It is like being at the center of the world with its villas reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights, golf and windsurfing, the Campione and Lugano casinos from just beyond the mountains, Milan’s shopping and nightlife only an hour away, and a wealth of Hollywood A-listers (obviously like George Clooney, but many others as well).
Welcome to Lario Lake. Or rather, Lake Como and its 109-mile perimeter, shaped like an upside-down Y, vaunting an unrivalled draw for tourists. A place where it is not uncommon to chance upon young newlyweds with friends and relatives. In fact, Villa Balbaniello is one of the most sought- after wedding venues in the world (with 120 “yeses” just last year alone). It is surely appealing also because of the idea that this is the lake of the stars. Julia Roberts and Brooke Shields were seen there this year and Brangelina and the Beckhams make regular visits, as do Tom Cruise and Elton John. Yet it goes without saying – a major part of this new wave is owed to George Clooney, since he bought Villa Oleandra for his vacations.
So much so, that when rumors started that he was selling due to the lack of privacy, alarms went off. If the Hollywood star were to leave, the Chamber of Commerce of Monza and Brianza maintains that business on the lake would collapse by 130 million euros a year.
The lake should be experienced at the water’s edge, along the Green Way, which runs 6.2 miles through the historic town centers and gardens of Colonno and Sala Comacina, Ossuccio and Lenno, and Mezzegra and Griante; or directly on the water, on board the “Renzo” (the ferry that connects the north and south sides or the “Lucie” (the traditional canopied rowboats); or the T Limo, the Venetian motor boat of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, the charming hotel (grandhoteltremezzo. com) and ideal starting point to begin exploring the incredible eighteenth- century villas in the surrounding area.
Diego Bianchi, the skipper who was born and raised here, takes us on a discovery mission – while telling us stories – of Villa Balbaniello (the set of James Bond and Star Wars), Villa Carlotta, with its art collections and botanical gardens, Villa Cassinella (in the hands of Virgin magnate Richard Branson, which is said to rent for “only” 20,000 euros a week) and Villa Balbiano (bought by a wealthy Russian heiress for 30 million euros).
The not-to-be-missed lunch spot is on Comacina Island, the only island on the lake, with its artists` homes and the Locanda (comacina.it), where the menu has not changed in half a century (and chef Benvenuto welcomes you with his stories). After, we leave for the pearl of the lake: Bellagio, the flawless pinnacle of the two branches. A quick stop at the San Giacomo Church, a spin around the gardens of Villa Melzi and the quaint museum in the citrus greenhouse, and then a climb up to Villa Serbelloni, home to the Rockefeller Foundation (and hence international meetings and conventions).
For dinner, go back to the other side, to the Crotto dei Platani di Brienno (crottodeiplatani. it), with its outdoor terrace and in-crowd. Here in Como, it is all about seeing and being seen, between locales and glamorous spots. The most entertaining and least traditional things to do on Lake Como? The film festival (lakecomofilmfestival.com), aperitif at the Riva Cafè or Pappafico (pappaficocomo. it), Jazz in the Park evenings at the Sheraton’s green park, or dinners at Kincho (where you can try the Alfonso cocktail, invented here).
Dancing? The Lido di Bellagio or Made Music Club. There is much more to Como than just entertainment though. There are also many sporting activities. There are seven 18-hole golf courses (golfclubcomo.it or the centenary menaggio.it) or sailing, water skiing, canoeing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing in the northern part of the lake (for information and reservations: Centro Vela Alto Lario, avalcdv. com or visit larioonline.it and lariovela.it).
For a true surprise, visit Como, the city/lounge for which it is named, and see the Duomo, Broletto (the ancient town hall now used as an exhibition space), and the Basilicas of Sant’Abbondio and San Carpoforo. You can also visit the majestic Villa Olmo with its art exhibitions and Villa Sucota, home to the Antonio Ratti Foundation.
If you plan to dine at the Michelin-starred Tigli in Theoria or La Colombetta, in Via Diaz, the restaurant that occupies first place on Tripadvisor (where George Clooney took Amal, then his fiancé, and her parents to before the wedding), the best place to stay is the Sheraton Lake Como Hotel (sheratonlakecomo. com). Just renovated, the pool and restaurants are open to outside guests as well. It is in a strategic location, just over a mile from the city center.} And even fewer to Villa Erba in Cernobbio. Once the residence of the Erba and Visconti of Modrone families, it is now an exhibition and convention center, a true point of reference on the lake (villaerba.it).