I’m FINALLY visiting Lake Como!

By Rick

May 4, 2014

visiting lake comoThere are several places in Italy that have been on “my list” for a while, but without a doubt, visiting Lake Como holds the top spot.  Maybe the perceived distance has kept me away until now.  Although it’s a bit of a trek from Rome, it’s super easy to reach from Milan (by train or car) in about an hour.  And since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I’d stop by and see what all the fuss is about.

Whatever anyone has told you about visiting Lake Como, I assure you, they’re lying.  Or at least they aren’t telling you the whole truth—if only because their lexicon of superlative adjectives is wanting and unimaginative.  Then again, Shakespeare would’ve been challenged to find sufficient words to describe the surreal quality of this landscape.  One could spend days just hopping from town to town by boat, and gazing hypnotically at the grand villas reflecting off the icy-blue waters.  Which, more or less, is what we’ve been doing.  An expanded thesaurus would come in handy right about now.

visiting Lake Como with Rick

This isn’t a destination where you work your way through a checklist of famous monuments, or visit important museums.  This is a place to relax.  And I found just the cozy corner to do precisely that.  It’s a little village called Gittana, and it’s only five minutes “above” the slightly more famous town of Varenna, offering expansive panoramas of the lake in all its glory.  In my opinion, these smaller hamlets are much more appealing—and better suited for relaxation—than the overcrowded Bellagio or the larger town of Como itself.see varenna while visiting Lake Como

But in fact, even Varenna can get a little packed during high-season (June, July, August).  Several years back, it was touted by Rick Steves as his pick for an off-the-beaten-path location in the Lake Region.  And just like that, what once was undiscovered is now everybody’s “secret” hideaway.  Alas.

That’s why I chose Gittana.  It’s just a quick 5-minute drive to the center of Varenna, so you can still sneak into town during the morning or evening hours, avoiding the swell of day trippers in the middle of the afternoon.  And of course, Bellagio and Menaggio are easily reached by ferry boat from Varenna’s port, should you get the urge to mingle with the crowds and search for celebrities.  As we all know, George Clooney frequents these parts. (I tweeted him an invitation for aperitivo, but so far no response.)

Holidays in Gittana, Lake Como
Risotto con asparagi

So, since George apparently has more pressing engagements, we’ve been enjoying this tranquil ambiance on our own with the guidance of our hostess, Alessandra.  Yesterday she took us to see her newly planted olive trees, which will eventually yield fruit and then, of course, oil.  But while there were no olives yet, her land is full of wild asparagus, which we all collected, and Alessandra later used to make risotto.  Dinner also included some bresaola, vitello tonnato, homemade bread, and local wine.  The best meal that we’ve had on our trip by far.

The walk to Alessandra’s olive grove is along Il Sentiero del Viandante, a trekking path of about 45 kilometers that stretches from Abbadia Lariana to Colico.  Think of it as El Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain meets La Via dell’Amore in Cinque Terre.  In other words, part pilgrim trail and part scenic hike.  Fair warning, the hike, while beautiful, is not for the out of shape, as I quickly came to realize.  However, if you love walking amongst nature with one of the most stunning backdrops as your view, then it’s very much worth the effort.

Our new friend Alessandra owns and operates Holidays in Gittana, a small nest of self-catering apartments that she has lovingly restored and redecorated.  The units still maintain much of their original construction, including wood beam ceilings and fireplaces.  We stayed in the one bedroom, one bath “Ca’ Pina,” which was built in the 1400s.  Yes, that’s the 15th Century, my friends.  She has other units which are bigger and can accommodate up to six people.

holiday rentals in varenna
View from Alessandra’s garden.

For half the price of a hotel room in Bellagio, we are relaxing in a fully functional “home away from home” with all the comforts and conveniences.  The apartments all have kitchens and laundry facilities, and everything you’d need to be relaxed and comfortable.  If you plan to stay in the area for more than a few days, this option is particularly nice because you can really slow down and take your time to appreciate your surroundings.  You can make a simple meal for yourself if you don’t feel like going out to eat twice a day (which frankly, gets old, in my opinion).

In the coming weeks/months I will have more to say about visiting Lake Como and the people we met during our stay.  And more photos.  For now, I just wanted to give you all a little peek at this stunning area of Northern Italy.  The visual impact alone is reason enough to come, and it leaves you gasping for breath.  Of course, there are many, MANY beautiful locations around Italy, but the Lake Region has a certain dream-like quality about it.  Too bad tomorrow I’ll have to wake up and leave.

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About the author

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • You managed to push the most sensitive buttons of nostalgia fr my early youth, when we would travel to Lake Como (more properly Lake Lecco, were you were) on long, day-long trips by bicycle or scooter from my home in Milan. We loved Mandello and Fiumelatte.
    Next time you go there, try to get up the road from Bellagio to Ghisallo: you’ll get a breathtaking view of the Mountains to the East…. sigh…
    I’m so jealous!!
    Gianni – Chatham, NY (a.k.a. @gianpadano)

    • Sounds like wonderful memories! Thanks for the tips, too. I’ll be sure to check out the view and take a photo for you!

  • Wow! I’m so envious….your description makes me feel I’m already there. I did visit many years ago and absorbed all that I could of the peaceful beauty. Think I’ll need to return real soon.
    Tell me more about the lodging you have. Who do I contact or web site?

    Thanks for your contribution to the lovers of Italy,

    Angela Santiglia, President
    Destination Paradise Int’l Inc
    Boca Raton, FL 33486 USA
    561 367 9829

    • Hi Angela, thanks for your comments/questions. I stayed at apartments called Holidays in Gittana, owned by Alessandra. She was way beyond helpful in advising us during our stay and even welcomed us into her own home for dinner. http://www.holidaysingittana.it/ Please tell her that I sent you! Ciao

  • One of the ways we learn the language is printing out Italian songs and translating them. We are finding that the most important part of the learning is hearing and speaking the language. It’s not always perfect
    but it’s fun! We are having dinner and a river cruise tomorrow evening with our group, The Sons of Italy, and we will have printed out songs to follow. Should be fun!! Viva l’Italia!!

      • Well, we had our cruise with the Sons Of Italy up the Manatee River. The weather was perfect. We had our dinner and then we cruised up the river and had a lovely sunset.and Italian music all the way.There were 38 of us! Our leader had printed out the Italian lyrics to the music and we sang our hearts out and danced. Some one brought Lemoncello, more wine and we vowed to do it again.

  • I was married to a gorgeous Italian (died 2 years ago) who lived after the ww2 behind Villa de Este in Cernobbio. He immigrated in 1956 and I met him in 1970 in a singing group. He had several friends in Lake Como and we visited there over a dozen times. Through his work (PHD in Chemistry with the DOE in Wash D C) he had business in Milan. Como was only an hour away. One friend who I keep in touch with still lives in Griante, Como. She is coming to visit with me next year and I hope to go back.
    Our last visit was after we retired to Florida. We went in 1997 to Italy for 3 months. In spite of all my time spent there I never learned the language because all our friends over there spoke English. I am now in an Italian study group struggling to learn the language.

  • Lake Como is definitely on my list for upcoming trips, especially with Alessandra as the hostess in her lovely self-catering establishment. I agree, Rick, eating out every meal gets old and it is so nice to have a place to enjoy some of the local foods in your own space! I love the gorgeous landscape. Glad you finally made to that region of Italy with or without George–he’s too busy with his new love.

    • Yes, I’ve heard George is preoccupied these days, so no hard feelings. But I can certainly see why he bought a house here!

  • hello Rick
    we stayed in Cernobbio, and it was just as fabulous. I agree with everything you say, particularly the dreamlike quality. The feeling is one of peace, listening to the waters of the lake lapping gently…and the sunset (believe it) was amazing…so peaceful. I could live here with ease. All the best

    • Grazie, Patricia! Yes, I’d love to come back and visit all the place that I missed this time, like Cernobbio. I’ve heard others say it’s lovely, too. Thanks for the great feedback…ciao!

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