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Lake Como, Opulence on Glittering Alpine Waters

Lake Como

Opulence on Glittering Alpine Waters

The wealth of historic villas, parks and gardens on lovely Lake Como is set in the mild climate of the mountains just north of Milan. The Alps shelter the lake from the wind, allowing for lush flowers and plants to flourish. The verdant subtropical surroundings seamlessly incorporate the refined architecture of the centuries old towns that dot the shores. With world-famous names like Bellaggio, Como, Varenna and Lecco, the lake has been the sought-after paradise where affluent families and celebrities have built their secluded summer residences since Villa d’Este established the standards of excellence in the 1500s. The vacation homes can be spotted during a boat ride around the upside-down “Y”-shaped lake. Originally settled by the Romans, the climate continued to be ideal for the development of later societies, most notably the silk producers who established an industry there during the Renaissance.  Thirty-seven rivers flow into the lucent lake, ensuring the abundance of water needed for the extraction of fibers from the silk worm cocoons. Versace, Hermès and Ralph Lauren rely on the supply from Como silk houses like Mantero, which describes their craft as the “weaving of emotions.” The well-to-do not only buy the vibrant, elegant material at the lake, but relish the choice destination for its perfect mix of scenery, culture, fine dining and thermal springs. 


Cultural & Historic Sights Lake Como

SWITZERLAND - MORCOTE | Scherrer Park

The Scherrer Park in Morcote, Switzerland is a garden of wonder, displaying eastern and western elements together in a harmonious setting. Arthur Scherrer created the park in 1930 when he bought the vineyard and its quaint house and stables on Lake Lugano. The Munich shop owner specialized in English fashion and traveled worldwide for his studies and work. Picking up artifacts, inspiration and seeds as he went, he incorporated his treasures into his unique garden. The path through the park begins at the Mediterranean gardens. The section includes Renaissance and Baroque statues as well as a Roman fountain. It then continues on to the Asian area that features reduced-scale models of a Moorish house, Indian Palace and Thai Tea house. The plants from the respective regions accompany each of the structures. The park is complete with a miniature Egyptian temple. In 1965 the property was donated to the local government by Mrs. Scherrer, with the wish that it be opened to the public. 


MANDELLO DEL LARIO | The Moto Guzzi Motorcycle Museum

Motorcycle enthusiasts will love the Moto Guzzi Museum in Mandello del Lario on Lake Como. It houses a collection of 150 exhibits of mass-produced bikes as well as experimental prototypes.  Among the highlights is the 1919 motorcycle built by Carlo Guzzi, his first. The museum tells the social and economical history of a nation through the evolution of the motorbike. The story is characterized not only by the cycles that have been praised by the military and the police forces for their reliability for over 80 years, but by the shifts in typologies that allowed for sports racing and post-war mobility. The vehicles have come to represent not only the greatness of a legendary brand, but a symbol of freedom.


COMO | Silk Museum

The Como Silk Museum is the only museum in the world that provides a glimpse into the whole production process of the valuable material. From caring for the silkworms and spinning thread to weaving and dying the textile, visitors can understand the various phases silk passes through before it is turned into the scarves, ties and other luxurious garments. The output from the industry is sought after by the well-to-do and designers like Versace, Hermès and Ralph Lauren, who rely on the supply from the Como silk houses for their fashion houses.  In the “City of Silk” the museum traces its history through the antique looms, machines, instruments, documents and samples of the vibrant, smooth material.  


TREMEZZO | Villa Carlotta

The elegant fifteenth century villa built by Marquis Giorgio Clerici is an impressive residence on Lake Como. Located in a natural basin and surrounded by the mountains and Italianate gardens, Villa Carlotta affords amazing views over the Bellagio Peninsula.  The residence is now a museum that regularly holds exhibits and performances for the public to enjoy. Its botanical gardens feature fountains, sculptures, pergolas and fragrant exotic trees and plants. 


LENNO | Villa del Balbianello

The enchanting Villa del Balbianello in Lenno is an elegant eighteenth century residence with gardens extending along its peninsula. Originally built for Cardinal Durini, it was the villa’s most recent owner,Guido Monzino, who entrusted it to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano foundation to transform it into a museum. Monzino was an adventurer and collector, the first Italian to reach the top of Mount Everest. The villa today displays how he made his home his refuge, featuring an assortment of relics and artifacts from all over the world. The top floor exhibits the equipment the climber used on his expedition.  Visitors can do a tour of the house and its luxuriously landscaped gardens – recognizing parts of the grounds that were used in recent James Bond and Star Wars films. 


VARENNA | The Vezio Castle

Built on a bluff overlooking Varenna the Vezio Castle has guarded the center of the lake for more than a thousand years. The location was strategic for military and commercial reasons, it was established in the Iron Ages and restructured during the Middles Ages. Visitors can pass through the grounds, see the sculpture “ghosts”, cross the drawbridge and access the lookout tower. Those who climb the stairs to the top are awarded with views of the lake and the world’s northernmost olive groves. From March to November, the castle hosts temporary art exhibitions in its gardens and its tower displays a Lariosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile unearthed for the first time a few hundred meters from the castle. The lizard-like nothosaur took its name from the ancient name of the lake, Larius. Today the castle is home to another animal, birds of prey. Since 2004 a falconer has run a center for the care and training of owls and falcons.  Demonstrations take place regularly.


SWITZERLAND - CASLANO | The Alprose Chocolate Museum

Switzerland is synonymous with high quality chocolate. The Alprose Chocolate Museum gives insight into how the world of chocolate developed. Swiss chocolate maker Chocolat Alprose has made a variety of chocolates for over fifty years, producing six thousand tons of treats exporting to 35 countries yearly. Its factory and museum in Caslano is open for enthusiasts to explore the product’s history and see how it is made. The tour concludes at the Alprose shop, where visitors can sample some of the chocolates made there.


CERNOBBIO | The Villa D’Este Gardens

The grandest of hotels, Villa D’Este is regarded as one of the world’s best. Built as a summer residence for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio in 1568, the home was transformed into an iconic five-star resort in the 1800s. Since then European aristocracy and visitors of international importance have vacationed there on the warm western side of Lake Como. The luxurious complex was classified as a national monument in 1913. Day trippers can relish a walk in the twenty-five acre park. The Italian design incorporates charming elements of English gardens, such as footpaths, expanses of lawns and bridges, to create an idyllic landscape. As you stroll down to the boat pier and on to the mosaicked nyphaeum, you can pass through the wisteria covered walk is awash in a sea of violet.  The garden features five hundred year old plane trees, which are rooted comfortably near the newest addition: a chef’s garden. Following the ancient layout of the “jardin potager”, the Villa d’Este chef selects aromatic herbs and vegetables for his cuisine. Guests particating in cooking classes at the hotel have the privilege of accompanying him as he picks the fresh produce.


Comacina Island

Lake Como’s only island is beautiful, but cursed. Originally called Cristopolis, since it was a Christian bulwark against the Barbarians and was said to have even been a stopover point for the Holy Grail, the area flourished into a “Golden City.” During the Middle Ages it served as the economic and political hub of the region, thriving despite the Lombard attempts to invade the Byzantine redoubt. When it sided with Milan in the ten year war, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa I razed its buildings. His Bishop Vidulf declared that on Comacina: “The bells will never toll again, no one will set stone upon stone, no one will be a proprietor here under pain of death.” The macabre announcement was heeded. For centuries only the remains of Pre-Christian sites and a single Baroque church stood amongst the six hectares of lush vegetation. Then, after the First World War, King Albert I of Belgium took it over and ordered artists’ houses to be built there. He died shortly thereafter. The island was given back to Italy and following World War II Carlo Sacchi and Sandro de Col decided to construct a restaurant on Comacina. The former died in a tragic boating accident and the latter was shot by his lover at Villa d’Este. A third man, Lino Nessi, was encouraged to continue the project. English author Francis Dale taught Nessi how to perform the necessary exorcism of fire to ward off the evil energy. It worked. The restaurant has successfully served an unchanging menu since 1948, which concludes with a fire ritual following the dessert course. The owner concocts a magical emulsion of burning brandy, he then adds sugar and coffee and offers it to his diners.  


BELLAGIO | Villa Melzi

Situated on the cape of the promontory that divides Lake Como in two, the location of Bellagio was predominately of military importance until the Napoleonic period. Then Count Francesco Melzi d’Eril (the Duke of Lodi and the Vice President of the Cisalpine Republic) decided to build a summer residence there, setting the town on a trajectory to become the magnificent, world class area it is today. This was due to the fact that his refined court also had luxurious villas built, necessitating large, well-constructed roads for their carriages as they visited each other’s palaces and went into the town center.  Villa Melzi was the fruit of the best architects, artists and botanists of the time. The count requested a home with simple lines, as a means of emphasizing the surrounding countryside. Now a museum, visitors can see the villa and its grounds, including terraced gardens, an orangery, a Moorish kiosk and a chapel. The local and exotic plants and sculptures are positioned throughout the park, serving as an inspiration for the art classes that are held there regularly. The villa usually opens late March. 


Art Cities & Historic Villages Lake Como

SWITZERLAND | Lugano

The Italian-speaking Swiss city of Lugano combines Mediterranean features with the iconic elements Switzerland is known for. In Lugano visitors can sip espresso at cafés in the sunny squares facing the snowy Alps. Sub-tropical flowers and citrus trees bloom on its lakeshore promenades. The “Monte Carlo of Switzerland” offers chic shopping streets, arcaded walkways and delicious cuisine at its fabulous restaurants.  


Bellagio

Situated on the cape of the promontory that divides Lake Como in two, the location of Bellagio was predominately of military importance until the Napoleonic period. When Count Francesco Melzi d’Eril (the Duke of Lodi and the Vice President of the Cisalpine Republic) decided to build a summer residence there  he set the town on a trajectory to become the grand area it is today. From there, the rest of its luxurious development is history. It is possible to tour some of the historic villas and gardens. The center’s shops and restaurants enable visitors to taste the high life before they boat off to another one of the lake’s dazzling towns.


Como

One hour north of Milan and visitors find themselves in an opulent microclimate where strolls along camellia-lined promenades while gazing at the snow-capped Alps are possible. The luxury resort town was established as a vacation destination and alpine garrison by Julius Cesar. In the Middle Ages Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa built its watchtowers. Austrian rule in the eighteenth century lent it order and imbibed it with a central European café culture. The silk industry supported its development while giving it flare.  Stylish Italian art nouveau villas sprung up as the affluent made residences there.  Now synonymous with celebrity, the world-class shops, restaurants and hotels await to accommodate those looking for a lavish hiatus.


Activities Lake Como

The Cable Car from Argegno to Pigra

Try one of the steepest cable cars in Europe! The Argegno-Pigra Cable Car links the two towns in five minutes. Ascending from 200 meters up to 850 meters, the ride thrills visitors as they gain perspective on the lake and the Alps. The medieval village at the base, Argegno, is a charming area divided into two halves by the Telo River. The ancient Roman road “Via Regina” passes through, with a part of it being converted into the modern highway. Pigra is the town above, on a plateau, which enjoys jaw-dropping views of Lake Como.


SWITZERLAND | The Monte Generoso Train in Ticino

The Monte Generoso train is the only Swiss narrow-gauge and cog rack railway in the Ticino canton. Originally opened in 1890 for steam locomotives, as technology advanced the trains were adapted to diesel and then made electric in 1982. The line connects the Capolago Lago station (where the boat services dock) to the summit. At the top a historic hotel and restaurant offers amazing views of the Lombardy Plain, Po Valley and the Alps. The train also stops at the Capolago-Riva San Vitale station, where the Swiss Federal Railway trains pass on their way from Lugano to Milan. Operating daily from mid-March through October, visitors can enjoy the hourly departures up and down the forested hillside.


Cooking class

In a luxury villa with a professional chef

This cooking class will make you feel like a star chef! Set in the elegant twentieth century Villa Costanza in Blevio – just five kilometers north of Como – you can try your hand at making delicious, local specialities in style. Chef Silvia will teach you how to make a homemade pasta dish and delightful dessert using seasonal, fresh ingredients. When you have finished preparing the meal, you will enjoy it served with local wine in the marvelous dining room.


The Como-Brunate Funicular

The funicular railway linking Como with Brunate was built in 1894. The vertical climb of 500 meters at a 55% grade is done in just under seven minutes – still the quickest way up. Once in Brunate, the “Balcony of the Alps”, visitors can marvel at the spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.  From there they can hike one of the various trails or walk half an hour on the uphill path to the Volta lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1927 in memory Alessandro Volta, on the 100 year anniversary of the inventor’s death. The Como native created the first electric battery (the SI unit of electric potential is named “volt” in his honor). The pioneer in electrochemistry revolutionized how power could be generated, stored and used. The monument, a lighthouse, is fitting for the person who sparked the transformation in the energy industry.


Festivals & Events Lake Como

COMACINA ISLAND | The Lumaghitt Festival on St. John’s Day

Lake Como, Festivals & Events: COMACINA ISLAND | The Lumaghitt Festival on St. John’s Day

24th of June or the following weekend

This festival on Comacina Island takes place on St. John the Baptist’s Day, the 24th of June. If the recurrence falls on a weekday, the event will be celebrated the following weekend. The folk festival arises from a three hundred year old legend that retells how the inhabitants put a stop to the hailstorms that destroyed their crops each June by praying to St. John and organizing a boat procession to the island’s small church dedicated to him. The storms ceased and their harvest was protected. From that year on the date was exalted with a repetition of the celebration. A feast was organized and it became the tradition to eat polenta and snails. The empty snail shells were then used to make little luminaries, which were called “lumaghitt” (from the word “lumaca” meaning “snail” in Italian). The festival has a second significance in commemorating the lovely island before it was engulfed in flames and devastation when Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa I invaded it on June 24, 1169. The event generally begins on the Saturday after June 24th, with a regatta in its channel, Zoca de l'Oli, followed by food and dancing. The lumaghitt glow on the shores and on the homes’ balconies, though now wax candles substitute for the snail shells. On Sunday the Lucie boat procession takes place. The boats are decorated and the participants are dressed in traditional clothing. The attraction is a highlight for Lake Como each year, with thousands of spectators in attendance.


CHIAVENNA | Sagra dei Crotti Festival

Lake Como, Festivals & Events: CHIAVENNA | Sagra dei Crotti Festival

First two weekends of September

During the Sagra dei Crotti Festival restaurateurs, vintners and delicatessens in Chiavenna offer a scrumptious sampling of their cuisine the first two weekends of September. With stands, exhibits and activities for children set up throughout the city’s streets, it is possible for visitors to learn about and try the local specialities as they stroll. This celebration of culture, folklore, gastronomy and conviviality has been an integral part of the valley’s traditions since the 1950s. The are novel ways to experience the crotti (caves) originally used for the refrigeration of cured meats, cheeses and wine. Each cave has a sorel (ventilation hole), allowing for the air to maintain a constant temperature of between four to eight degrees, facilitating the maturation of the foods stored within. Outside the cave, on the grass near the rock face, tables and benches have been crafted so families and friends could meet and eat together near the crotti.  These special, historic locales were opened to the public rather recently. For the sagra festival local organizations and volunteer associations work together to make biking, e-biking and hiking events possible.  


GRAVEDONA | The Camellia Exhibition

Lake Como, Festivals & Events: GRAVEDONA | The Camellia Exhibition

Every Easter weekend

In Latin “camellia” means “helper to the priest.” The word is fitting for a flower named after Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel who sought solutions to corporeal ailments through pharmaceutical botany during the late seventeenth century. Though it is unclear whether Kamel worked with the camellia, Carl Linnaeus (the “Father of Modern Taxonomy” who formalized binomial nomenclature) recognized his contributions to the field when Linnaeus chose his name for the exquisite flowers. The Camellia exhibition takes place every Easter weekend in the Palazzo Gallio building. Displaying an array of blooms and related art, visitors can enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the flower in Gravedona.


COMO | Palio del Baradello

Lake Como, Festivals & Events: COMO | Palio del Baradello

From the end of August through mid- September

The Palio del Baradello festival is celebrated every year in Como from the end of August through mid- September. The line-up of events entertains visitors with performances, music, children’s games, an assortment of traditional products and food, a falconry demonstration and a tug-of-war competition. On the first weekend there is a historical re-enactment of the triumphant arrival of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in Como after conquering the common enemy, the Lombards, after months of combat. The red-bearded actor arrives by boat and is welcomed into the city by the local authorities dressed in period clothing. The Palio is fun for families and visitors of all ages.


MENAGGIO | Flower festival

Lake Como, Festivals & Events: MENAGGIO | Flower festival

May

The town of Menaggio, located on the central western shores of Lake Como, hosts an event each May called, “Fiori, Arte e Sapori” (“Flowers, Art and Flavors”). The festival includes musical performances, art exhibitions and a market of artisanal products and foods. The highlight is the display of flowers that fill the main square and lakeside promenade.


Suggested Excursion Combinations Lake Como

Milan

Lake Como, Suggested Excursion Combinations: Milan

The sartorial sophistication of Italy’s fashion capital is celebrated during its famously fabulous fashion weeks and in the seemingly effortless glamour of Milanese locals as they go about their daily lives. With Europe’s oldest active shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the art nouveau arcaded passageway full of shops and cafés is not only one of the city’s most important landmarks, it is also a hallmark of the quality and style Milan represents. The fast-paced city sometimes referred to as the “Italian Manhattan” feels and looks different than other Italian cities.  Its cosmopolitan center has the markings of other great metropolises of international acclaim: box stores, chain restaurants and business people. Visitors on a private, guided tour can dig a little deeper and find its Celtic roots, Gothic Cathedral, medieval Sforzo Castle and its world-famous opera house “La Scala.” To really understand Milan, one must try the ritual around the aperitivo. Apertifs in the city include a variety of wine-based drinks and selection of canapès. Cocktail time is best in the Navigli area, which includes two canals – Europe’s first artificial one, the Naviglio Grande, and the Naviglio Pavese, which was based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci and once connected Milan to Pavia, thirty kilometers south. For lucky da Vinci enthusiasts, one of his most famous works is on display at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Convent The opportunity is limited only by the mass of demand in gaining access to the notoriously hard to come by tickets.  Milan is a progressive city with some great surprises that should not be overlooked.


Pass Over the Alps: Bernina and Maloja, Switzerland

Lake Como, Suggested Excursion Combinations: Pass Over the Alps: Bernina and Maloja, Switzerland

Starting in Tirano on the Italian side, begin the drive north – or, alternatively, do this part on the panoramic Bernina Express train ride – over the Alps into Switzerland. Cross the 2,330 meter Bernina Pass enjoying views of the Engadin Valley and the surrounding mountains. Travel on to St. Moritz, the luxurious winter paradise with mineral springs that hosted the winter Olympics twice.Then change directions and head southwest.  Stop at tranquil Lake Sils before going over the Maloja Pass.  The pass sits at the divide between the Danube and the Po watersheds. Descend into Chiavenna where a stop for some mountain cheese and cold cuts is a “must.” Then go on to your hotel.


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