The Best Places to Stay on Lake Como

The first time I visited Lago di Como, I thought that of course, the village of Como would be the best place to stay. I knew nothing about the Lake but wanted to be in the heart of the action.

The choice of accommodation was much greater there, since it seemed to be the largest town, but I kept being drawn to other parts of the lake. Lucky I did, because now I live there I realize Como is too far from the main attractions so is definitely not the best place to stay.

The Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle

The tourist hub of Italy’s most popular lake, an upside down Y shape, is centred in what is known as the Golden Triangle. The centre of the triangle, where all three arms of the lake meet, is the village of Bellagio, called the Pearl of Lake Como. It’s one of the oldest villages on the lake, and also one of, if not the most visited. Although, to my mind, not the most charming for this very reason. But we’ll come to that in a minute.

The Golden Triangle is bounded by Lenno to the south on the western side of the Como arm of the lake, Menaggio on the north-western part, Varenna on the north-eastern side of the northern arm and Bellagio, right in the central heart of the lake where the Como and Lecco arms of the lake meet. To the north is Switzerland and the views of the Swiss Alps in spring and autumn from this part of the lake are stunning.

There’s an easy access day trip around the Golden Triangle you can take by ferry, visiting the various towns mentioned here in either half a day or a full day. This doesn’t include George Clooney’s villa at Laglio, but there is a boat tour that can take you past many such famous villas as a separate trip.

It’s difficult to grasp the size of Lake Como. It takes an hour, for example, for the usual ferry service to travel from Como just to Bellagio. It’s the most breathtaking ferry ride you’ll ever have in your life, so I wouldn’t let the hour deter you. In fact it will be an hour lost in wonder at the incredible historic villas, mountain views, cable car accessible only houses, churches, perfect little bays where the ferry stops – you’ll want to get out at every one. And you can! But again, more of that later.

Accommodation

Argegno

Argegno

Argegno

For choosing accommodation, it’s best to be in or near the Golden Triangle, so this will be anywhere along the western shore of the lake south of Menaggio, or north of the village of Lenno. You could possibly locate yourself as far south as the gorgeous little village of Argengo, although sadly, this falls outside Golden Triangle daily ferry ticket perimeter. The towns where ferries stop are: Cadenabbia (ferries go between here and Bellagio every half hour), Tremezzo (stop here to visit the famous Villa Carlotta), Lenno (here is my most highly recommended Villa del Balbianello – if you see nothing else on the lake, don’t miss this!), Varenna (the most charming town on the lake and the best place to toast the sunset), which is on the eastern shore, and of course Bellagio, which is dead centre of the three lake arms.

Pigra, above Argegno, reached by cable car

Pigra, above Argegno, reached by cable car

Wherever you’re located, the biggest hurdle is going to be Italian traffic and parking. Most of the major towns on the lake are a nightmare for cars. Of course if you’re staying in the towns themselves, you won’t need a car because bus and ferry services are adequate for getting around. But I think it’s a pity not to have some way to visit the more authentic Lake Como villages that are not overrun with tourists. These tend to be higher up the mountains and are a pity to miss entirely. If you’re staying in one of Lake Como’s luxury hotels, they will have parking. If not, you’ll be in for a frustrating holiday.

The towns mentioned above are all convenient places to base yourself, but if you can get out to the higher mountain villages, you’ll find communities of people who have been there for generations (some since 14th Century when people fled high into the mountains to – successfully – escape the Plague). You’ll find the most heart stopping scenery around every corner and a peace that will completely elude you in the tourist towns. Pigra, for example, above Argegno, is perched high above the lake and can be reached by cable car.

Villa Ponti overlooking Lecco Arm of Lake Como

Villa Ponti overlooking Lecco Arm of Lake Como

Car or Not

The main consideration about where to stay is whether you want to be in the thick of the tourist action, shops, transport, or you want a quieter, more peaceful holiday.

Staying in the centre of villages can be easy for walking to local restaurants, buses and ferries. From there you’ll be able to visit all the important towns and attractions on the lake. There are any number of period hotels that have been operating as such since the turn of last century. Added to that are many Airbnb apartments, shared or private, that will suit any budget, from 100 euros/night up to 120,000 euros/night. And no, I’m not kidding!

If you prefer the quieter option, especially if you’re with a bigger group of family or friends, you can find some amazing places, in unbelievably beautiful locations, just a few kilometres above the lake.

Bellagio

Bellagio

For example, this private villa, a mid-Century luxury vacation home of a wealth Milanese family, Villa Ponti, recently sold and was renovated last year. Fifteen minutes from Bellagio, it has 180 degree panoramic lake views, 8 bedrooms, bespoke kitchen, a swimming pool and wellness centre which will be open to the public from Easter 2019.

And there are any number of Liberty villas to rent – think Belle Epoque or Art Deco, which was the heyday for this period of architecture on the lake. These can be found in towns, but more typically can be slightly out of high traffic areas. One such famous hotel is the Grand Hotel Tremezzo which is a must visit at least for an aperitivo overlooking the lake in it’s stylish and colourful lobby bar.

Which Town

Mezzegra

Mezzegra

Argegno is a charming town that has one of the best little piazzas always abuzz with a small enoteca, a couple of restaurants, bars, a fountain, even a real estate agent if you fall in love and get the itch. But as mentioned above, it’s main drawback is that it’s outside the Golden Triangle ferry ticket perimeter so you’ll have to buy a whole lake day ticket to go to most of the interesting places mentioned here

Then there are smaller places that don’t have much of a town centre but are tiny hideaways that are much less crowded and you’re likely to meet more locals. Mezzegra for example, which has the most gigantic magnolia tree you’ll ever see in the piazza overlooking the lake. You’d never dream this charming piazza was there if you just drove past, but these tiny piazzas are all around the lake if you walk the Greenway to find them.

Menaggio

Menaggio

Menaggio is great if you have kids because it has the best beach and it’s easy to walk around and take the ferry to other parts of the lake.

Varenna is the most romantic town on the lake. And despite it having quite a lot of tourists, it isn’t as frantic as Bellagio.

Bellagio is easy to get to from Milan because you drive inland rather than along the more windy lakeside road. It’s definitely the most crowded village on the lake, certainly in the Golden Triangle. I would avoid eating here for this reason, although there are a few good enotecas and restaurants, you have to know which ones they are. As far as accommodation goes, there’s every possible variety. If you really want to stay in Bellagio, rather than above it, a little up the mountain, where it’s more peaceful, try the side opposite the ferry, on the water. It means you’ll have a bit of a walk to the ferry, but it’s not that far and much more peaceful.

Lenno

Lenno

The smaller towns of Sala Comacina, Lezzeno and Lenno (with the beautiful Villa del Balbianello), even Tremezzo, are much quieter than Bellagio and Menaggio. You can even bike along the shore. And there’s the walking pathway all around the lake, called the Greenway, where you can walk through villages rather than on the main traffic thoroughfare, which is extremely busy, narrow, dangerous and noisy.

Pricing

You will get better value for your dollar if you go outside the Golden Triangle, and the higher ferry fares probably won’t mitigate enough against that if you’re a big group and saving substantially on the villa prices. Better value can be had on northern arm of the lake above Menaggio and Varenna, the Lecco arm of the lake and the eastern side of the Como arm. Also, any town not actually on the lake itself will be more affordable than accommodation on the lake itself. So if you hire a car, you’d be wise to stay away from the lake. If you have limitless funds, Villa D’Este, not far from Cernobbio, s possibly the most extravagant hotel on the lake, albeit not in the Golden Triangle, but then if you can afford to stay there, there are sea planes and helpicopter to ferry you around.

Arriving

Malpensa is the main international airport. From there you can take a train to Milan and then reach the lake via Como or Varenna train stations. Bergamo is more convenient if you’re coming from other European ports but it and Malpensa are about equidistant from the lake. From Bergamo you can take a train to Lecco and then a bus to Bellagio from there.

Golfing On Lake Como

For those who love to golf, not only is the course itself important, but the location of it is paramount. Lake Como has some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world.

By the end of the 19th century, Lake Como had already become one of the favourite tourist destinations of British society, including those who loved to golf. The Golden Triangle of the lake, nestled around the villages of Menaggio, Tremezzo, Cadenabbia and Bellagio, is the most picturesque part of the lake where most of tourism, shopping, villa tours and boating takes place. As a result, iconic villas and hotels blossomed to accommodate the ever increasing popularity of the area.

Many of the early international lake visitors, industrialists, financiers, merchants and businessmen, were united by one passion – playing a round of golf.

Hence, not surprisingly, the oldest clubs in Italy were in Rome and then Lake Como. The first course on the lake, at Menaggio, was the brainchild of Englishmen, who were at that time uniquely mad about golf. With the idea of recreating a better course than typically found in Britain, and in a more pleasing climate, four Englishmen, including banker Henry John Mylius, met at the Hotel Victoria early in 1907 to found the Menaggio and Cadenabbia Golf Club.

Mylius became the first Club President, while owner of the gorgeous nearby Villa Margherita, Mr. W.Lassetter, became secretary.

Menaggio and Cadenabbia Golf Club with Lake View

Menaggio and Cadenabbia Golf Club with Lake View

Before the year was out, the first nine-hole course, above the village of Menaggio, was completed. More land was bought in 1919 when a further nine holes were constructed. In 1961 the Roncoroni family bought the Golf Club from the English owners. As the founder of the country’s Professional Golf Association, Antonio Roncoroni became synonymous with the game of golf in Italy.
The course was redesigned in 1965 to honour the club’s British roots, retaining many British features of the course and Club House style. This golf course is the preferred one of more contemporary famous lake visitors, including movie stars such as George Clooney.

This is what the club says about the course:

“The par 70 says something of the course, while short by modern standards it requires precision and careful thought. The simple length printed on the card does begin to describe the fascinating and unique nature of the ground, the obvious challenges and subtle difficulties, of the narrow fairways and the steep inclines. While the length of the course explains why the course has never, and probably never will be, a venue of International Opens. The attractiveness of being among the “open” courses is not one of the worries of the club, which prefers discretion. This club only needs its history, the friendly profile of the lake, the narrow holes amongst the trees and the back drop of the Central Alps. The British tradition has been seeded in the people of Menaggio and Cadenabbia as well as in the small villages on the road to Porlezza. Here if you enter a bar or a restaurant, you will not find a poster of the Milan or Juventus Football Clubs but rather a picture of Costantino Rocca at the Ryder Cup. Here one discusses “swings” rather than famous footballers – one is truly in another world.”

Lecco Golf Club

Lecco Golf Club

 The most modern course on the Lake for a golf holiday is at Lecco. Here, the Golf Club Lecco was founded in 1996 by former Royal Golf Club Sant‘Anna. The original buildings from the 1600s, were completely restored and are now home to the Club House, bar and the restaurant which are all open to non-members.

Located between the mall lakes Pusiano and Annone, it is one of the most beautiful spots of green Brianza, at the foot of the Alps of Lombardy. The Golf Club Lecco SRL is now an 18-hole course with backdrops of Grigne and Resegone mountain ranges in the foothills of the Alps of Lombardy.

Villa Ponti  Above Bellagio lake Como

Villa Ponti Above Bellagio lake Como

 Also, for groups up to 16 people needing nearby accommodation, just half an hour from this course is one of the most stunning villa’s on the lake, Villa Ponti, with spectacular views and designed by Italy’s most famous architect, Gio Ponti.

 

One of the more luxurious, and therefore expensive, golfing experiences on the lake, you head to Golf Villa d’Este, located 7 miles (12 kilometers) from the famous Hotel Villa D’Este, near the lake of Montorfano. Designed in 1926 by architect Peter Gannon, it is located at a height of about 400 meters, surrounded by chestnut, birch and pine woods, some say reminiscent of Scotland. The 18-hole course is considered one of the most challenging and difficult “par 69” in Europe. Every year it hosts many international competitions. The Club House has a stunning lake view.

 

Villa D’Este Course

Villa D’Este Course

Villa D’Este Golf Club breathes the traditions of golf. If you want to feel what it may have been like to golf in the early days of last century, this is the course to visit. The clubhouse with its reception, restaurant, locker rooms, caddie masters room etc is charmingly old-fashioned. The staff also have a quality of a bygone era, and are there to serve.

The course is challenging. There are plenty of narrow fairways and the trees around them are thick. Players will walk up and down hills, some with slippery slopes. The holes are long and the greens are quick and difficult. Though difficult, the course is enjoyable! Every hole is different from the others. The par-3 holes are all long and varied in their own unique way.

The prices are high at 100 euros for 18 holes but well worth it nevertheless. And be prepared for a restaurant menu without listed prices!

 

Villa D’Este Clubhouse

Villa D’Este Clubhouse

While there are many golf courses in the vicinity, such as at Monticello, Carimate, Barlassina, Lanzo and La Pinetina, which you can read more about on the Golflkaecomo.com website, the three mentioned here are the closest to the lake and by far the most picturesque because of their proximity to the lake and mountain backdrops.

The nearby Golf Club Milano is ranked the tenth best course in Italy. About an hour from Lake Como.

Golf Courses Near Lake Como

There are several gold courses which are not actually on the lake but nearby. These include several half an hour from Como. , La Pinetina Gold Club with eighty acres of greenery deep in the heart of the Park Pineta of Appiano Gentile and Tradate, a forest of pine trees, birch trees, oaks and chestnuts, far from roads, noise and daily stress. Golf Club Carimate a varied course with well-lit fairways in a hilly setting steep in the first nine holes. Golf Club Barlassina Country Club with a clubhouse designed by the well-known Architect Luigi Vietti. Golf Club Monticello with two 18 holes course (one par 72) which has hosted seven Italian competitions, 20 minutes inland from Como. Golf Club Lanzo, recently renovated, 1000m high and winds across the woods and clearings of Pian delle Noci with view of the surrounding valleys and mountains – 20 minutes drive from Argegno, Lake Como and only a few minutes from Lake Lugano (only open June to August).

The Top 10 Most Luxurious Villas On Lake Como

 While finding the right luxury villa on Lake Como is the main priority for high end guests looking to book a unique vacation experience, on arrival, nothing can prepare you for the scenic beauty of the lake itself. Lago di Como has inspired poets and writers from as far back as ancient Roman times, with Pliny and Virgil having written about it. Which is, of course, why owners have been inspired to engage the best architects to design these homes in the first place.

The lake’s unique atmosphere has been a great inspiration for not only poets and writers but composers, artists and politicians. Stendhal, Guiseppe Verdi, Lord Byron, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Piotr Ilich Chaikovski, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Heinrich Heine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Isaak Levitan, Gioachino Rossini, President F.D. Roosevelt, President J.F. Kennedy and many others couldn’t resist the charm of Lake Como. By the way, you can stay at the Villa Serbelloni Hotel , which is where Winston Churchill worked on his paintings.

When you’re talking about a place where a swag A-list celebrities own holiday homes, extraordinary villas are hardly thin on the ground around Lake Como. But even with owners the likes of Clooney, Madonna, the Versaces, Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas, David Beckham and Sir Richard Branson, it’s still a job to find the most unique and luxury villas you can actually stay in to understand why this lake attracts not only the wealthy, but also those inspired and with vision.

Luxury villas have always had a history on the lake, which is why visiting some of those open to the public has become top of the ‘must-do’ items on your Como holiday tourist list. Villa Melzi, in Bellagio and the beautiful Villa Monastero in Varenna, both with linear gardens designed to take advantage of the lake shore; the most famous Villa Carlotta with its seven hectares of centennial rhododendrons, mythological sculptures, Japanese bamboo garden, panoramic views, even a long arbour dripping with heavy lemons in spring; and my favorite, Villa Balbianello, because of its fascinating adventurer owner, Italian mountain climber Guido Monzino, are just some of the villas open to the public.

As for renting for a taste of noble lake life, although you can pay up to 130,000 euros/night for the highest end villas, there are also unique experiences you couldn’t find anywhere else for much less. And if you’re planning a large family holiday, get together of a large group of friends or even a business retreat, these villas are just a taste of luxury pickings in this Italian paradise.

VILLA PONTI

If you’re looking for something substantially different from the dime a dozen Liberty Villas all the rage on the lake in the Belle Epoque, mid-Century Villa Ponti catches your eye for more reasons than its unique architecture.

Villa Ponti
Villa Ponti

Since WWII, wealthy Milanese moved their families to safety in Civenna, above Bellagio, because not only was it close to Milan (50 minutes on a good day) it was considered the best place to escape Milan’s scorching summer heat, being 400m above the lake’s micro-climate. Located there, Villa Ponti has, according to locals, the most panoramic views of all of Italy’s lake properties. From it you can see the snow-capped Swiss Alps from November to March, almost the entire snaking arm of the lake from Bellagio to Lecco, and the Grigna Mountain Range.

Gio Ponti, Italy’s most well-known architect, and founder and editor of Domus architectural magazine until his death in 1979 was a friend of the original owner. Ponti and Domus architects had previous designed the interiors of luxury Transatlantic Liners, so thus incorporated these elements into the design of Villa Ponti. Rich wood panelling, spiral staircase, ship lights and funnels, all help create the illusion of a ship floating in a wild mass of cedar greenery above the blue lake.

The villa, 7km up the mountain from Bellagio, can accommodate 16 people in 8 bedrooms, most with either access to the terraces that run the length of the building on the lake side, or the cool gardens opposite. The all but abandoned house was revamped and opened to the public in July 2018. The kitchen was architect designed with the brass cube island and cherry wood cupboards built by local artisans. An infinity pool, sauna and hot tub strategically placed around the hectare of private grounds overlooking the lake are expected to be completed by Easter 2019. The villa can provide bespoke services, or more independent rentals for around 1700 euros/week depending on the number of guests and season.

Villa Incanto

Villa Incanto

VILLA INCANTO

Another stunning property right on the shores of Lake Como at Torno, is Villa Incanto, which sleeps up to 18 people. Located on the picturesque and less crowded western shore of the lake, it has a private pool, lake views, 9 bathrooms and outdoor terraces. The stunning retreat location. is set in its own private garden and is considered one of the grand houses of the lake. It has also recently undergone a massive multi-million euro transformation which includes a spa and gym housed in their own buildings, private terrace on the lake shore, housekeeping, motor boat and chef. A week here is around 24,000 euros.

If you find yourself there, driving from Como to Bellagio, there are some stunning villas along the shore which, because of the steep landscape, can only be glimpsed with curlicues of iron forming gates of the property in the Liberty Style. It’s a drive, or boat ride, worth the effort

Villa Norma

Villa Norma

VILLA NORMA

For a taste of the higher end luxury, and of traditional neo-classical architecture, Villa Norma is also located right on the lake shore. It only sleep 6 and will set you back more than 7000 euros/night, but is has the kind of sleek elegance royalty would be expecting. Set over four floors, the villa has its own private dock, with Jacuzzi, games room with pool table and wet bar on the estate.

During the rise of the Roman Empire, rich and powerful people built their villas on the shores of Lake Como. That was the time when villa culture as known as, villa epoche, became popular and recognized. The great Roman poet, Virgil and politician Pliny the Younger were, perhaps, the most famous Como residents as they had their villas on the shore of this picturesque lake. During Renaissance times, Italian genius, Leonardo da Vinci, lived and created his masterpieces in the valley as well.

Few of these ancient villas survive. From its earliest days until the 19th century, when it became a peaceful playground of the rich, the various power brokers fought for supremacy of the rich lake shores.

Villa Balbiano

Villa Balbiano

VILLA BALBIANO

And if you really are one of the world’s most wealthy people, Villa Balbiano, at 132,000 euros/week in low season. is a palazzo on the lake’s shores that dates back to the sixteenth century. Sitting in two hectares of private parkland, it was once the home of Cardinal Durini, a well-known collector of art. He hosted banquets, dances and concerts for the frivolous society where festivals and exhibition followed one another without pause during the season. Much of the original architecture, including frescoes and original marble floors, are still in place. There are three floors and six sumptuous bedrooms renovated by French decorator Jacques Garcia.

One of the largest properties around the lake, the villa was built by Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio at the end of the 16th century and sold to Cardinal Durini in 1787. He enlarged both the house and gardens, erecting statues, fountains and opening new avenues between hedges and pergolas. Over the years the villa has hosted many weddings, events and family holidays.

Villa Pliniana

Villa Pliniana

VILLA PLINIANA

Or this other exquisite 16th Century palazzo, Villa Pliniana, similarly refurbished to the highest modern standards, spanning 6.5 waterfront hectares and sleeping up to 36 guests in 17 bedrooms with its own private helicopter landing pad, custom made Riva boat, spa, historical loggia, billiard room, Jacuzzi, and butler and concierge services included. Like the previous villa, this blends modern amenities with historical authenticity of original frescoes and 16th Century architecture with twenty-first century modern conveniences. This film set villa is the epitome of Italian luxury and style – perfect for wedding destinations with its own ballroom.

And if you really can’t decide between Liberty Villa and funky modern architecture, you can have both. If you have a cool 28,000 euors/week to spare, this gorgeous villa with park, tennis court, indoor heated swimming pool for those colder months and garages galore to save you those eternal Lake Como parking problems. Bring your family and friends because this villa can sleep 15 in 8 bedrooms with 7.5 bathrooms.

VISTA LAGO

Vista Lago

Vista Lago

Vista Lago is an elegantly restored villa nestled between the charming towns of Laglio and Tremezzo on the west shore of the picturesque Lake Como. The villa, due to its hilltop position, offers unparalleled views stretching from the headland of Bellagio in the north to Nesso in the south. Old world details, antique paintings, and luxurious furnishings blend seamlessly to create a timeless ambiance. With 6 bedrooms and bathrooms, it comfortably sleeps 12 guests in refined luxury for just over 23,000 euros/wk.

VILLA OLEANDRA

Another property awash with history and modernity is Villa Oleandra. It’s most famous for being sold to George Clooney in 2002 who often stays with his family during part of the summer. Contemporary amenities coexist in harmony with historic architecture. Located in the heart of Lake Como, in the village of Laglio, it’s one of the top picks for larger groups up to 26 guests. Discerning guests looking to get away to this exclusive area of Italy will find much needed rest and relaxation. This aristocratic villa offers fantastic views and refinements fit for a Luxury Retreat.

Villa Oleandra

Villa Oleandra

The villa features a long, oval swimming pool, a home entertainment system as well as both video conference and games rooms. A modern elevator services all floors. A well stocked wine cellar will please any discerning oenophile. The booking includes complimentary continental breakfasts and daily housekeeping. The villa starts from 5700 euros/night

BELLAGIO VILLA

Many Villas surround the lake, some perched high on the mountains, but none have the perfect views of the town of Bellagio in one direction, Menaggio and Tremezzo directly across the lake and in the near distance, Villa Balbianello of Bellagio Villa. At each angle the Central Lake reveals itself. There is an aristocratic family who lived for many decades at the Villa and you will see many collectibles that highlight their life. They once lived in this property and the grandsons are the current proprietors. The villa can accommodate 20 guests. For 12 the weekly rate is 40,000 euros but can accommodate more. The price can vary depending on the number of guests. Full and half service catering can be provided for an extra cost.

VILLA LA CASINELLA

Villa la Cassinella represents the pinnacle of luxury on Lake Como, sharing the Punto di Lavedo with the historic Villa Balbianello, the Villa without doubt bestows guests with unique and unmatched views of Italy’s most mesmerising lake within a private and exclusive setting.

Villa La Casinnella

Villa La Casinnella

Having undergone a complete restoration, the Villa provides a first class blend of modern convenience and amenities that is surrounded by natural beauty and furnished with the highest quality Italian antique furniture, fine art and objects chosen from across Europe.

Adjacent to the fully heated infinity edge swimming pool, finished with 22-carat gold reflective tiles lies the state of the art cinema and a spa style bathroom which services the fully equipped Technogym gymnasium.

The Terrace House with panoramic lake views, private terraces and dining area is quietly situated beyond the tennis court. The Villa sleeps 17 guests, has a full compliment of staff and services included and rents for around 120,000 euros/wk

VILLA MANZONI

This Villa offers space and absolute comfort for your stay, including a gloriously decorated Drawing Room with marble fireplace, formal Dining table and direct Lake Views, as well as a more relaxed Living Room situated adjacently and providing Sofas, a large Flat Screen Sat. TV, DVD Player, CD Player and direct Lake Views.

Doors leading from these rooms in the inner marbled hallway lead to the outside sunny Lake front Terrace, furnished with dining table, chairs, parasol, BBQ and Sun loungers. The villa sleeps 16 in 8 bedrooms and rents for 10-18,000 euros/wk.