Every time I am accompanied by friends from abroad, I insist that we set aside one day away from the bustling streets of the fashion capital to take in the splendour of Lake Como and the quaint towns that dot the water’s edge, only an hour by train from Milan’s Cadorna Station. I was joined by three of the craziest guys from back home who just like all other visitors, whip out their smartphones to snap away at the sloping landscape even before exiting the railway station and gazing across the mass of water. It takes only one deep breath and an instantly bewitching mountain to stir a sense of envy, and just like clockwork as we step onto the street, I get asked: “So how many times have you been here?” I smile and count on both hands knowing that there’s just no need to justify return trips to paradise on earth.
The ideal movie set, Lake Como and the small surrounding towns are picture perfect locations where rich aristocrats retreat to and famous stars feel right at home in secluded villas nestled between thick greenery. And while the area doesn’t lose it’s charm and beauty over the months from summer dream to winter wonderland, it certainly casts a different spell which is why one trip will never be enough. I have experienced Como in all seasons and on this recent trip, I walked the same path introducing my guests to the same captivating views and bucket-list moments and yet Como still managed to keep me interested offering some raindrops and heavy mist… different but not less than magical.
The first time you get to Como, it will be easy to lose yourself between the narrow cobbled streets in this one town, but there are five other towns that deserve some of your attention too, so if you only have about 8 hours to make the most of it, this is what you MUST do:
1. Depart Cadorna Station before 10am so that you arrive well on time to get your bearings and explore the streets before lunch. Leave the station and turn left on foot to reach Piazza Del Duomo where the impressive cathedral stands. Several popular brands have boutiques around here including Sergio Rossi, Max & Co, Swarovski, NaraCamicie and Yamamay. You will also find a Coin department store, Bagatt shoe shop and a multi-brand bag shop, La Borsetta, where prices are very reasonable. To prepare for all the walking, My friend, Mo invested in comfortable sneakers and support insoles from Footlocker which eliminated any cause for aching feet.
2. Set aside an hour and a half for lunch and believe me when I say that there’s no better place to pull up a chair than one of the restaurants in Piazza Del Duomo – you can imprint the architecture in your mind’s eye while you savour some of the most divine seafood. We ordered Margherita pizza con tonno (with tuna), Mediterranean style fillet with olives and tomato, and my favourite; penne pasta with salmon.
3. Buy round-trip tickets to navigate the lake from Como to Tavernola, Cernobbio, Udine, Torno and Moltrasio. The boat trip is an hour long but you may hop off at each of the towns using the same ticket. My suggestion is to explore Cernobbio, an affluent town that has the most spectacular views and arrangement of buildings; the 4-star Hotel Miralago posed between the bell tower and Hotel Regina Olga at Piazza Risorgimento with its centre fountain. Relax on a bench between the grove of shaped trees, marvel at the autumn leaves painted in red and gold, and then head up towards Via Regina where we bought gelato on cones and walked the narrow alleys. It’s hard to believe that people actually live like that; relaxed, care-free and surrounded by natural beauty.
4. Once you’ve experienced both land and water, get a different perspective with an aerial view from the top of Como’s mountain. There’s a tram-like cable-cart called ‘Funicolare’ which takes 7 minutes to reach the apex and tickets are cheap but you will have to walk to the station which looks like a wooden cabin out of a storybook. It was very misty and halfway up, we realised that we would not be able to see the lake below through the thick cloud. We gave the lighthouse a pass and warmed up with a caffe latte at Hotel Bellavista, the perfect name for this prime property, which really does promise the best bird’s eye view on a clear day.
After a full day, you will probably want to snooze on the train all the way back to Cadorna Station dreaming about owning a holiday home here, but admin first; before boarding the train, make sure that you validate your ticket using the little green and yellow boxes at the station. You wouldn’t want to end a lifetime experience with a rude awakening from an inspector on board.