LAKE COMO, ITALY

Lake Como has always been a fashionable resort but never so much as now when its permanent residents include George Clooney and his wife, Amal Alamuddin Clooney.  Before this, the most famous residents were probably, Pliney the Elder and Pliney the Younger.  And the Italian Lakes, of which Como is but one, offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery in Italy.

Como - notturno
Como by Night – ©IProvincia di Como – Settore Turismo.

I can see why the Clooneys chose to make Como their home.  Apart from the beauty of its setting – green hills running down to the blue waters of the villa-rimmed lake, just yards from the historic centre, it has the charm of a small town while actually being a large city, a city that has easy access to mountain walks, ski-slopes and plateau parks.   It has excellent transport connections (30 minutes to Milan by train), just a few miles from the Swiss border, and ferries and buses service the lake front.

Como's Old Walls
The City Walls of Como with Gateway

Because of its lake, it is often overlooked that Como is actually a walled city and around which can be found a huge daily market selling everything from leather bags to lentils.

Market under old walls in Como
Market Beneath the City Walls

 

 

 

 

As in any large Italian town, the most important sight is the Duomo, an imposing cathedral built over a period of several centuries, from 1396 through to 1740,  Although the façade dates from the 15th century and the dome was designed in the 18th century, the main influences are chiefly Renaissance and Gothic.

Duomo (4), Comp. Italy
The Duomo, Como

Having seen the Duomo – and it is worth seeing – there are many more churches, museums and architectural gems to check out, too many to list all here, but I would especially recommend the Boletto, the unusual striped-marble building which stands next to the Duomo and which is Como’s 13th century town hall, the 10th century Basilica di San Fedele and the Porta Vittoria, the tall stone gateway defending the old town walls.

Como - Piazza San Fedele 2
Piazza san Fedele, Como.  © Provincia di Como – Settore Turismo.

Readers of Battery Connections (marketed by publisher Don Cleary) should head for The Tempio Voltiano where they can spend many happy hours browsing the exhibits.  This unusual Museum is dedicated to Alessandro Volta, after whom the volt was named, and contains much of his working equipment – a truly unique place.

Duomo, Como, Italy

Como is known for its grand buildings, like 18th-century Villa Olmo, Villa del Grumello, and

Como - Villa Olmo
Villa Olmo – © Provincia di Como – Settore Turismo.

 

Villa Sucota on the waterfront and, of course, the long-established, elegant resort of Bellagio, the small village between the two southern branches of Lake Como with a population of only 200.  It’s an excellent place to spend a relaxing day, with gardens, lovely views, upmarket boutiques, lots of restaurants and bars.  But be warned, it is probably the most expensive spot along the lakes!

Como

But sight-seeing can be hard on the feet and that’s where the boat trip comes in.  The regular service of Navigazione Lago di Como steamboat company will take you around the lake, with stop-offs at Cernobbio, Moltrasio, Torno and Blevio.  Cernobbio is a charming tourist resort on the shores of the lake and along its banks, there are some beautiful villas, including Villa d’Este and Villa Erba, Villa Bernasconi and Villa Pizzo.  The two to see are Villa Erba and Villa d’Este, the former an architectural gem built at the end of the nineteenth century and today important as an exhibition centre, the latter now the famous luxury hotel of world renown.

lake-como-2109916_1280

But my favourite is always to head for the mountains where possible, and all along the lakes, this is very possible.  In Como, the funicular railway that opened in 1894, is in Piazza De Gasperi and you can’t miss it.  It is a red, half-timbered house with carved woodwork trimmings: once through the gate, you are faced with a platform with one of the steepest inclines I’ve ever seen.

Funicular
Entrance to Funiculare – ©  Provincia di Como – Settore Turismo.

Tourist by Funicular

The cable-car is listed as ‘unmanned’ but fear not, this just means that the operator doesn’t actually ride on the car but is still in control over the external engine that drives it.  The Funicular ascends through a tunnel that gives way to an open line above ground. Halfway up you meet an identical car coming down.

The Liberty-style houses on top of the hill, 750 metres above Como, are mainly summer homes for wealthy families fleeing from the heat of north Italian cities. During the winter months, when a thick carpet of snow covers the mountains, there are few permanent residents.  There is a restaurant, a café, and a souvenir shop but you won’t have come here to shop but to take in the views which are stunning.  On a clear day you can see the lake, the city of Como and the outline of its historic centre, the antique Roman castrum, neighbouring towns Tavernola and Cernobbio, the Alps and the Brianza plain.  In the mosaic of my photographs taken from 750 metres above the lake, (below) you can see the Duomo in the middle of the town, its copper copula now verdegrised, glinting in the sunlight.

Above mosaic of pictures taken from the viewpoint at Brunate.

Once you’ve admired the views and stocked up with water, there are quite a few hiking trails around Brunate.  A popular one is a 30-minute walk to the Volta Lighthouse, and the trails are well sigh-posted.

On the return journey, you will find most people crowding the front cabins to take selfies as they make the steep descent.  I think it’s better not to fight for space and just to enjoy the trip and the magnificent views.

And at the end of the day, I decided this was the most enjoyable thing I had done in Como – and that included the two ice-creams I’d had!

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11 thoughts on “LAKE COMO, ITALY

  1. I have a friend who edits Batteries magazine (may not have got the name right) and he feels very let down that I didn’t spend time there. But really ……… volts and electricity? Volta was a son of Como so they are very proud of him and I’m sure the Museum is wonderful – for the right people.

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  2. The cable car is ‘manned’; it’s just that, like many others, the operator doesn’t actually ride on the car … he’s in charge of the external engine which drives it.

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      1. I haven’t done that particular one, but the ‘external operator’ is pretty well standard on funicular railways. Only the longer ones … e.g. San Francisco and (I think) the Great Orme Tramway also have a brakeman aboard.

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  3. You have me wanting to go back, Mari, not least for the funicular ride which I missed out on. We stayed at Bellagio long before it was so expensive and with a small boy in tow, so riding on the hovercraft was a priority. We spent a rainy half day in Como and I don’t remember much other than the Duomo. I’m sure we went to Cernobbio too but I’d need to dig deep for photos. 🙂 🙂

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