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Lake Como Travel Guide

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Buongiorno from Italy! I can't believe I’m already a couple weeks into my 3 months in Europe- time has flown by. Today I’m catching up on work at a cafe in Milan before I swap out travel buddies and head to my next country, but I’ve spent the last 14 days roaming around northern Italy with my friend Tillie. Our first stop? Lake Como. 

I flew into Milan and the plan was to meet Tillie (we had different flights) at a health food store we found directly across from Milano Centrale station before hopping on our train to Como.  When I turned on my new international phone, it alerted me that I was roaming - so I spent my first hour in Europe on the phone with my provider to sort out the miscommunication and get put on the correct plan (glamorous, right?) Don’t get me wrong-I was never naive to the fact that spending three months in Europe was going to present me with some complications (I mean, just five days in I had already missed a train and had a wonky wheel on my suitcase). But I sure did hit the ground running with some stress upon arrival. So needless to say, I was extremely relieved to finally arrive- I truly can’t think of a better place to have kicked off my three month adventure (sure to come with many more speed bumps).

I’ve heard people talk about Lake Como for years now, and it’s always sounded magical. In case you’ve never heard much about it, let me paint the picture for you: take all the architecture and cuisine that you love about Italy, add the scenic mountain majesty of Switzerland that makes you drool (because it’s only a 10 minute drive across the ridge) and top it all off with the fact that George Clooney has a place there. 

It's only an hour train ride from Milan, so it's super easy to add to the front or back end of a trip if you're already flying out of that airport. But even if you don't have any vacation plans already in the works, just go ahead and add this dreamy destination to your list of places to visit. And once you start planning? Here are some things to do in Lake Como (and things to know in general) you simply can't miss. 

 

STAY

VILLA MATILDA

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First if you're wondering where to stay in Lake Como, I have you covered. There’s no question that my trip was as great as it was because of Tony and Shirley at Villa Matilda, in Torno. I write a lot of hotel reviews on here and try to provide the best recommendations that I can for when you book your travels. But I want to be sure that the volume of reviews that I’ve done doesn’t water down my sincerity when I say how much I advise you stay here. 

 

For starters, most accommodations in the area will either be “budget” lodges or will cost at least €600 a night. Villa Matilda is a perfect combination of the two, offering affordable rates (rooms start at just €200) but offer amenities even beyond luxury competitors (like a full functioning kitchen, terraces with views, a heated pool, secured gated protection, free parking, etc.) In addition to the price point, I adored the location (Torno). It’s pretty common for tourists to stay in larger or “more popular” towns like Como or Bellagio, but I wouldn’t have traded our experience in Torno for anything. I loved getting a more "local" experience and having a more peaceful ambiance, but still having everything we needed with equal convenience. 

 

But beyond the extremely competitive pricing and ideal location, what Tony and Shirley offer in hospitality is invaluable.  

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Tony picked us up from the ferry and helped us with all our luggage, provided us with dozens and dozens of fantastic recommendations for food, and because he and Shirley have lived there for so many years, they are a wealth of knowledge about the entire area. Additional bonus: they have another house in the states and are fluent in English. I can’t tell you what a luxury it was to have someone who knew the area so well that spoke the same language. But aside from how willing he and Shirley were to help point us in the right direction and enjoy our time in Torno, they were wonderful humans and so fun to get to know.

I’ll never forget the very first night of my three months abroad, we sat with Tony and Shirley and some other guests that were on holiday at the Villa's pool for an aperitif (Aperol Spritz of course). Our new friends from Cornwall talked to us all about what it’s been like in the UK since the “Brexit” decision. They picked our brains about the upcoming election in the states. We laughed and shared stories (while drinking more aperitifs and eating lots of prosciutto and cheese). It’s moments like that night that I hoped for when I decided to book this trip. I’m so thankful that I had not only such a beautiful place to stay, but such great company to spend our time with.

I could literally write an entire blog post just dedicated to Villa Matilda: our breathtaking view of the Lake that we would admire every morning while drinking coffee in the kitchen, our rooftop terrace where we drank Chianti and watched the sun go down, or the pool overlooking Lake Como where we relaxed multiple times during our stay. 

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If you’re interested in taking a trip of your own (which I can’t recommend enough) and have any specific questions that I didn't address, visit www.villamatildatorno.com or go ahead and contact Tony to inquire about a booking (info@villamatildatorno.com). I promise you won't regret it.

VILLA MATILDA TORNO ITALY LAKE COMO

 

 

 

EAT

It's no secret that Italy is brimming with yummy food. So what are the best restaurants in Lake Como? Here are a few of my favorites: 

ORANGERIE RESTAURANT AT CASTADIVA

We spent our first full day on Lake Como visiting CastaDiva (a luxury resort about 10 minutes south of where we were staying in Torno) and it certainly set the bar high for the rest of our trip.  I’ll speak to the spa in the “Do” section, but you don’t want to miss eating outside on the terrace at Orangerie Restaurant.  

Their award-winning Chef Gennaro Esposito (boasting 2 Michelin stars) "knows how to fish the gastronomic treasures of the Lake Como area to build courses that satisfy the senses." Every course we experienced had a blend of ingredients to create a unique dish unlike anything I've ever tried. The wait staff was incredibly knowledgable and friendly, and made a point to explain every course in great detail. And the cherry on top of all the deliciousness was the incredible view. I could have easily sat on that terrace and drank rosé all day. So if you need a break from pasta, pasta, and more pasta and want to experience gourmet dining with sweeping views, be sure to pay them a visit. 

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The weather in Lake Como was pretty much perfect, although we did have one rainy day. We opted to retreat to Villa Lario, a small luxury hotel about 20 minutes from Torno for lunch. We were greeted by Diego, the manager who welcomed us right away with a glass of prosecco and seated us in their restaurant- which offers modern Italian cuisine. All their pastas are homemade, the fish is caught fresh, and lots the vegetables are grown on the property. Everything was fantastic and had a twist on the traditional Italian dishes you're used to ordering. Not only are they great if you’re looking for a meal with incredible views and a luxurious setting, but their chef also leads Italian cooking classes every week. If I can learn to cook like that, I might never eat out again.

 

 

 

RISTORANTE HOSTERIETTA

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I don't understand how any human couldn't love truffle. After raving about some delicious truffle honey Tony served us during happy hour at Villa Matilda, he told us we had to have dinner at  Ristorante Hosterietta (and because of it I will forever trust him at his word.) They specialize in truffle (but not the diluted truffle oil we're used to in the states- the actual Italian delicacy). The food was incredible, and the setting couldn't have been more idyllic. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone visiting Lake Como. And if there is a wait? No problem. Head around the corner to the roof of COIN Department Store for a spritz overlooking the Duomo (a fun little trick that Shirley from Villa Matilda taught us). 

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HOTEL SUISSE RESTAURANT
hotel suisse restaurant bellagio

For our last night in Lake Como, Tony made a reservation for all of us to eat at Hotel Suisse Restaurant in Bellagio. Guido, Tony’s friend who owns the restaurant, greeted us with a warm welcome, and the entire staff took wonderful care of us throughout the evening. Guido is actually a local from Bellagio (which I found to be surprising in a town that's full of tourists). We sat on their beautiful rooftop patio overlooking the lake and watched the sun go down while we drank aperitifs (you guessed it- more Aperol spritz). Tony ordered a fantastic bottle of wine from Verona for us to have with our meal. All the food that was sent out was delicious and extremely high-quality. Paired with the beautiful atmosphere, it made for such a great evening. I definitely recommend eating here when you visit Bellagio (and I’d suggest making a reservation- it seemed to be a popular place!)

 

DO

SPA AT CASTADIVA RESORT

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As previously mentioned, our first full day in Lake Como was spent visiting CastaDiva, and they did not disappoint. Along with our lunch at Orangerie, we spent some time relaxing in their spa, the largest one in the Lake Como area. Their unique treatment rooms mimic various elements: earth, air, fire and water. I got to see all of them (each design unique to it's respective name) and had a massage in the water room (complete with my own aquarium- swoon!) Regardless of what treatment you decide to partake in, you can relax in a variety of incredible areas like their salt bath, sauna, or relaxation room (which happens to be on glass floors on top of Lake Como so you can see the water below you). I recommend spending an afternoon there like we did, so you can relax and enjoy both the spa and restaurant while soaking up views of Lake Como.  

 

 

VARENNA TAXI BOAT + VILLA BALBIANELLO

varenna taxi boat

You'll quickly realize that getting around Lake Como is best by boat, however the water taxi's aren't always the easiest to navigate (see my pro tips below for an easy solve there). I knew while I was there that I wanted to do a smaller boat tour (not crammed on some giant ferry) that would show me some of the towns, and I'm so glad I found Varenna Taxi Boat. We did a small group tour (less than 8 people) that took place on a beautiful open air speed boat. We departed from Varenna but saw several surrounding towns by water (including Bellagio, Tremezzo and San Giovanni). But the highlight of the tour was stopping at Villa Balbianello- a stunning property where a number of movies have been shot (Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, Casino Royale, and A Month by the Lake). Everything about the Villa and the grounds was absolutely breathtaking- arguably the most beautiful thing I saw during my time in the Lake Como area.

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After spending about an hour exploring around the Villa, we got back on the boat for some more exploring on the water. Our tour guide Luca spoke great english, was extremely informative, and had some good jokes too. I loved seeing Lake Como this way, and would definitely recommend them to anyone visiting the area. 

 

As I'm putting these guides together while I'm in Europe, I wanted to include a dedicated section to provide some miscellaneous pieces of advice. Traveling abroad comes with more areas to navigate than traveling domestically, so hopefully you find these "bonus tips" to be beneficial. 

 

BONUS LAKE COMO PRO TIPS:

  • If you want to venture to other towns for meals, do so for lunch. Most water taxis stop running between 6:30 and 8 (and cabs are NOT cheap) so while you may be able to make it to dinner, you may get stuck with a pricy trip home. 
  • Download the Gestione Navigazione Laghi app for seamless water taxi schedules and transfer information to make getting around extremely easy. 

*Shoutout to Tony at Villa Matilda for teaching me both of these!

 

BONUS ITALY PRO TIPS: 

  • As in many parts of Europe, be sure to clarify if you want still or sparkling when you order water (and be prepared to pay either way- it's usually all bottled). Italians prefer the tasted of bottled mineral water over tap water (and just FYI- it contains a small amount of sodium for taste) so don't go jumping to conclusions that they're trying to rip you off when the bill comes. The tap water is safe to drink, so if you're like me and want to stay hydrated at low cost, carry your own bottle in your purse and fill it up at a fountain or from the sink as needed. You can always try asking for "acqua del rubinetto" aka tap water, but don't put up a stink if they don't cooperate. You're the one being difficult in this instance. 
  • Attempt conversational phrases as a common courtesy. Even if you just say "ciao" (it's hello AND goodbye, so you're just plain lazy if you don't) and "grazie" (thank you) it shows you respect their culture and you won't seem like an ignorant American who assumes everyone in the world speaks english. 

 

Long story short, Lake Como is pretty magical and someplace I loved visiting. There's really something for everyone, and I could have easily spent much more time there than I did. If you have questions I didn't address, feel free to ask me! (theblondeatlas@gmail.com). 

 

One final note: starting next week (needed a few weeks over here to get my bearings) I'm going to start posting twice a week on the blog. Tuesdays will be my dedicated travel posts with detailed guides about each destination I'm visiting while abroad. Later in the week (every Thursday or Friday) I'll be sharing more about my experiences while living abroad.

 

There's tons of stories and recommendations coming to life every day that I'm here, so I wanted to find a way to categorize everything so if one interests you more than the other, you'll know when to tune in. Anything specific you want to hear about? Let me know!

 

I have lots more to share, but I'm out of espresso so that's all for today. Thanks for stopping by! 

 

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