You’re not doing Milan right if you don’t make a day trip to Lake Como. Surrounded by the Italian Alps and branching into a “Y” shape, the lake is known as one of the most beautiful in Europe. The views are unparalleled, and it’s no wonder why George Clooney, Madonna, and Sylvester Stallone all wanted to reside lakeside in Northern Italy at one point or another.
Traveling to Como from Milan is my own personal getaway. The routine of getting there and back has become thoughtless to me, which is exactly what I intended. Growing up in a place littered with farms and back roads meant I always had a way out, a getaway, plenty of special spots to go to when I needed to think or, most often, not think. Now that I live in a bustling, noisy city in which I never get to see a full sunset and I don’t own a car, Lake Como became my new “place.”
The summer after my freshman year of college, I went back home to Arkansas for the summer to help my grandpa take care of my grandmother, who was very sick with stage four melanoma and was recovering from intense chemotherapy. Together, we lived in a beautiful house overlooking a lake in the Ozark Mountains. Now that my grandmother has passed, overlooking Lake Como reminds me of the days I spent on the back deck of that house with my her, drinking coke out of a glass bottle and shucking corn while overlooking the lake together.
One of the greatest things about visiting Lake Como is that you can village hop using the trains and the ferries. I’ve found the easiest and most enjoyable route for myself is taking the regional train from Milano Centrale to Varenna (6.70 euros each way), then taking the ferry from Varenna to Bellagio and Menaggio (around 10-15 euros each way, depending on the season). However, there are several different itinerary options. Other people prefer traveling to Como or Lecco, then on to Bellagio. You can find more information about traveling to different Lake Como villages here.
As I said, the easiest and cheapest way for me to get the most out of my day at Lake Como was to take the hour-long train ride from Milan to Varenna, which is a small village on the eastern shore of the lake. Once you get off at the station, you’ll want to exit to the parking lot and walk down the hill. Try to stop by the tobacco shop (it will be on your right-hand side) on your way to purchase a train ticket home and check the train schedule back to Milan. OR, better yet, do so before you leave Milan and take a screenshot on your phone (or write down the train times). You can purchase a regional train ticket from Varenna back to Milan in advance without specifying a time. The ticket won’t have a specific time on it because it’s a regional train. Just make sure you validate the ticket before you get back on the train to Milan so the TrenItalia employee knows you aren’t using it more than once. There is not a ticket office at the train station, but there is a schedule on which you can read when the next train will arrive. If the tobacco shop is closed, no worries. You can always purchase a ticket on the train itself on your way back. Anyways, near the tobacco shop at the bottom of the hill, you will see signs pointing you to the ferries. Keep walking until you get to the waterfront.
Varenna is a cute little village that often has a market near the lakefront with locals selling leather goods, jewelry, souvenirs, etc. I bought a red leather planner from there and still use it every day. Feel free to hang out and shop around until the next ferry arrives. You’ll want to buy a ferry ticket to Bellagio at the ticket office right off the lake (you can’t miss it). Keep in mind, you can purchase a ticket with or without car transport, so you can transport your car to Bellagio if you traveled in that capacity.
The ferry takes about 15 minutes, then you’re in Bellagio, the most charming village on Lake Como. Take in the beautiful views, stop for lunch, shop around, walk up and down the stair paths, peak into the churches, etc. It’s easy to spend at entire day relaxing in this quaint little town. I’ve been to Bellagio many times, and my suggestion is to eat at the restaurants on the top of the hill as opposed to those near the lakefront if you’re wanting better quality food and service. The food at the hotels on the lakefront is definitely edible and it isn’t bad, but it’s better at the top of the hill (in my humble opinion). The best thing about Bellagio is that it is beautiful and during tourist season (spring, summer, early fall), there are plenty of shops and restaurants open. You don’t need an itinerary because walking around and relaxing is the whole point. As I said before, the lake became a getaway spot for me when I needed to escape the noise and chaos of the city. I often just brought a book and a notebook, took a walk to secluded bench overlooking the lake, and made a day for myself.
When you’re done for the day, head back down to the ferry station to purchase a ticket back to Varenna. Once there, walk back up the hill and chill at the train station until the train arrives to whisk you away back to the hustle and bustle of the city. The end. You had a super fun time at Lake Como and you walked up some hills to burn some of those pizza/pasta cals. If you’re really lucky, you caught a glimpse of George Clooney’s house and you swear to your friends that you saw him and Amal chilling on the sofa through the window.
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