Lake Como: Experience la dolce vita in Italy

During my long weekend, I ventured onto the water every day – by boat, paddleboard and kayak

Lake Como has always been a place to escape to. Its allure is long-established, with wealthy aristocrats flocking to the lake for respite from hot city summers as far back as Roman times.

From the walled city, built by Julius Caesar, to the array of powder-pink and straw-yellow belle époque holiday homes, Como is steeped in history.

Many ran away to Lake Como to take refuge or hide. One such runaway was Count Giovanni Anguissola, who built Villa Pliniana as his hideaway having killed the pope’s son back in 1547. 

Nowadays, the 17‑bed villa is an escape for the super-affluent, with many fashion brands also hiring it for special events and parties.

In 1815, Princess Caroline of Brunswick also escaped to Lake Como. She resided in the iconic Villa d’Este – now the lake’s grande dame hotel – having walked away from an unhappy marriage to George, Prince of Wales.

Fast-forward to 2020 and I was able to add my name to the list of runaways – bound for the shores of this ever-glamorous lake after five months of being stuck in my stifling London flat during the pandemic.

This picture-perfect location, just an hour away from Milan, has real pulling power: charmingly sleepy villages; manicured gardens filled with bougainvillea and cypress trees; historic private villas; incredible cuisine; an abundance of high-end hotels; and, of course, the lake itself, encased by soaring green mountains.

Slow return

Tourism is slowly returning to the Lombardy region but visitor numbers are still low. The summer season would traditionally see the hotspots of Bellagio, Como and Cernobbio awash with tourists, but this year has been different for obvious reasons.

Every hotel I visited mentioned that their summer seasons would usually be booked up by affluent Americans, but this year they had been replaced by a discerning European clientele. We found many French, Swiss and German travellers who had driven to the lake, plus many Italians rediscovering their own country. And Brits were slowly jetting in for a slice of the action too, I was told by locals as I devoured a divine diavola pizza in the heart of the quaint little village of Torno. Home to a small cluster of restaurants and bars, Torno is my base during my stay. It’s unassuming, laid-back and as typically Italian as they come – but it also packs a punch in the realms of luxury travel as it’s home to the super‑high-end, 30-room Il Sereno.

And when it comes to luxury hotels, Lake Como isn’t short of options. While Il Sereno is incredibly modern, the rest of the pack – the aforementioned Villa D’Este, alongside Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Mandarin Oriental Lago di Como – are classical in their style and design. The last of these is the new kid on the block, with Mandarin taking over the historic CastaDiva property in 2017.

On the water

Luxury properties aside, the star of the show here is the lake. During my long weekend, I ventured onto the water every day – by boat, paddleboard and kayak.

Hopping on board a dark mahogany Riva boat, you’ll quickly feel like a movie star – and you may even see one; George Clooney owns a house on the waterfront.

The roads around Lake Como are hard to navigate, so a boat is the best option for visitors. You don’t need a licence and can whisk yourself around without a skipper.

With my husband serving as captain, I lapped up the view and the sunshine as we headed north from Torno, sailing past Villa Oleandra (Clooney’s home), Nesso, Aregegno, Lezzeno and Isola Comacina. I marvelled in awe as we passed the iconic Villa Balbianello, a stunningly beautiful 18th‑century mansion which requires tickets for those wanting to explore its impressive gardens.

Bellagio, located at the centre of the three legs of Lake Como, is arguably the best-known town. Brightly coloured buildings with terracotta roofs line its shores, which often teem with tourists snapping Instagram-worthy views.

As we head back south towards Torno, we sail past the town of Tremezzo, located directly opposite Bellagio and home to Grand Hotel Tremezzo and its impressive neighbour Villa Carlotta. This 17th‑century mansion sits on eight hectares of lush gardens featuring a bamboo forest and themed areas.

During my short stay on Lake Como, I embraced everything thrown at me, keen as I was to see and do as much as possible after months in lockdown. From jumping off my boat countless times into the lake to refresh, to dining on as much sumptuous home‑cooked Italian cuisine as possible, everything felt exciting – like I was doing it all for the first time.

We all need to escape sometimes and now, more than ever, we deserve to. I’ll definitely be running away to Lake Como more often – this place is good for the soul.

Book it: Citalia offers five nights at Villa D’Este on a B&B basis from £1,869 per person. The price includes flights from Gatwick and transfers and it is based on an April 9 departure.

Hollie-Rae Brader

Hollie is editor of Aspire’s print and online products. She is responsible for the running of the club and ensuring the content produced and the events organised are relevant to the Aspire audience. She was previously deputy news editor and cruise writer for sister title Travel Weekly. She loves exploring new destinations and is gradually ticking new countries off her list. She most enjoys writing about cruise, South America and Japan. Before working in the travel industry she held news reporting roles at the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star.

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