A trip to Lake Como

Lake Como is an incredibly beautiful place. 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.

If you have never been to Lake Como & either you are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;

Some Details First

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 ("Gotthard"). At 35.5 miles in length, it seems to go on forever!

Getting around Lake Como is done much simpler via ferry boats, as the Italian city streets are very narrow and parking is 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 hotel parking lot, and took the ferries around the Lake. Given that it is over 170 kilometers if you drove around Lake Como, makes a 4 kilometer ferry boat ride (Menaggio to Varenna) seem much more preferable doesn't it?

Before you look at the pictures and read about this portion of the trip, lets first talk about some interesting Lake Como facts:

  • 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 its 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.

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" (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" several years ago, Castello di Vezio is the place in Varenna where all the teams had a competition.

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.

Bellagio is on the right side of this picture and Fiumelatte is on the left, approximately 6 kilometers from Varenna.

Inside Castello di Vezio: The stone building on the left, is the tower of the Castello di Vezio.

Castello di Vezio 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.

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!

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.

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.

Image #1 is of the Varenna Ferry boat dock, and the Hotel Olivedo 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.

Image #2 is the front of our hotel, where breakfast was served each morning. Breakfast was included in the room price, and the espresso and fresh pastries were good.

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!

This picture is a side view of the Hotel Olivedo, and the Cavallino Ristorante Trattoria dei Pescatori is to the right. The tree covered area is their outside seating area.

See the white awning just in front of the hotel? That was where the trail started for our hike up to the Castello di Vezio. That trail was a challenge, due to heat wave that was taking place plus the steepness of the trail !

This is the cobblestone path that leads from Varenna to the Castello di Vezio, it 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.

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.

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 it is.

In image#1 see the area below the tower on the left center of this picture? That is where the unusual statues were located.

In image#2, the Castello di Vezio is at the top center of the image, as seen from the ferry boat. The mountains surrounding Lake Como are all limestone and granite mountains rising to a height of 2,000 feet in the south and more than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) in the northeast.

Image #1 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 is the bell tower of the Basilica of St. James.

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.

Lungolago Europa: 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.

Lungolago Europa Park: as we walked back to the Bellagio docks (center of the picture). 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.

Tip: It is really quite nice not having to drive about these little towns, and not having to hassle for a parking place. Using the Auto Ferries as a pedestrian is simple, you buy your ticket for your destination and then walk onboard when that Ferry arrives.

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. The center area of image #1 displays the sidewalk restaurants along the edge of the lake. Image #2 shows one of the lake ferry boats gliding into the Varenna dock as we were walking to dinner.

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 is the Il Molo Restaurant Varenna: I had lasagna and it was excellent, we both had prosecco and Celeste had 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.

This is the Cavallino Ristorante Trattoria: We ate here several times, and 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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To view our entire set of images from Lake Como, click here

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