Lake Como is mesmerising no matter which part of it you choose to visit. Even more charming, though, are the towns that populate its shores. Their multi-coloured houses and luxury villas contrast against the glittering water to create picture-postcard vistas that are hard to ignore.
From Bellagio’s cosmopolitan allure to Nesso’s raw beauty, the towns around Lake Como in Lombardy, Italy, play a big part in the latter’s popularity. Whether you choose to stay in a sumptuous villa or relax by a gorgeous waterfall, you are bound to fall in love with these precious gems. Read on for our favourite Lake Como towns.
Dubbed “the pearl of Lake Como”, this small, elegant village sitting halfway between the two southernmost branches of the lake is the most visited in the area. Bellagio will win you over with its unrivalled coastal views, its cobbled, flower-lined streets and its Instagrammable houses with ivy-covered balconies that come in all kinds of pastel colours. The town is also famous for its classy villas; make sure to visit Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni – their spectacular gardens are open to the public – before you shop in the arcades facing the water or sip on an aperitivo near the ferry dock.
Typically seen as a getaway to other towns around the lake, Como is probably the most underrated of the group. This is indeed where you can catch ferries to various parts of the lake, but Como is so much more than that. If you choose to spend some time here, the town will reward you with its rich history and pretty architecture. Pass by the marvellous churches, such as the 15th-century Duomo or the imposing San Fedele, and stroll along the lovely lakeside promenade. Other must-sees include Porta Pretoria, the ancient gate to the town, and the medieval centre, marked by beautiful 12th- and 13th-century buildings.
It probably doesn’t get more peaceful or rainbow-coloured than Varenna. This steep hillside village owes its charm to the cute fishermen’s houses that contrast with the grand villas of its neighbour, Bellagio. Home to no more than 900 residents, Varenna has kept its authenticity, which shines through in the romantic boardwalk, the picturesque churches and the buildings’ traditional facades. Relax by the lake, or in the lush gardens of the dreamy Villa Monastero, and follow the narrow path all the way up to Castello di Vezio for some incredible lake views; the castle stands out thanks to the eerie ghostlike figures that adorn its walls and that are the subject of many urban legends.
Directly across the lake from Varenna lies this small town that serves as the more laid-back, less popular sister-village to Bellagio. Once a walled city in medieval times, Menaggio is now a quaint resort brimming with hotels, cafes, characterful boutiques and even a mini-golf course. While away at the lakefront promenade with its bright-coloured houses before climbing up the stairs to the older part of the town to admire the remnants of the walls that once bordered the ancient castle. Don’t miss the lively Piazza Garibaldi and its truly unique 19th-century architecture – it’s where locals gather for a cup of coffee or a fun night out.
If you’re looking for abundant nature amid glamorous villas, then Tremezzo should be your go-to lakeside retreat. The town is most famous for the stunning gardens of Villa Carlotta, which feature azaleas, Japanese maples, palm trees, cacti, bamboo and orchids among more than 500 species. The entire property covers an area of 14 acres (6ha); step inside the 17th-century Neoclassical villa to find an interesting collection of paintings, sculptures and tapestries. Another highlight is the lavish Grand Hotel Tremezzo that looks out at Bellagio across the shimmering lake – the hotel has its own park, while one of its pools literally floats on the lake.
For the ultimate tranquil destination, stop in Nesso. This small town found halfway between Bellagio and Como will appeal to those looking for a low-key stay, amidst unbelievable nature. Nesso is known for its majestic gorge and the series of waterfalls gushing out of it and feeding into the lake. Cross one of the dreamlike bridges and you’ll find yourselves in awe of the green and sparkling-blue scenery. The gorge is so impressive that it has caught the attention of artists through the years. Leonardo da Vinci once referred to Nesso as “a land where a river falls with great violence into a vast rift in the mountain.”
The fishing town of Bellano boasts an even more astonishing, steep ravine, called Orrido di Torrente Pioverna, which was formed by an erosion 15 million years ago. The difference here is that you can actually experience the wondrous gorge from the inside in all its precipitous glory, as long as you follow the catwalks that are fixed in the rock exactly for this purpose. Take photos of the caves as you stare down to the milky waters of the lake and breathe in the natural scents. Painted lakeside homes are once again prominent, as are tall trees and a number of pretty white boats moored on the harbour.
Home to some world-renowned villas, Cernobbio is equal parts serene and cosmopolitan. Standing out are Villa Erba and Villa d’Este; having served as a cardinal’s summer residence from 1568 to 1873, the latter is now a luxurious hotel frequented by the rich and famous. It features landscaped gardens, plush interiors complete with classy chandeliers, an outdoor pool floating on the lake and deluxe spa facilities. Hiking enthusiasts will also appreciate Cernobbio’s location, as the town sits near the start of the Monti Lariani Trail, which extends across 130km (80mi) through the hills on the west side of Lake Como.