What to See, Do and Eat in Bellagio at the Heart of Lake Como
La bellissima Italia! Quanto mi sei mancata!
I have an ongoing internal struggle, trying to choose between Spain and Italy, which country do I love the most? I’ve spent a year living in each, I speak both Spanish and Italian to a similar level of fluency, I have equal numbers of friends living in both countries, I’ve travelled around each country to a similar extent, and I’ve dated both Spanish and Italian men. I flip flop between the two countries in a state of indecision.
So of course, the only possible solution is to keep visiting and exploring each country until I can finally decide! (I’m exceptionally good at finding excuses to travel!) It had been 18 months since I last stepped foot on Italian soil, when I visited Padua in March 2014, meaning it was high time I paid the country a visit. And who better to return to Italy with than university friends who I studied Italian with?
So it was that myself, Sarah and Anneliese found ourselves snaking around the banks of Lake Como in our hire car. We arrived in the picturesque village of Bellagio, at the very centre of the Y-shaped lake, at the dead of night and walked a short distance to Salita Antonio Mella to find the two-bedroom apartment from Bellagio e Dintorni where we were to be staying for 3 nights. Having fallen asleep the night before as soon as our heads hit the pillow, the wonderful view over Lake Como next morning from our living room came as a very pleasant surprise! I’ll write in more detail about our accommodation in another blog post soon.
And so with the drawing of the curtains on Friday morning, our three days of la dolce vita began. Our friend Caroline joined us later that day from Biella, as she still lives in Italy (the lucky sod!) and we made it our mission to see the very best of Lake Como. So without further ado, here’s my guide to the best places to visit, the best things to do and the best restaurants to sample in Bellagio and Lake Como:
Places to visit:
- Walk around Bellagio and the mini-villages of Pescallo, Oliverio, San Giovanni, Loppia and Villa Melzi – the tourist office PromoBellagio has a number of walking itineraries and routes here which you can follow around the town of Bellagio and the surrounding suburbs (Pescallo is the most beautiful in my opinion!)
- Walk to il Punto Spartivento – a short 5 minute stroll away from Bellagio you’ll find 270° views of Lake Como from the very tip that divides it into two branches, one towards the town of Como and one towards less-pretty Lecco. In the distance are the snow-topped caps of the Alps!
- The Gardens of Villa Serbelloni – Only viewable on a guided tour that leaves the PromoBellagio office in Piazza della Chiesa at 11am and 3:30pm daily except Mondays, Villa Serbelloni has a fascinating history and now belongs to the Rockefeller Foundation, who use it as a creative enclave for artists, writers and scientists who receive free residency for 2 – 4 weeks to work on a project of their choice, under the broad banner of ‘ promoting the well-being of humanity around the world’. I’m tempted to apply myself! And feast your eyes on those views!
- Villa Balbaniello in Lenno – A must see! Take a 30-min ferry from Bellagio to Lenno for €4.60 and walk 20 minutes to Villa Balbaniello, the former house of world explorer Guido Monzino. It’s one to add to the wedding-venue-list as it’s mind-blowingly beautiful! Not to mention the envy I felt towards Signor Monzino for his incredible travels, including a North Pole expedition and an Everest attempt! I’d recommend you take the tour of the house (read: exhibition of his travels) to find out more about his life.
Things to do:
Start early – I can’t speak for spring, summer or winter, but in autumn at the very least, the air is clearest and the views best in the morning, before a light haze settles around the edges of the lake.
- Catch a ferry across the lake – Zig-zag across the lake at your leisure by ferry, exploring tiny medieval villages such as Tremezzo (pop into Villa Carlotta) and Varenna as you go.
- Kayak tour of the lake – Or go one better and actually get onto Lake Como with Bellagio Watersports, who offer kayak and paddle boarding tours on the water. With gorgeously sunny weather even in late October, Sarah and I went on a relaxing 2-hour kayak with Michele along the dramatic cliffs and caves of Villa Serbelloni, around Punto Spartivento and on towards Bellagio waterfront, and we found the gentle motion of the waves utterly hypnotic. It wasn’t a strenuous activity so even the exercise-shy could easily manage it. Michele, the friendly guide, is also a local with a great many stories, so make sure you quiz him on what else he’s been up to in a kayak!
- Shop for gifts and jewellery on Salita Serbelloni – Bellagio has received tourists since the days of The Grand Tour, so a culture of tasteful gift shops and jewellers has cropped up and is well worth a perusal.
Run alongside the lake – Here’s one for keen runners, as everything about Lake Como is hilly, hilly, hilly but incredibly scenic. I was marathon training at the time so Anneliese and I set off along the road heading south-east towards Lecco, passing through Pescallo as far as Limonta. And oh my god were the views worth it! We came across a particular bay in particular that’s home to a tiny chapel carved into the rock, with a lone jetty that was perfect pose-material!
Restaurants to sample:
- Cafè Rossi – the perfect spot for a quick Italian-style breakfast of coffee and a croissant (or they have a great selection of more sweet treats if you’re feeling indulgent). Later on in the day they also serve up great gelato.
- Pizzeria Carillon – the best pizzeria in Bellagio, Carillon is located in a square called Lungo Lario Manzoni with tables outside to soak up the sun at lunchtime.
- Cava Turacciolo Enoteca wine bar – This cavern of vino is set slightly off the aforementioned square on Salita Genazzini and is the perfect spot for aperitivo before your evening meal, with friendly staff, great cheese and meat platters, heaps of atmosphere and a wonderful scent of barrels.
Salice Blu Restaurant – Salice Blu is slightly outside of the village and owned and run by 32-year-old TV chef Luigi Gandola who appears on La Prova di Cuoco on Rai Uno, and as such his restaurant is something of a Mecca for foodies. Luigi himself picks you up from central Bellagio if you call in advance, giving you time to interview him in the car about his career and cuisine. A glass wall looking from the restaurant into the kitchen allows you to witness his creations come to life and each plate is treated like a work of art. I opted for a melon and prosciutto starter, followed by truffle risotto (you must, must eat this dish, the best risotto I have ever tasted) and a vanilla-themed dessert. As we tucked into pudding, a friendly local dining at another table sent over a bottle of Moscato dessert wine to accompany our dishes – only in Italy does that actually happen in real life!
- Bellagio Sporting Club – Another local family-run business, the Bellagio Sporting Club restaurant sits alongside a swimming pool that by day would make for a lovely swim-before-lunch, and by evening plays host to locals celebrating birthdays, graduation ceremonies or just watching the football on television. The son of the owner paid great attention to us as the only foreigners in the entire place (I love it when that happens!), treating us to an Aperol Spritz before our meal, explaining the menu and recommending the best wines. I would recommend the steak tartare and calamari to start and a spaghetti dish for main course.
Our long weekend in Bellagio was an utter treat and I’m very grateful to PromoBellagio, the local tourism organisation, for organising our stay in their idyllic village and for showing us the very best Bellagio has to offer. They have an office near the church in Piazza della Chiesa, in which you can find out more about the town and the various tours available.
The hospitality of the Italians is faultless and we met nothing but nice, welcoming and generous locals while we were there, giving us plenty of opportunities to speak Italian and live the authentic dolce vita. You know you’re really in love with a place when you start plotting harebrained schemes to move there, and I’m afraid Italy may have stolen back my heart for the time being!