My husband and I aren’t too crazy about laying on the beach all day, and we prefer to skip big touristy spots whenever we travel. So when planning our honeymoon, we naturally decided to go a bit off the beaten path. With a great appreciation for history, and living in the dry Karoo, the green northern lake region of Italy seemed like a good fit.
Since Bellagio is the most central town on the lake, we decided it would be the perfect spot to stay and explore the lake from. We spent a full 7 nights in Bellagio, which I think is way more than the average tourist, and loved every minute of it. At the end of our week there, it felt like “our” town and we were both so sad to leave. We found all the local spots and restaurants; walked off every carb we consumed and got a really good idea of what is worth seeing/doing and what you can skip!
How to get to Bellagio
Most countries are quite well equipped in handling English tourists, but in Italy the language barrier can make traveling and figuring out where to go a little more challenging!
We arrived at Malpenza Airport, Milan, and read that the best way to get to Como is by train. (unfortunately that is where the bulk of the information stopped, so I’m here to help!)
First of all, if you have EVER complained about a South African airport (yes, even Bloemfontein’s) get ready to get reeeaaal appreciative! It took us almost three hours to get through passport control, not because there were complications or problems, but because there was only one security counter open to handle the 500+ tourists getting off the plane. Luckily, De Aar’s Checkers on Pay-day has trained me for this moment.
From there, we had no idea where to go to catch the train, and when we finally followed all the train-looking emoticons on the direction boards, no one could tell us which train to catch to get to Como.
Finally a janitor helped us, in a very broken English, to buy a “milano centrale” train ticket and sent us on our merry way. On the train I asked every person I could make eye contact with where we should get off, but no one understood me. Finally my beautiful husband saw a man who looked like he worked on the train and asked him. The only information he could muster up was yelling “second stop!!!” and in the spirit of “just going with it” we got off at the second stop: Saronno station.
I’ll spare you the detail of what conspired here, but across two train tracks and a massive platform we saw a train with the “Como Lago” sign close it’s doors and take off. Luckily these trains run until late at night (YAY for working public transportation!!) so we waited and caught the next one.
On this train it is about a 20 minute ride to the town of Como, which is the last stop on the line. If you don’t see water, you’re not there yet.
Get off the train and walk to the Ferry dock “Navigazione Lago Di Como” and ask for a one-way ticket to Bellagio (or which ever town you are staying in). The ferry ride took about 30 minutes, and was absolutely stunning!!
So, to summarise:
- Fly to Milan (Malpenza airport)
- Take the “Milano Centrale” train from the airport to the Saronno station
- Take the “Como Lago” train from there, and get off at the last stop: Como
- Walk to the ferry dock and get on the ferry to Bellagio
- Boom!! 30 minutes and you’ll be rolling your wheely bags to your lovely hotel!
Where to stay
Firstly, I just want you to have realistic expectations of accommodation in Europe: The rooms are small; the en-suites are small and you don’t get all the amenities you would in SA. A 3-star rating in Italy will get you a clean room with an en-suite bathroom. Maybe a kettle and a TV if you’re lucky. BUT you’re in Italy, so you shouldn’t be spending too much time in your room! If your bed is clean and you can have a warm shower at the end of the day, that’s all you’ll need!
Hotel & Restaurant Silvio (where we stayed)
As I said, my husband and I prefer to be out of the hustle and bustle of things. So if you are like us, this is the place for you! Approximately 1.5km from center town, you won’t be in the midst of it all, but still close enough to walk everywhere you want to be.
It’s on a hill, and provides beautiful views. I would recommend getting a room with a balcony and lake view. Our room had a side view with balcony, which was perfect.
Getting there: We walked (with our bags….uphill) but you don’t have to. When you get off the ferry, go to the nearest hotel or bar and ask them to phone the hotel for a taxi. They shouldn’t have any problem doing this for you.
Price: We went in early autumn, so we didn’t pay peak season prices. You can expect to pay approximately R2000 per night with breakfast included. (In Italy (unlike in SA) you pay per room, not per person. Yay!)
Pro-tip: The hotel is really nice, but the restaurant is very expensive! I would recommend you skip it and rather go eat dinner in town. Their included breakfast is 100% worth it and will probably save you loads of money (all you can eat buffet, hello!)
If you would prefer being right in the heart of it all, this would be a great place to consider.
This hotel is right on the lake, with the ferry docks and bus station just a few meters away. They are also rated quite high on bookings.com
Getting there: walk.
Price: Approximately R2000 per night, breakfast included. This hotel does tend to sell out fast, so book well in advance
This hotel is also in center town and right on the promenade overlooking the lake.
Hotel excelsior splendide has a restaurant (which you can skip) but their deli honestly sells THE BEST gelato in the whole lake Como area – believe me, we tested them all. The two scoop waffle cone with one scoop hazel nut and one scoop dark chocolate almost made my husband cry.
Getting there: Walk.
Price: Approximately R2500 per night, breakfast included
Pro-tip: The restaurant’s location is breathtaking, but super over priced!! Rather get a beer or enjoy a crisp white wine so you can have the experience of sitting there at sunset, and then go eat somewhere else.
Where to eat
This is where the real fun begins!
As I said, we spent a few days and nights in Bellagio, and I wish someone had told me to eat at these local spots and skip the heavy tourist places. Some of the recommended places we tried were so disappointing, and I felt like I would’ve rather wanted to gain weight eating at the following restaurants:
THE BEST PIZZA in all of lake como!!!!! I would recommend eating here to any- and everyone who wants to know.
They are very reasonably priced; their portions are huge and their house-wine is amazing. What more do you need to know?
It is located just a little out of the tourist center and doesn’t have a lake view, but it is situated in an ally which really gives you an authentic feel.
This little gem is very local. With magnificent views overlooking Verenna, and drool-worthy pizza’s it’s definitely worth a visit!
It is a bit of a walk from the town center, but they do offer taxi services. Just ask your hotel to call them for you and arrange it. Otherwise, walk there and consume all the carbs without a drop of guilt!
Now this restaurant is as local as it gets! If you are in the mood for pasta (I tried pasta’s at a few different restaurants, and this was the only one worth mentioning) I can definitely recommend Mella’s.. It’s the best pasta in town!
It literally feels like someone decided to start a restaurant in their living room. We didn’t see/hear a single tourist there and the owner is so sweet!
It’s way out of the town center. From our hotel we walked further south in the direction of Como and we accidentally stumbled on to it. It is situated in the San Giovanni Piazza, and is also a B&B (just FIY).
What to skip:
I can confidently say that you don’t have to go and visit every town.
Lenno-Tremezzo-Cadenabia: we walked from Lenno to Cadenabia and didn’t even notice we were walking to- and through different towns. They are small, very noisy and not nearly as picturesque as Bellagio. Unless you have a burning desire to see the Grand Hotel Tremezzo or the Villa Carlotta in Cadenabia, you can honestly skip these three towns.
If you would like to see bigger towns, visit Menaggio and Como.
Of all the towns we visited, Verenna was the most picturesque, but still didn’t even come close to Bellagio.
A couple of places were repeatedly recommended on blogs and websites, so obviously we tried them. You can skip the following places and rather use your daily calory limit on a spot that’s worth while.
- Royal Victoria Hotel, Verenna I’m sure their food is great, but you can almost put a deposit down on a flat in Green point with what they’re expecting you to pay! So we turned on our heels and decided to have gelato for lunch.
- La Fontana, Bellagio I insisted we eat lunch here on the recommendation of a travel blog I follow, and let me tell you… it was super average and overpriced. I had the risotto which was medium (my mom’s is better) and my husband had a horrific pizza (not literally, but compared to other pizza’s we tried). It was such a waste of time and money and I wish that we just skipped it and rather went to Babayaga’s (again).
- Splendide Restaurant The location is brilliant and the food isn’t bad. But the portions are ridiculously small and overpriced.
Have you ever been to Lake como? Please let me know what you learnt and share your experience!
If you are going to Italy sometime soon, I hope you will consider visiting Bellagio and the Lake Como region. It is definitely worth it and I would return there in a heart beat!