Visit to Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como is an incredibly beautiful area. There are plenty of stunning Italian country
villas which offer those million dollar views of the lake and mountains. The
Navigazione Lago di Como Auto Ferry provided us with amazing views of various lake-side villages; Menagio, Bellagio, Varenna,
Fiumelatte, Tremezzo - I could go on and on, but you get the idea right?
Just to make the geography clear to everyone; we drove to Lake Como from Switzerland, however, our hotel was in Varenna which is on the eastern side of the Lake. Because our drive from Grindelwald brought us south on the Italian A2 to the Lugano area on the western side of Lake Como, we needed a way to get to Varenna that did not involve driving around the southern end of the lake. Research showed that taking the auto ferry across the lake from Menaggio was probably the easiest route - and the most entertaining!
It is also worth noting that after we crossed the mountain pass on Switzerland Route 11, we then drove through the World's longest & deepest auto tunnel (AKA "Gotthard"). At 16.9 kilometers in length, it is the fifth longest auto tunnel in the world.
Getting around Lake Como is done much simpler via ferry boats, as the Italian city streets are very narrow and parking is generally infrequent. If you have never driven in Europe, Italy is not a good place to give it a try! In our case, we parked our rental car in the lockable hotel parking lot, and took the ferries around the Lake. Given that the lake is over 170 kilometers if you drove around it, makes a 4 kilometer ferry boat ride (Menaggio to Varenna) seem much more preferable doesn't it?
- Lake Como is Europe’s deepest lake (425 meters) and the bottom of the lake is more than 200 meters (660 ft) below sea level.
- It is the third largest lake along the southern alpine margin lakes with a perimeter of 170 kilometers.
- Lake Como is about 29 miles (47 km) long and up to 2.5 miles (4 km) wide, with an area of 56 square miles (146 square km).
- Lake Como is of glacial origin, dating back to the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. Its famous ‘Y’ shape was formed from the movement of an enormous glacier, which also displaced the huge mounds which now form the promontory, known as Bellagio which divides the two ‘legs’ of the lake.
- In 49 BC Como town came into it's own under the rule of Julius Caesar, who populated the town with its first 5,000 inhabitants and named the lake Larius (a name still seen in many guises today along the lake).
- The Romans built the Via Regina, which is still one of the two main roads running up the western shore of the lake. Under Emperor Augustus Lake Como was an important trade route between the Po and the Rhine Valleys, with tradesmen crossing the Alps into Switzerland.
- It wasn’t until 1859 that Lake Como became part of Italy under the House of Savoy after Giuseppe Garibaldi defeated the Austrians at the battle of San Fermo.
- For you WW2 enthusiasts reading this, Mussolini was executed near the village of Dongo located in the northwest area of Lake Como.
Lake Como is located 25 miles north of Milan; it lies at an elevation of 653 feet (199 meters) in a depression surrounded by limestone and granite mountains that reach an elevation of about 2,000 feet (600 meters) in the south. It is 209 kilometers south of Switzerland and 264 miles south of Grindelwald - where we started. Click the map link (above) to see the area.
Crossing the Lake: On our way to Varenna
A nice change of pace after driving here from Grindelwald, Switzerland ! We had departed Grindelwald about 7AM and it is now after 2PM, and the "traffic caused tension" from driving all of those city streets to get here is making me glad to be out of the car.
Click here to go to a Google Images set for the Menaggio Ferry Terminal and Lake Como.
We are looking forward to getting the luggage into the hotel room and then heading out to do some exploring.
It isn't obvious in this picture, but these are very small ferry boats. It held fewer than 15 vehicles, and it was able to do that only by careful positioning & parking by the crew.
From Switzerland, we drove on the Italian E35 autostrade to the Lugano area, where we got onto the SS340 to Menaggio. This was a very challenging drive, as the SS340 was frequently a narrow two lane road with numerous side streets. There are not many street or highway signs, so you have to be utilizing your mapping Application, or you will never find the Auto Ferry dock in Menaggio!
After a "false stop" (we discovered that there is more than one Auto Ferry dock), we arrived and are now waiting for the Auto Ferry to Varenna. You never have to wait very long for another ferry to show up, they are frequent!
However, you must pay attention to where each Auto Ferry is going, otherwise, you might wind up in Tremezzo when you really wanted to go to Varenna! Not to worry though, each boat crew shouts out what their destination is before they load cars or passengers.
Castello di Vezio
Posing with the statues; If you saw the "Amazing Race" (April 27, 2017) several years ago, Castello di Vezio is the place in Varenna where all the teams had a competition.
The Castle is located on a hill behind our hotel, in fact the walking path to go up the hill is adjacent to the hotel. Bellagio is on the right side of image # 2 (right) and Fiumelatte is on the left, approximately 6 kilometers from Varenna.
Click here to go to a Google Images set for the Castello di Vezio and area.
Steep Cobblestone Access Path
This trail was very steep, and it was very hot that day! There is another path, called the "Scabium" which is described as "gentler" but since this path was adjacent to our hotel, we decided that it was going to be our route - however - we became convinced that this trail was really meant for goats or donkeys!
Halfway up this path, was a spring fed water "shed" and that water was ice cold. We weren't sure about drinking it, because the building (shed?) it was in looked ancient, but the water was very clear.
View from Ferry Boat
On the way back to Varenna from Bellagio, we noticed that we had a great view of the Castello di Vezio from the ferry boat. This picture gives you an idea of how high above Varenna the Castello is.
See the area below the tower on the left center of this picture? That is where the unusual statues were located.
Castello di Vezio Statues
Those statues are made out of wire, paper and plaster. The wire frame gives the statues their basic form, and the paper and wet plaster are applied and allowed to dry to achieve the final form.
It was fascinating to be in a place that we first learned of via a TV show, and to be able to walk about and see the results of a "team competition" where each team had to create new statues!
Castello di Vezio Interior
The stone building on the left, is the tower of the Castello di Vezio. It was built in the late 11th-early 12th century and was restored several times in the following centuries. In the late 19th century and in 1956 remains of tombs from the Iron Age, as well as weapons and armor were found in the area.
Ferry Boat to Bellagio
The local fishing community pulls their boats out of the water and onto that small beach in the center of this picture. The main part of the town of Varenna is to the right in that picture, approximately 1 kilometer past the fishing boats.
We are on one of the lake ferry boats, which has just departed the Varenna dock and are on our way to Bellagio. Such a beautiful morning, that we decided that we needed a selfie to remember that beautiful backdrop!
Approaching Bellagio Map
It isn't a very long boat ride from Varenna to Bellagio (1.9 miles) , and riding the Ferry Boat there as a pedestrian is preferable as we don't have to find parking, nor drive on the narrow Italian city streets.
The ferry boat is just arriving at the Bellagio dock, you can see another ferry just about to depart the dock. In fact, our Ferry Boat has slowed to a crawl to wait for the dock area to clear so that we can pull in.
The ferry boat captains always were quick & efficient in getting the boats docked & unloaded. One of the crew would then go ashore and yell out their destination so that everyone waiting for a ferry knew whether to board or not.
Our hotel is in the left center of the third image, it is the first building to the left of the dock (yellow exterior green awning at the lower right of the building). We were on the third floor, right side center window, so we had an excellent view of Lake Como.
The hotel served breakfast each morning & it was included in the room price, and the espresso and fresh pastries were good. See the awning in image # 1? Breakfast was served under the awning; coffee, espresso & pastries - a typical "Continental Breakfast".
See how rapidly the hills behind the hotel rise? Castello di Vezio is at the top of those hills, so this picture should give you an even better idea of how steep the walk was to get to the Castello di Vezio!
The Cavallino Ristorante Trattoria dei Pescatori is to the right in the second image. The tree covered area is their outside seating area.
The trail started just to the right of the hotel awning area for our hike up to the Castello di Vezio. That trail was a serious challenge, due to heat wave that was taking place plus the steepness of the trail!
Strolling around Bellagio
Before we started to walk about Bellaggio, we decided to take one of those touristy small train car tours around the peninsula. This worked out quite well, because the tour driver obviously knows Bellaggio a lot better than we do, and we saw quite a bit more than we would have if we had been walking.
Image # 2 (right) is the bell tower of the Basilica of St. James in Bellagio. Click here to go to a good website for a more in depth description of this beautiful Basilica.
Shopping in Bellagio
We had lunch at the Splendide bar (a Lakeside Restaurant), and then decided to walk about the Bellagio streets, maybe do a bit of shopping, or should I say "window shopping" as most things we saw were expensive.
This area of Bellagio is close to the Harbor and is only one of several areas where shopping can be found, but since we were really more interested in exploring & taking pictures, this was good enough for what we wanted.
Lungolago Europa Park
As we were waiting for the Auto Ferry to arrive at the Bellagio dock, we walked over to this park area next to the dock. At the end of the park area was Lido di Bellagio where people were swimming.
As we walked back to the Bellagio docks (center of image # 2). As you can see, it was a beautiful day, Lake Como was placid and there were a lot of boats all over the Lake.
Waiting for the Ferry in Bellagio
This was a beautiful day for exploring, we had just completed our exploration of Bellagio and were now waiting for the Varenna Ferry to arrive.
Varenna Lake-side Walkway
Image # 1: We were on our way to the Il Molo Restaurant, which is one of the first sidewalk restaurants nearest the large tree in the right center of this picture.
This walkway along the lake connects the area of Varenna where we were staying at the Hotel Olivedo, to the other end of Varenna where there were more restaurants & shopping.
Image # 1 displays the sidewalk restaurants along the edge of the lake. The restaurant area is adjacent to the shopping area of Varenna.
Image # 2: One of the lake ferry boats gliding into the Varenna dock as we were walking to dinner. There are several ferry boat companies operating on the lake, so their arrivals and departures are frequent. And as I said previously, riding these boats and not driving your car is a great way to see the area.
Il Molo Restaurant Varenna
I had lasagna and it was excellent, we both had prosecco and Celeste had a salmon salad which she said was very good. Not only was the food here quite good, their sidewalk seating gave us a great view of the Lake and the sunset, the vibe was tranquil.
Not sure if you can tell or not, but Lake Como is in the right center background of this picture, beyond the people seated at the next restaurant from where we were seated.
Cavallino Ristorante Trattoria di Valdi
We ate here several times, and one afternoon we had ice cream sundaes after we completed our hike to the Castello di Vezio. Everthing we had here was very good, which includes; Chianti, linguine with clams, fresh baked bread, etc.
You will find a wide range of opinions about this restaurant if you utilize Tripadvisor, our review gave it high marks, but your mileage may vary from what we experienced.
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