The Most Beautiful Places on Earth - Why I Want a Villa on Lake Como like Clooney, Madonna & Pliny the Elder
It makes sense why people want to live here, just look at the picture. Have you ever seen a more beautiful place on earth? Technically this is not on the lake, it is a little village called Santa Maddelena, but even more than I want a Villa on Lake Como, I want to see the view above framed in my living room window and instead of the girl jogging on the road in the foreground, I want to be the one cycling along the same road. I want to shop at the local farmer's markets along the way, I want to go to that church on Sunday and I want to meet the people who are lucky enough to live in what is known as the Italian Lakes District.
Visitors from the south of Italy travel north to savor the scenery and mountain recreation while tourists from Northern Europe come here for a Mediterranean climate which is present in winter as well as the summer and produces some of the most beautiful gardens in the continent. These lakes have enraptured the likes of Verdi, Rossini, Bellini, Liszt, Shelley and Wordsworth....and, if you can bear to say it in the same sentence, Madonna and George Clooney.
No, I actually thought I was one of a very few discriminating people showing uncommon taste by finding this beautiful spot in the very north of Italy while everyone else was cavorting around Rome and the Amalfi Coast. Turns out Lombardy, the region of the Italian Lakes, is the richest and most populated in the country. I recommend you avoid Milan, however, and just fly into Malpensa airport just outside of Milan or into Zurich, Switzerland. From these you can rent a car, take a bus or train to the lakes which are only an hour away from Malpensa or two hours from Zurich.
Once you are in the lake district, you will find there is a very good network of trains, buses, boats and airport transport services. If you are driving, there are many blind turns and hidden street entrances. Also be aware that the locals may overtake you in their cars or motorcycles in a seemingly suicidal manner. Just make sure your car is in good working order and be polite, let them overtake and pass you.
Lake Como is one of the most popular of the lakes. It's steep green mountains cascading into the deep blues of the Lake make it a dramatic and scenic masterpiece. The picturesque, fruit-colored villas dotting the slopes and waterfront command some of the highest prices of the lakes. The elegant, gardened lakefront walkways add to the charm. Somehow the wealthy residents have managed to maintain a serene and authentic atmosphere here. Just remember to party somewhere other than in front of George Clooney's villa--if three or more congregate there, the polizia will collect you for a private tour.
If you arrived in Como, either take the train or drive to Tremezzo, one of the more picturesque towns on the western shore of Lake Como. There are many fine hotels here, including the Grand Hotel Tremezzo Palace which just finished updating its eight rooftop suites for a mere 5.5 million dollars. If you are like me, you might want to look at other, more affordable options. La Darsena hotel and restaurant is set directly on Lake Como, five minutes from Villa Carlotta Gardens and steps away from Tremezzo’s historic center. I think I could have a great time here with some excellent rates, closeness to the city and a restaurant with stunning views of nearby Bellagio and Mount Grigna from a panoramic terrace.
If you know Lake Como, you are probably most familiar with the picturesque western shore of the lake, the city of Como in the south, north to half the length of the lake you find the picturesque towns of Termezzo, Cernobbio and Menaggio. From there you can take a short ferry ride to Bellaggio and then another one to the delightful old village of Varenna, on the eastern shore of the lake, built on a rocky promontory, where the pace of life is slower and more relaxed, especially at its lakeside cafes and restaurants.
This quietly refined town with romantic panoramas, beautiful old houses and balconies filled with flowers has all the charm of an ancient fishing village with a relaxed hideaway atmosphere. You can take a leisurely stroll along its steep winding alleys lined with charming homes, flowering balconies and lace-curtained windows or you can visit the ancient castle Castello di Vezio, the two famed villas, Villa Cipressi, with terraced gardens cascading right down to the shores, and Villa Monastero, a Cistercian monastery built in 1208 with terraces, arched windows and balconies overlooking the lake and beautiful gardens where you can sit, relax, and enjoy the incomparable views.
Cernobbio is a preternaturally picturesque town, with a comely, tree-lined, flower- bedecked waterfront. It's waterfront, narrow old streets and piazzas are lined with the handsome, impeccable shops, cafes, trattoria, restaurants, professional offices, homes and apartment buildings, all painted in the muted buttery tones that one sees around the entire Lake District. Down at the harbour, ferries coming to and departing from the jetty connect all the other major towns and villages on the Lake, and add to Cernobbio's pleasant bustle. ~ Vian Andrews
Pliny the Elder, not the IPA beer, was born in the town of Como and had a grand villa in the fifties--50 AD that is. Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian. He developed a liking for military command and spent a good deal of time in campaigns in Germania. In 59 A.D., Pliny returned to Italy, thirty-six years old, a remarkable man, already the author of three books, and a bachelor. A serious man, who had trained himself to live with the minimum of sleep, and wanted the world to benefit from his knowledge. A valued public administrator, he wrote over 300 books and his only surviving multi-volume book, Naturalis Historia, was what served for education in the Middle Ages. All this activity leaving, of course, an opportunity for Pliny the Younger to party on in his place at the nearby original Belaggio gladiator arena and casino. Ok, maybe not.
The fortunate man, in my opinion, is he to whom the gods have granted the power either to do something which is worth recording or to write what is worth reading, and most fortunate of all is he who can do both. Such a man was my uncle. ~ Pliny the Younger, Letters 6.16.3
Like Varenna, Belaggio has a long, shaded narrow lakeside promenade that is linked to the old center above by steep, narrow alleyways. Lake Como is made up of three tributaries, and Belaggio is at the crown point of the intersection overlooking the lake and the mountains. Some of its regular visitors describe Bellagio as the most beautiful town in Italy and while Varenna and Menaggio and Termezzo may disagree, it is undeniably a very scenic and charming place to stroll around with the finest view of the lake. Two of its gardens, Villa Serbollini and Villa Melzi, are very beautiful and although the climate is temperate, in fall the leaves turn to shades of orange, red and gold. The village has picturesque stone lanes and stairways with shops, gelato bars, cafes, and restaurants which add to the attraction of this "Pearl of Lake Como."
Menaggio, another main attraction on the Western Shore, is not as touristy as Bellagio and Varenna across from it. Like many towns in this area, Menaggio has a nice pedestrian-only-area with coffee shops, gelaterias and restaurants. You can stay in its youth hostel, but reserve your spot early on the weekends. Little quiet piazzas and the pedestrian areas are home to some of the most mouth-watering restaurants with spectacular views. Here are some typical Italian restaurants.
If you like visiting the local market days like I do, ask for the days and times as soon as you arrive at your first destination, as all of the villages have one. There are hillside trolleys which will give you spectacular views of the lake and villages. You can also hike into the hills, but be aware there are wild boar in the forests, so be prepared. (I don't mean pack an elephant gun)
Take at least one boat trip to at least one of the villages around Lake Como. Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna in the mid-south, Lenno and Argegno in the mid-north and Gravedona and Domaso in the north. If you budget two hours for each you could see them all in a couple of days. If you like and are experienced, you can rent a boat from most lakeside towns.