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Take one look at Lake Como, and it’s difficult not to fall in love. Though it’s only the third largest of the Italian lakes, there’s a special kind of magic on its Y-shaped waters, one mixing a celebrity-approved landscape with natural charm. Located in the Lombardy region near the Swiss border, the three 16-mile arms of the lake are lined with waterfront towns and neoclassical villas, while the waters lure visitors to enjoy activities such as sailing, swimming, rowing, windsurfing, fishing, and diving.
Generally speaking, Milan’s Malpensa Airport (MXP) is the most convenient hub to fly into. It’s the area’s main international airport, and is also located about an hour’s drive from the city of Como on the southwestern end of the lake. There’s also the Malpensa Express train to Saronno, where you can transfer to the Como Nord Lago train. If you’re coming in from Milan or Switzerland, trains go directly to Como S. Giovanni station. However, if you’re heading to spots on the eastern side of the lake, Milan’s Linate Airport (LIN) or Bergamo Airport (BGY), which service domestic and European destinations, may be better choices. The drive around the lake may be slow, but it’s also one of the most picturesque, as it loops the shoreline. Buses run among the western lake towns, while trains connect those on the east. But perhaps the best way to really get to know Lake Como is by boat. Depending on your speed, there are car ferries, rapid boats, and slow boats.
There’s no better time of year to experience Lake Como than in the summer, when both the water and land temperatures are at their highest. While the weather can also be humid (especially in July and August), that doesn’t seem to stop the crowds, making it also the busiest travel period. Many also opt for the shoulder months of May and June or September and October, when days are still pleasant, making these times fairly busy as well. The Lake Como International Music Festival, with live orchestral and chamber music played in villas and gardens, draws visitors during these popular travel months. Winters can have quite a bite, with low temperatures around the freezing mark in December and January, but it’s also time for celebration with the Città dei Balocchi (City of Toys) holiday festivities.
Bellagio sits at the triangular tip of Lake Como’s two southern arms and comprises all the charms of an Italian lakeside village. Here you’ll see stone staircases lined with boutiques and cafes, gardens and groves bursting with colorful blooms, and a charming waterfront fit for a postcard.
As proof of just how idyllic this 18th-century mansion perched on a promontory is, it often doubles as a Hollywood film set and a celebrity wedding venue. Guided tours of the villa show a glimpse into the eclectic life of its last owner, Count Guido Monzino, who led Italy’s first Mount Everest expedition.
While the opulence of the 17th-century villa impresses with its decorative rooms and art collection, it’s no match for the calm elegance of its botanical gardens, dotted with azaleas and rhododendrons, overlooking the waters in Tremezzo.