Villa Melzi in Bellagio, with its luxuriant garden, the ravine of Nesso, the picturesque Varenna, an ancient fishing village, the elegant center of Menaggio or the Manzonian Lecco dominated by the Resegone. These are just some of the unmissable views of the Lario. Lake Como enchants with panoramas, scents and colorss. From Como to Lecco, the two beautiful capitals of its southern branches, to the many villages resting on the water and those clinging to the slopes of the wooded mountains which, in some places, steep, descend to the shore, have always attracted a swarm of travelers. They come from all over the world to the waters of what was once the historic theater of the Promessi Sposia literary masterpiece by Manzoni, to enjoy this corner of Europe that still knows how to enchant and alternate lush vegetation with art and elegance.
The landscape seems to have been painted by a romantic painter: mountains that slide into the lake, now soft and now restless. Woods, small beaches of white pebbles or soft grass, promontories bathed by placid waters. Stone villages that are postcards from the Middle Ages. Grand hotels and fairytale villas, with manicured gardens and aristocratic atmospheres from the Belle Epoque. It is the enchantment of the Lario, a lake that has inspired artists and poets of all ages. To grasp the charm of the town of Como it is not enough to visit its monuments, from the Romanesque to the Rationalist. You have to start from the lake, let yourself be seduced by the elegance of Como’s buildings and spaces, by the discreet charm its the cobbled streets, courtyards and arcades that open into the compact fabric of the houses, by the grace of small, sudden green spaces. The not to be missed visits are those to the fifteenth-century Duomo, to the ancient municipal building of Broletto, now used as an exhibition space, and to the architectural masterpiece of the Ex Casa del Fascio, built between 1932 and 1936 by Giuseppe Terragni, master of rationalism. The structure is one of the major achievements of Italian twentieth century architecture and has long been home to the headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza. After passing through the lively Piazza San Fedele, you can continue your visit with the panoramic walk along the lakefront, which starts from the Volta Temple and follows the bends of the Larian shore, offering spectacular views. And before leaving the lake, take the opportunity to admire it from a unique point of view. With a funicular you can in fact reach Brunate, a pretty village perched at 715 meters above sea level where you can look for a fresh breeze during the warmer summer months and above all enjoy the exceptional view of the Alps and the lake.
Near Como, an array of noble villas enriches the western shore of the lake, while the final stretch, past Sala Comacina and the opposite Comacina Island, offers famous landscapes with a solar character. Between Cernobbio and Brienno it is better to avoid the modern road halfway up the coast and take the old Via Regina which crosses the villages perched on the lake, full of ancient houses and panoramic points, to join the SS 340 at Torriggia. Before leaving Cernobbio, do not miss the splendor of Villa d’Este, a sixteenth-century residence embellished by a splendid Italian garden. After the noble ownership, the villa was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1873, and so it is even now. Many directors have taken advantage of her beauty, from Alfred Hitchcock (his first feature film) to Steven Soderbergh (Ocean Twelve, shot in 2004 starring George Clooney, the star who most closely linked his image with the lake)Visit the unmissable Comacina Island: very verdant, the only island of the Lario looks like the crown of a gigantic tree submerged by the waters of the lake. An enchantment for painters, hardly surprising that it belongs to the Brera Academy and is home to artist residences.
From there, you’re a stone’s throw from Tremezzina: the territory of this scattered municipality includes the homonymous stretch of coast, between Sala Comacina and Cadenabbia. For its scenic beauty and the splendid succession of villas and parks, it is one of the historic sites of European tourism. Among its hamlets it is worth mentioning Lenno, which rises close to the wooded peninsula of Lavedo, in a small gulf. On the tip of the peninsula, visit the scenic Villa Visconti, known as the Villa del Balbianello, an elegant eighteenth-century residence which had among its illustrious guests also the abbot Parini and Silvio Pellico. Tremezzo is also worth a stop, to discover the splendid garden of Villa Carlotta, which in spring fascinates with an amazing flowering of rhododendrons.
Stay in the town of Como, too often overlooked, and head for a meal at I Tigli in Theoria: the evocative location is that of the Bishop’s Palace in Como, a historic building erected in 1466 between the lake and the cathedral. And the elegant and well-kept interiors do not betray the importance of the frame. You can have a drink in the lounge bar or reserve one of the four stubes on the upper floors, or you can eat in the large and charming room or in the delightful courtyard. A menu in which sea and land alternate, ranging with refinement between linguine with pin squid, candied lemon and sweet and sour tomatoes, vegetable risotto with oyster flavor, rabbit alla Royale with Carmagnola peppers and rainbow ribs or the terrine of foie gras with Moscato peaches, beetroot beads and chamomile gel.
Stay in the wonderful Palazzo Albricci Peregrini: in the heart of the historic center of Como, Palazzo Albricci Peregrini is a precious jewel of hospitality. With its centuries-old history, the palace is a very refined address to mark on the agenda in this hot post-pandemic travel frenzy. Elegant aristocratic building, it has been transformed into a boutique hotel with six suites, of 30 and 55 square meters, each with a personal story to tell. Renovated towards the end of the fifteenth century, a period from which the entrance courtyard dates back to where a fresco with the Madonna with St. Peter and St. Matthew dated 1503 survives, in the fifteenth century the building was inherited by the family of the bishop Albricio Peregrino from which the name of the palace and of which there is a copy of the funerary stele now on display in the courtyard. The new project today has established a dialogue with the pre-existing one, at the same time bringing elements of modernity to accommodate a contemporary lifestyle. Palazzo Albricci is a place full of charm and memories, represented by various memorabilia scattered here and there: in each room there are travel objects collected by the family over the years and which have been distributed and grouped by places of origin.
A few culinary secrets:
Have breakfast at Poletti’s bakery
Have aperitivo da Luciano
Eat at Ristorante Darsena della Loppia / Trattoria Del Porto Careno / Feel Como / Il Portico
Reserved, romantic, sporty and panoramic, Lake Iseo is the ideal destination for those looking for an unspoiled and peaceful corner of Italy. Its waters lap the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, up to Franciacorta (Italy’s champagne region) and its shores and surroundings offer a kaleidoscope of colors and territories to choose from. From the unspoiled nature of the Sebino Torbiere Reserve to Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Italy, up to the mountains with spectacular views, between Fonteno and Monte Creò.
The lake is truly a small jewel between the mountains of Valle Camonica and the vineyards of Franciacorta, preserved from mass tourism until two years ago, when it was made known all over the world thanks to The Floating Piers, the temporary installation of the artist Christo. Thanks to this monumental land art work, the rebirth of the 16 villages overlooking these quiet banks began, which have been the background, since the 1950s, of a Dolce Vita in the sign of understatement. The protagonists are Riva motor boats, still produced in the Sarnico shipyards. The tour aboard one of the vintage models is a memorable experience, departing from the small village of Clusane, where the Bellini Nautica is based. In nearby Iseo, you can stroll between the elegant medieval historic center and the panoramic lakefront. The Antica Strada Valeriana winds up the hills, a mule track of Roman origin and once the only access road to Valcamonica; today it reaches Pisogne, a village with a large square open on to the lake, where you can take a walk along the water and stop to see the church of Santa Maria della Neve with frescoes by Romanino, which also enjoy surprising views of the surroundings. From Sulzano in a few minutes you can reach, by ferry, Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Italy and southern Europe. In its poignant villages you still travel on a naecc, old tapered boats, where the ancient tradition of fishing and sun-dried fish has been kept alive.
Another jewel on the edge of Lake Iseo is the natural reserve of the Torbiere del Sebino. Located on its southern shores, these are among the most significant wetlands of the province, an area of 360 hectares, consisting mainly of reeds and ponds surrounded by cultivated fields, roads and houses. They are the ideal place for a walk at sunset, when the light gradually becomes more golden; of the many paths that unravel through the perfect stretches of water that give refreshment to a thriving bird life, it is difficult not to fall in love with the central path, whose walkways cross the heart of the peat bog creating symmetry between the path itself and the reflections on the placid waters surrounding it.
Capital of the lake to which it gives its name, Iseo is a lively and picturesque town where history, culture and nature coexist. Its heart is Piazza Garibaldi, in the beautiful historic center which, among all the coastal towns, has best preserved the medieval urban organization. Overlooking the lake in a semicircle, it has a fountain dedicated to the hero of two worlds and is surrounded by stately buildings. Like Palazzo Vantini, in neoclassical style, on three floors and with rusticated facades or Palazzo Antonioli, dating back to the 17th century, with its beautiful facade decorated with frescoes recently brought to light.
For lunch or dinner, head to Trattoria del Muliner. A bright tavern a few steps from the lake, where the care is not only in the furnishings and details but also in the welcome of the customers. All this, based on a close relationship with the surrounding area, Iseo and Monte Isola, with their fishermen and with the excellent raw material that Andrea ennobles in his cuisine. On the menu, daily fresh fish from the lake, agoni, pike, whitefish, tench, char. The list of raw materials that alternate in the restaurant menu is long. Unmissable, declined in a number of ways, is the dried sardine a Slow Food Presidium and the Baked Tench with stone-ground polenta.
When in Lake Iseo, stay at Villa Biondelli. A dreamy and aristocratic estate dating back to the 18th century in the vine-clad area of Franciacorta, surrounded by lush park of two hectares as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards that produce their prized and internationally recognized wines. Minutes away from the shores of the Lake, the Villa boasts 11 magnificently decorated suites which skillfully mix chic contemporary pieces with a timeless old-world décor. After a meticulous and respectful renovation, the summer residence of Ambassador Giuseppe Biondelli of Piacenza and his wife Clementina dei Conti Maggi di Gradella, reopened its doors in spring 2018 maintaining, unaltered, the authentic essence of an eighteenth-century Villa. Surrounded by mountain bike trails, Michelin starred restaurants and typical trattorias, Villa Biondelli is ideal for escaping reality while pampering yourself with great food and high quality organic products.
The blue paradise in the shadow of the Alps. Catullus, Goethe, Kafka, Mann, Gide, D’Annunzio … Writers and poets of all times have loved the great lake and its territory, the picturesque villages, the pleasant climate, the atmosphere of serenity. With cobalt blue waters and an area of 370 square km, Lake Garda represents the natural border between three regions of Northern Italy: Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige. Also known as Lago Benaco, this freshwater basin is the largest in Italy and certainly one of the most picturesque. It arises from the low hills and insinuates itself between the mountains, taking on a particular width towards the south which makes it look like a sea expanse. Although it is always the right time to go to Lake Garda (the presence of water means that the climate is mild all year round), the ideal time is between April to October, when the rains are scarce and the temperatures become pleasant. In the summer months the days are perfect for boat trips, lazy afternoons on its shores and swimming.
The villages overlooking the cerulean waters of Lake Garda are numerous and the best way to enjoy the beauties offered by these lake towns is to move between them by boat or motorboat. Among its pearls, is Sirmione: set on a long and thin peninsula that divides the lower Garda, Sirmione is a picturesque town in Brescia renowned for its thermal waters, the tourist port, the Scaliger castle and a perennial aura of peace and tranquility. Unmissable is also the Island of Garda, a strip of land 1 kilometer long and 60 meters wide. Former ancient Lombard monastery, it is the largest island of Benaco and, once upon a time, it was also called Isola dei Frati. Today the splendid Venetian neo-Gothic style villa nestled on the island still belongs to the heirs of the Russian Duchess Maria Sergeevna Annenkova, wife of Duke Gaetano de Ferrari of Genoa. You visit the island immersing yourself in the exotic flowers of the English garden which enjoys breathtaking views of the lake
Other alluring sites of interest include Peschiera del Garda: nestled in the southeastern part of Lake Garda, Peschiera is a municipality that belongs to the Veneto Region. Colorful and scenic, it has the shape of a star and, inside, houses two of the ancient settlements in the Alps. These, together with the Fortress, are part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites; Limone sul Garda, a tiny town located in the northern part, is famous for being the northernmost point in Italy where lemons and cedars grow and are cultivated. The historic center is characterized by very steep and narrow streets, which can only be covered on foot or by bicycle at the most.Desenzano sul Garda boasts a romantic and flower-filled waterfront with a plethora of cute cafe, picture-perfect pastel coloured houses, the remains of a roman villa and a medieval castle.
This year, a new travel route100 kilometers long, was inaugurated on its shores: the path, called “Cammino del Bardolino” is best traveled by foot or by bike, and touches small churches, hermitages and hilltop villages, as well as a number of wine estates which produce the local red wine called Bardolino, which gives the name to the way. Among its stops is the small church of San Pietro, a Romanesque oratory with a quadrangular bell tower built on an area where there was a Roman and early medieval necropolis, of which remains and burials have been found. The objective of the path is to enhance the historical, cultural and economic heritage of the Bardolino DOC production area. The project is structured as a tool to spread knowledge of the inland places and to improve hospitality management in an area characterized by great landscape qualities and important wine production.
When on the shores of Lake Garda, try to book a table at Lido 84: leave the car in the parking lot and a short descent will lead you to a small corner of paradise, facing one of the most beautiful views of the Lake The room is elegant with many small refinements that will be perceived along the course of the meal and two brothers in charge, one in the dining room and the other in the kitchen. The cuisine is gluttunous , without fear of being full, round and generous, and leaves the impression that every meal at Lido 84 is that of Sunday: joyful, festive, thanks to a relaxed and informal atmosphere, as well as frequent exchanges with the chefs, who in many cases bring the dishes themselves to the table. For a special occasion, book the table in the stone room inside the wonderful garden. Elected by the prestigious World’s Best Restaurant’s as Italy’s n.1, it currently ranks n.15 in the worldwide list.
Stay at Locanda San Vigilio. Located in Punta San Vigilio, a strip of land which stretches out from the shores of the lake, this place is by far one of the most enchanting and idyllic places in all of Italy. Goethe, on his trip to Italy in the distant 1700s, praised the beauty and harmony of this peninsula which, despite the fact that over a few centuries have passed, still continues today to amaze, beguile and bewitch with its splendid views. To the traveler who arrived in San Vigilio in 1500 and docked at the marina, an inscription engraved on a marble plaque, placed on the entrance arch, urged him to “leave business and worries to the city” and to appreciate and enjoy the local tranquility Napoleon, Tsar Alexander II, Winston Churchill, Prince Charles of England, King Juan Carlos of Bourbon, Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh are just some of the many illustrious people who have sought shelter from the burdens of life in this ancient and wondrous place. Locanda San Vigilio has inspired artists, reconciled humanists and philosophers and sealed new and old loves. Walking in the small port is like entering another dimension, a Mediterranean enclave locked between lake and mountain, with spectacular views over the rock of Manerba and the Gulf of Salò. Book one of the lake-facing rooms (if you want to splurge, book the Grand Suite) and stay for the dinner in their wonderful,t restaurant whose windows and views are an open eye dream.
Photography by Carmen Colombo
Photos by Carmen Colombo