Americans most likely have heard of Italy’s Lake Como primarily due to its famous part-time resident, George Clooney. Indeed, the local Harry’s Bar and many of the smaller restaurants and shops are quick to boast of their photos of the actor on site when owners hear an American accent. After a few days in this idyllic spot, even those who aren’t fans of the man’s work are likely to come away with a respect for his taste in real estate.
First, a caution: if you’ve never been to Europe or Italy before, don’t start with Como. It’s not a terribly exciting town and doesn’t have the ruins of Rome, the shopping of Milan, or the canals of Venice. It’s not Disney’s version of Italy.
That said, Lake Como does have a lot to offer the seasoned traveler. Not to knock Lake Lanier, but Italians would be justified in paraphrasing Crocodile Dundee by stating “That’s not a lake. THIS is a lake,” in reference to elegant Lake Como, with its background of mountains, forests, and small, luxurious towns. The town of Como itself is generally used as a gateway to the glamorous villages of Bellagio (inspiration for the Vegas hotel), Tremezzo (location of the must-see Villa Carlotta), and Laglio (where Clooney resides). A ferry runs several times a day from Como’s central Piazza Cavour, and you can purchase a round-trip ticket which allows you to get on and off throughout the day. Lunch in Tremezzo, gelato in Cernobbio, and dinner in Bellagio — not a bad way to spend a day.
Of course, you can’t control the weather, so on a rare rainy day in Como, you may choose to avoid the lake and stay in town. There are no shortage of luxury shops, most professing to offer silk, as the fabric was once the backbone of Como’s economy. However, while the stores in Como are not particularly unique to any major city, there is an immense street market just outside of the main area of town which rivals the Porta Portese in Rome and even Portabello Road in London. While most street fairs from New York to New Zealand tend to sell the same range of wares, the Como street fair actually had interesting, different, and well-made clothing, as well as friendly vendors selling snacks that would shame any American food truck.
There is also a grand cathedral and no shortage of drool-inducing restaurants and cafes, so even an off day in Como has plenty to entertain. Finally, the funiculare (cable car), built in 1894, will take you from Como to the top of Brunate in under ten minutes, for spectacular views of the lake and the town. The only danger is that you may not want to pull yourself away to return to life on the ground!
From Atlanta, there are several options for traveling to Como. Delta Airlines often has fare sales on flights to Milan, and trains run regularly from Milan to Como, costing under 5 Euros and taking less than an hour. Como is also close to the Italian section of Switzerland, and another option is to fly to Lugano in Switzerland and take the train from there to Como, which is similarly inexpensive and quick. However, if you choose to visit Switzerland, it is likely to be more cost-effective to stay in Como and take a day trip to Lugano.