What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “Lake Como”? I am sure that there are a few words that immediately come to your mind: money, George Clooney, money, villas, money, Aperol Spritz…Well, I hope you will not be offended if I tell you that this is not the real soul of my beloved birthplace, Lake Como.
Read on to discover the hidden gems sparkling on the lake all described through the eyes of a local lady, who has travelled the world but whose heart will always belong to this unique lake, which is secretly sheltered by the magnificent Swiss Alps.
Lake Como and its Hidden Gems
Uniquely shaped as an upside-down Y, I love describing my lake as a big hug, with Como and Lecco at the extremities of its two arms.
On our literary trip to Lake Como, we will start on the west side of the lake and drive down the coast to reach the various destinations.
Menaggio and its Secret Wonders
Upon your arrival in Menaggio, you may want to experience the town the way a local would. In this case, you can simply start from Via Calvi and take a look at the small craft shops where you can buy local, handmade products, such as shoes, clothing and delightful home accessories.
While strolling in the sunshine, take note of the Church of Santa Marta, which stands proudly in the middle of the street. I recommend that you take some time to visit the interior of the church: you won’t be disappointed as you admire the ancient paintings that date back to the 17th century.
By continuing your walk in the direction of Lake Como, you will reach Piazza Garibaldi. This is where you can start your walk on the elegant lakeside, after sitting for coffee or ice cream in one of the many local bars that overlook the lake, of course!
After warming up during this easy walk around Menaggio city center, you will be ready to face the steps up to the oldest part of the town – a place that only locals really know about. Take a walk up to Via Castellino da Castello and admire the enormous perimeter walls that once bordered the ancient castle. Keep walking through the narrow streets and you will find one of the most picturesque bridges over the Senagra stream, where you can enjoy the sound of the waterfall below. On the bridge you will find a bas-relief by Vannuccini, as well as a chapel that is dedicated to Madonna di Caravaggio.
Como, Bellagio and Lecco: The Magical Triangle
If you ask me, a lady born and bred in Como, where to visit on your stay in Como, I would probably say to walk along the lake shore without a destination; stroll around the narrow streets, taste the local pastries, visit the local market…experience the happiness in the simplicity of our daily life!
This is the real soul of my hometown!
Tip: If you are an art lover, don’t miss the magnificent Cathedral set in the middle of the Old Town.
I would personally define Bellagio as the Positano of Lake Como. When I walk through the tiny streets of this lovely Italian gem, I feel like I’m on the Costiera Amalfitana. From the harbor, walking up to the center, you will experience the uniqueness of this picturesque town with every step you take.
Allow yourself to get lost around Bellagio’s narrow streets, visit the local shops and feel the handmade silk – there is nothing like it! You can also sit in one of the local wineries, which are surrounded by breath-taking panoramic views.
If I were to ask which the most important villages on Lake Como are, I bet no one would ever think about this picturesque cultural treasure!
When you walk around Lecco, which sits directly on the lake shores, you are not surrounded by tourists as in Como and Bellagio. There is an authenticity here and it is the perfect place to discover the heart of Lake Como.
When I visit home, I visit the local bakery in Lecco every morning, where the baker knows my order by heart. I then stroll down the streets and chat with friends and acquaintances in the main cafeteria on the central square. Looking to the right, I always take my time to appreciate and admire the statue of our famous Alessandro Manzoni, the famous poet and novelist, who wrote the famous novel “I promessi Sposi”.
If you ask me the reason why you should visit this hidden gem, I simply answer “to experience the real lake life”! Walk along the magnificent lake shore and you feel sheltered by the massive Alps surrounding the lake; take a seat on the steps close to the lake and admire the natural wonders in which you are completely immersed. Breath-taking lake and mountain landscapes, the aroma of local cuisine: this is Lecco, the unknown gem of the lake.
Final Stop: Varenna and Bellano
Before heading back home, you can’t miss two picturesque treasures of the lake: Varenna and Bellano.
I can say with confidence that Varenna is as unknown as Bellagio, but it is one of the cutest villages of my lake. The best way to admire Varenna is by boat; there are daily boats from Como touring the whole lake, including this lovely town. Prepare your camera as the boat approaches Varenna because you will not want to miss snapping a photo of the unique view that you can’t get from anywhere else in the town!
The best way to experience Varenna is walking on the lake promenade, stopping in one of the lake-front traditional wine cellars and tasting the full-bodied local red wine. The wineries are surrounded by natural wonders and there is a sense of peace here as you breathe in the delicate fragrance of the local Risotto con Pesce Persico, a typical local dish.
The main reason why I want you to visit Bellano before leaving my beloved Lake Como is because I want you to experience another secret natural wonder, which is hidden among the rocks: Orrido di Bellano. This deep, narrow 15 million-year-old gorge and waterfall is steeped in legend as the ravine’s entrance encompasses “Cà del Diavol” (Devil’s House), which has long been a source of mystery and is considered a place where satanic rites once took place!
Walk on the wooden gangways though the rocks here and you can admire a natural display as the waterfall creates a whirlwind of foaming falls. The crashing water flowing among the rocks creates an environment that makes you feel like you are stepping into a fairytale world…a breath-taking natural show that can’t be missed!
I want to close this personal article with an honest description of what Lake Como is for someone who will never forget the magic of the simple daily life on the magnificent lake shores…
Lake Como is the breezing air caressing your face while you are walking on the lake shore…it is the smell of freshly home-baked bread tickling your nose while you are walking around the narrow streets of the city center (especially the famous “Pan de Como” traditional cake that you can’t miss)…Lake Como is the golden sun beams reflecting on the lake, creating a paradisiacal aura…Lake Como is the shouting of local people at the daily market who sell fresh products grown in our colourful garden…and finally, Lake Como is full of nature, Alpine serenity and gentle people who have been blessed to be born in this unique paradise and who are looking forward to welcoming you and helping you discover the real soul of our lake!
By Veronica Maggi, Bellarome Travel Specialist