umbrellas for rent, but there is a small café where you can buy snacks and coffee. The rocks are small and slippery, so be sure to bring water shoes.

Via Riva Bianca, 9, Lierna

   Take a Boat Tour

The best way to see the lake is to kick back on a boat and let the captain shuttle you to the major sights and towns. Taxi Boat’s fleet of five motorboats and friendly crew will help you do just that, whether you’re looking for a leisurely tour or just need to get from town to town. This is the company Giada uses when she’s in Como.

Via Melzi D Eril, Porto di Loppia, Bellagio
+39 031 950201

   Castello di Vezio

Castello di Vezio

Image Credit: Castello di Vezio

Hike up to this former military castle that dates back to the 12th century, though the grounds have been inhabited much longer—Iron Age tombs were unearthed there in the 1950s. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the lake and a garden that overflows with colorful hydrangeas. But don’t skip the interiors, which host rotating art exhibits and the lookout tower with an exhibit dedicated to Lariosaurus, the extinct water reptile that once roamed the lake. 

Via del Castellano, Perledo
+39 333 4485975

   San Nicolo Belltower

San Nicolo Belltower

Lecco’s Baroque-style Basilica di San Nicolo is built on what was once the city walls, giving it a great viewpoint over the town. To see even more, climb to the top of the 315-foot-high bell tower, which is wrapped with a terrace for a sublime panorama of the lake and mountains beyond. For safety, trips up to the top of the tower must be accompanied by a guide, so be sure to book your visit in advance.

Piazza Sagrato Basilica, Lecco
+39 371 1758132

   Villa Carlotta

Villa Carlotta

This stately 17th-century residence-turned-art museum is one of the lake’s most stunning villas. Works from mostly 19th-century artists and other objects are on display inside, while the outdoor botanical garden spans nearly 20 acres of citrus trees, English roses, camellias, hydrangeas, and more.

Via Regina, 2, Tremezzina
+39 034 440405

   Villa del Balbianello

Villa del Balbianello

Photo Credit: Villa del Balbianello

It’s easy to see why this graceful, airy 18th-century estate is one of the lake’s most visited destinations; you might recognize the covered loggia, cypress trees, and manicured gardens from Casino Royale or Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. Book your visit as far in advance as you can; there are a limited number of tickets available each day and it’s a popular destination for tourists.

22016 Tremezzina, Province of Como
+39 034 456110

   Visit Nesso

Visit Nesso

This storybook-perfect medieval village will set your heart aflutter: stone walkways, ivy-draped pastel facades, and an 11th-century bridge. A crenelated stone wall from the 15th-century San Lorenzo military castle watches over the town from above. Pass through the tunnel at the edge of the bridge to arrive at the Orrido di Nesso, a 650-foot waterfall that cascades into the lake.

Nesso

Stay

   Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni

Giada at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni

For 150 years, this opulent hotel on the lakefront in Bellagio has welcomed guests with warm hospitality. Rooms and suites are decorated with gorgeous antique furniture, lush textiles, and wallpaper that will make you feel like Italian royalty. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, an informal restaurant, and the fine-dining mainstay Mistral, as well as a private beach complete with floating dock and water slide.

Via Teresio Olivelli, 1, Bellagio
+39 031 950216

   Hotel Belvedere

Photo Credit: Hotel Belvedere

Five generations of women have overseen this labor of love since its 1880 opening, three of whom run the show today and whose presence adds a personal touch. Up the hill from the lakeside in Bellagio, the grounds have great views out over the water, along with gorgeous gardens perfect for strolling with your morning cappuccino.

Via Valassina, 31, Bellagio
+39 031 950410

   Il Sereno

Il Sereno

Photo Credit: Il Sereno

For ultimate relaxation in a modern luxury setting, this all-suites hotel is a new addition to the lake’s hotel scene. With striking modernist architecture that stands out from Lake Como’s classic villas, it’s an eye-catching place to stay, with suites that are serene and warm. Rent one of the property’s custom-made Riva boats, dine at the Michelin-starred restaurant, pamper yourself at the spa, or unwind by the infinity pool that seems to flow right into the lake.

Via Torrazza, 10, Torno
+39 031 5477800 

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