It is easy to fall in love with Lake Como. Picturesque villages, extravagant villas, green mountains, blue expanse of the lake – it all combines to project such beauty and serenity that even the tourist crowds at the height of the season cannot detract from.
The Western shore of the lake between Como and Menaggio is the most packed with sights, complemented by Bellagio at the central “juncture”. There are a few other points of interest on other stretches of the shoreline, and if you want to take it all in at a leisurely pace you probably need at least ten days around the lake.
Let’s start with the absolute must activity when you are vacationing on Lake Como – renting a motorboat ♥♥♥ for a few hours. You will certainly explore the lake by car, on foot, or via public boats or ferries, but you will only be able to see a number of the most interesting sights when conducting your own water ride. You might also decide to bring food and wine aboard and have a picnic in the middle of the lake, or even go for a swim. The most common rental period is 3 hours, but that will fly by really fast. I suggest at least an hour longer. There are several places offering rentals, but in high season it is important to make reservations in advance. We used AC Boats in Menaggio – not the cheapest, but offering nice service and a well-run boat.
One of the main tourist points on the lake, at the convergence of the two lower legs of the lake, Bellagio ♥♥♥ is very attractive, with a lot of good eateries and nice shops, as well as some notable architecture. Stairways to higher streets cannot be avoided if one wants to get away from the waterfront. The arts-and-crafts market ♥♥ on Thursdays is among the fun things to do. Villa Melzi ♥♥♥, at the edge of the town’s waterfront, offers expansive beautiful gardens, flatter and less confined compared to other grounds around the lake; the mansion is not open to the public, but there is a pavilion next to it with some sculpture and portraiture.
Menaggio ♥♥♥ is one of the largest towns on the western shore of the lake, with the best waterfront promenade of all – wide, long, paved, full of flower beds, adorned by fountains. It has a very nice pedestrianized center, with a couple of small churches and a comparatively wide main piazza surrounded by cafés. Friday nights, the arts-and-crafts market ♥♥ that you can catch the previous day in Bellagio decamps to Menaggio promenade.
In Tremezzo, the major road that hugs the western shore of the lake emerges from being hemmed in by buildings on both sides and instead runs directly along the shore. There are several impressive palaces that look onto the lake from this road, including a high-end resort. The major point of interest in Tremezzo is Villa Carlotta ♥♥♥, a gorgeous botanic garden built into the steep mountainside (it requires quite a lot of up-and-down walking). There are several interesting rooms in the mansion itself (included in the entry ticket), with decorated ceilings, sculptures, and paintings.
Located at the tip of the western leg of the lake, Como ♥ is by far the biggest town on the lake but is not overly impressive in the “must-see” fashion. Its central pedestrianized area is nice, anchored by the impressive cathedral ♥♥.
The extensive waterfront of Lenno, around a picturesque bay, on Tuesdays hosts a large market of the clothes-and-accessories variety. There is a nice pebble beach on the southernmost edge of the bay. The village is home to one of the top attractions on the lake, Villa del Balbionella ♥♥♥. From the beach in town, a water taxi (runs once in 30 min) can get you to the grounds without climbing, but if you choose to walk, it is a demanding 20-minute mostly-uphill trip. The villa’s grounds consist of compact terraced gardens, with beautiful views over the lake from a number of vantage points. Timed guided tours allow access to the villa (at extra cost); the tour is not overly illuminating, but the building itself is quite interesting and a few rooms and exhibits are worth the investment. Every room in the house has a gorgeous lake view.
Sala Comacina ♥ is a small village on the Western shore that does not boast any major points of interest. It is nonetheless among the most picturesque with fantastic views over the lake. It sits on a small bay created by Isola Comacina, the only island on the lake. On the island, there is a popular restaurant and a few archaeological sites. The beach in Sala is typical of the lake: a patch of sand with a fence running around. Access to the water is on the side; serviceable but hard to get used to. Many of the beaches in the area are like that, although normal ones – albeit, pebble not sand – exist in places.
Argegno ♥♥ is another pretty village a few kilometers south of Sala Comacina. On its waterfront piazza, several eateries surround a fountain, and the pedestrian sidewalk on the quay offers beautiful perspectives on the lake, whose shoreline bends around Argegno.
A few places worthy of a recommendation are: Ristorante Bilacus (near the top of Salita Serbelloni in Bellagio), with both a rooftop terrace (a table on the terrace certainly requires advance reservations) and the interior dining room, and an extensive menu with generous portions; Trattoria San Giacomo (at the top of the same Salita Serbelloni), a small and extremely popular where you may have to wait for a table sitting on the steps (there is a chest of pillows ready and available for that); if you end up getting one of the few sidewalk tables, you will be treated to unparalleled people-watching opportunities – and the food is fantastic as well; La Piazzetta (on the main Argegno piazza), offering a quintessential Italian dining experience on a square by the fountain – an excellent dessert, millefoglie nociole, coupled with the setting pushes this place into a superior-meal category; Locanda La Tirlindana (on Piazza Giacomo Matteotti in Sala Comacina), another place where the ideal setting – in this case, on a lakefront terrace with stunning views – makes good food feel all the more exceptional; boats dock at the piazza’s edge specifically so that people have meals at La Tirlindana.