Lake Como: A romantic weekend getaway
Lake Como is a place I have always wanted to visit. I've travelled to Italy many times and in the summer of 2015 I travelled through Italy including Lake Garda, but back then I was strapped for time so didn't get to venture to "Como", famous for celebrities like George Clooney and their villa hideaways.
Rest assured however, that's not all Lake Como is famous for. When people think of Lake Como, I think they automatically think of romance. Of wedding venues. Of extravagant villas that house some of the best love stories and parties around. They would be right.
My partner and I were invited to "discover Lake Como" by Mario, with a business of the same name. Mario wanted us to stay in his villa in Mezzegra and explore the village and surrounding areas so that we could see what he sees everyday; a perfect base for any couple or small family wanting to explore the many villages along the lake with ease and wonder.
Arriving into one of Milan's two airports, we picked up our hire car at Linate airport, (bought through Sicily Rent A Car at only 50 Euros for the 3 days), and ventured along the motorway towards the emerald green waters of Lake Como.
Our journey of course was captured through Instagram stories, so I could give you all a snapshot of how we were living our lives for that one weekend.
On arriving into Mezzegra we were met by a place known to tourists and locals for being the place where Mussolini, the facist Italian leader in the days of World War II was executed, along with his mistress Claretta, after being intersected and captured on Lake Como. This happened in the town of Mezzegra, this little known village that centres around a beautiful church on top of the hill overlooking the water. A historical important place there is no doubt.
Once inside our villa we were met with views of the lake from our window, and a truly authentic Italian style, that by no means would be considered luxury interior decor to some, but that was to us, spacious and bright, with beautiful Italian features, a well designed bathroom, not to mention the espresso machine in the kitchen complete with capsules, and all the wonderful messages of love and thanks given to Mario by his guests that had stayed there. Depending on the time of year this villa is rented out anywhere between 55 to 70 Euros a night, and is a fantastic price, not just for the size and comfort of the villa but for the location. We couldn't have asked for a better location to explore.
Arriving in and getting unpacked by around 1pm on that Friday afternoon, we were left with the entire day to adventure out and immerse ourselves in the magical waters of Lake Como. The Tremezzina area, meaning 3 halves, is where the 3 "legs" of the lake meet. We decided to abandon our car, parked safety in her space and explore on foot as we'd be told it wasn't a place where a car was an absolute necessity to get around. There were an abundance of boats, ferries, and even the little tourist train (it resembled the ones you see that kids ride on along the beach), that follows the recently opened "Greenways" walking routes along the lake, and through the many villages that surround her. Just look out for the green granite slabs and steel markers to signpost your way.
We chose to walk along the main road in that area, which is the SS Regina, and got our first real visual of this massive stretch of water, twinkling under the beautifully hot Italian sunshine, it looked really inviting, and it didn't take us long to jump in. We explored the Parco Teresio Olivelli, sunbathing and jumping in the lake, all whilst having the views of the incredible fountain that you'll see in my photo below. I adore nature, and the greenery surrounding us in this park, as well as being on the front of the lake, able to jump in at any moment was heaven for me. My partner Laurie couldn't get enough, and with goggles in hand was off swimming out in the fresh waters of the lake, taking in the spectacular views that you are blessed with when you visit.
As we tore ourselves away from the "Parco", we were met with the most fabulous villas on our walk. These villas were something else. The grounds and flowers that surround them alone will draw you in, but unfortunately for us most of the huge metal decorated gates were closed to the public. I managed to sneak up the pathway of Villa Carlotta and capture some photos before I noticed some nearby security and turned back.
Below is a list of some must see villas & hotels on this stretch of the walk:-
Walking in the 36 degree heat had made us thirsty, so we stopped for a drink in the Hotel Villa Marie, which was so pretty. It reminded us of the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles; not that I've stayed there yet, but I've seen many photos and it looks as dreamy as the Villa Marie Hotel.
The Grand Hotel Tremezzo located "a few doors down", was luxury at its finest. 5 star everything, with your own private lido and artificial beach on the lake in front of the hotel. Two days prior to us arriving, Chris Smalling a Manchester United Football player had married his childhood sweetheart, Sam Cooke on Lake Como, and a lot of their guests including Wayne Rooney were seen in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo enjoying some alfresco dining and drinks.
It was about that time for us to indulge in some much needed Italian cuisine, so we headed to Red and White Wine Bar, and sat outside with views overlooking the water, whilst we indulged in what Italy is famous for, Pizza and Pasta, with some wine and water thrown in for good measure.
After fuelling our bodies we were eager to get over to Bellagio, a place that is very popular amongst tourists, and a place that was the inspiration for the Las Vegas hotel of the same name. Who knew?! Unfortunately for us the passenger ferry was only running for another hour so there didn't seem much point as we wanted to take lots of photographs, explore and enjoy the sunset. Luckily for us though, there was the option of the car ferry, which runs to Bellagio every 30 minutes until around midnight., so we didn't miss out on our adventures around this charming village, built in yellow stone, as the sun lowered in the sky, kissing the buildings and giving us perfect opportunities for photos and gelato. When in Rome! Or should that be Italy?!
After our wake up call that day in London at 4am to get to the airport and catch our flight, we were finally starting to feel the tiredness set in, so we jumped back on the car ferry, a mere 10 minute journey across the water and back to Tremezzo. From there we ventured back to Mezzegra and into the warmth and welcome of our villa.
There's something about waking up in a foreign land. The heat of the sun streaming through the windows, the smell and sounds of local life happening in the streets below. It's always very exciting to me, and I'm like a child, bouncing up out of bed ready for the adventures ahead.
Today was "the festival on the lake", also known as the Festival of San Giovanni, a spectacular display of fireworks and music on the Comacina Island, which is the only island on the lake. Now I don't know about you, but I LOVE fireworks, and I live for music, so the two combined was a perfect night ahead for me.
For the day ahead, we packed up our cameras, towels, sunscreen and googles and headed to Lenno, north along the lake from Mezzegra, where we were staying. Following the Greenway again we ventured through some little villages and fields, complete with cows and horses grazing in the open meadows. From time to time we stopped to talk to other travellers that passed us on the Greenway, and powered up and down the many hills and paths that follow the lake.
Arriving into Lenno, our first thought was food, so we headed to a small, traditional restaurant on the lake that was packed full of Italian people excitedly talking about the upcoming festival that was taking place there that night. It seemed to me that a lot of Italian people from all across the country, especially Milan (what with it being so close), ventured to Lake Como for this breathtaking tradition that happened every year. Our lunch was "delizioso" as the Italians would say. Pasta again, and a seafood salad to fill us up for day.
As the sun got hotter, and we longed to swim in the lake, we made our way to the artificial beach in Lenno, at the Lido de Lenno. A sandy oasis right on the front of the lake, with easy access into the water, and a nearby local beach that you can swim to, if you so desire. With the entry fee as low as 5 Euros each, and the option to buy a sun lounger or deck chair, we set up camp for a few hours in this relatively isolated spot. As we relaxed back under the blazing hot sun, the smattering of Italian locals around us laughed and splashed and played in the warm waters of the lake. As you can probably tell it wasn't long before we took a dip.
The great thing about this lido is not only is it easily accessible from the village of Mezzegra, but it's also very cheap, and relatively uncrowded. There is a restaurant attached, which offers reasonably priced food and drinks in the day, and when the sun sets and the night sky draws in, it turns into a very hip, cool bar to party the night away.
Unfortunately we didn't get to experience that side of it, as we knew we had to head back to our villa, stocking up on food and wine supplies from the local supermarket on the way, to get changed and head back out for the festival.
Making our way back to Lenno for the party, we were met with many people doing the same, all on foot, because to drive is something I would never recommend to you in a million years. Just another great reason for our stay in Mezzegra, as Lenno is only approximately a 20 minute walk, so our hire car stayed tucked away safely in her spot.
To be in Lake Como for the "Sagra de San Giovanni" was incredible, and it was so heart warming to be part of a tradition, which celebrates the vibrant heritage of the lake. The focal point is of course the floating lamps on the lake, and the magnificent firework display, but it became very obvious to us that this was a community event. A night where Italians and tourists alike from across the globe come together through food, dance and music, to celebrate such a wonderful place. The event takes place on the last weekend of June every year, the closest weekend to Saint Johns Day.
Our night of dancing, eating, and drinking Italian beers and vino blanco was almost over. We'd immersed ourselves into the crowds of Italian people and watched the beautifully colourful fireworks light up the night sky that enveloped the lake. It was time to head back, and at that moment I couldn't of been more thankful that we had decided to walk. Bumper to bumper traffic for miles that didn't move - genuinely it didn't.
Our penultimate day before we flew back to London, and by far our best day on the lake. The number 1 reason for that was renting a power boat. Simple pleasures.
My partner Laurie has a power boat licence, but on Lake Como it's not needed, anyone can rent a boat on the lake. After our very brief safety briefing we zoomed off onto the magical, calm waters of the lake, surrounded by nature, the scorching sun and with our cameras (of course), to capture the moments, and life time memories being made. It was such an fantastic day.
I sunbathed on the front of the boat, we took turns diving off and jumping in to refresh ourselves, in the fresh waters of the lake. We drove the boat close to nearby villages, such as Varenna, and villas, as we explored everything Lake Como has to offer, but from the water rather than the land. I felt like I was living in a dream that day. I've always said that I either belong on or in the water - so for me this was the perfect combination for a Sunday spent with my love.
Unfortunately at 110 Euros for 2 hours, we didn't get to spend as long as we would have liked on the boat, but to have anytime at all to experience powering the boat through the lake, and taking in the natural landscapes that surrounded us was pretty breath taking. Boat hire on this part of the lake can be found in Tremezzo, which is where we hired ours and the village of Lenno. Basically the longer you hire the boat for, the cheaper it becomes each hour. If we are lucky enough to visit again, or when we hire a boat in another destination, we'll definitely be hiring it for as long as we can. Best day.
After the adrenalin pumped ride of being on the lake, we decided to venture to the nearby Lido in the village of Menaggio to relax and soak in the last few hours of the sun, before our flight home early the next morning. The Lido de Menaggio was huge, with lots of facilities, including use of the lake, swimming pool, toilets, restaurants, and of course the sun loungers. We paid 13 Euro's for both of us to use the swimming pool and sun loungers, for half a day, so to use for a full day it would be 26 Euros for two people. One thing to bear in mind at this lido is that you are not permitted to swim in the pool without a swimming cap, which I found quite funny, as it seemed so "old world, Europe". Nevertheless, if like me you are a bit of a rule breaker you wont get away with it for long, before the lifeguards descend on you. You have been warned.
Lake Como for us was over too soon, but having said that 3 days on the lake is the perfect amount of time to get a real feel for this destination, and all it has to offer. From the UK, flights are around 1 hour 30 minutes into one of Milan's two airports, and the lake from there is approximately an hour and a half drive, and a very pretty one at that. It's the ideal place for a romantic getaway, or a relaxed trip with family and friends. It's a place I would highly recommend visiting, with Mezzegra being the perfect base for your trip to Italy's 3rd largest lake, where a natural paradise awaits.
We will be back.
Please note that all opinions in this article are my own, and that I was not financially compensated to write this article nor to highlight any links that I have.
Check out my next blog post going live on Monday 10th July for a listed breakdown of where to visit, and what not to miss on your visit to Lake Como.