7 Surprising Things About Lake Como, Italy / LGBTQ Nation
We hadn’t planned to live on Lake Como in northern Italy.
Again, many of our nomadic destinations are not “planned” exactly: we still do our due diligence, but we also often make semi-impulsive decisions based on invitations from old travel friends.
In this case, our old friend George Clooney generously invited us to spend a month with him and his wife Amal at their $100 million villa in Laglio on Lake Como.
We actually came to Como to meet our friend Javier, someone we had met on our very first nomadic stopover, in Miami, in 2018. He and his girlfriend Missy had come to Lake Como to continue their endeavors to become a licensed seaplane. pilots – and the lake was a place where they could specialize specifically in seaplanes.
We expected Lake Como to be beautiful. And we knew that, yes, this is the home of George Clooney and other wealthy celebrities.
In fact, we assumed the whole region was an enclave for the rich – a sort of Italian Aspen, or maybe like Monaco, that glitzy, casino-adorned city-state on the Mediterranean near the border between Italy and France.
Turns out we were wrong, mostly in a way that made us happy.
With all due respect to people who love Aspen and Monaco, but places like this are just not our groove. For one thing, as nomads, we both only own one pair of shoes – tennis shoes, to boot.
But Lake Como, especially the city of Como, is not as fancy as expected.
To be clear: the area is quite expensive by Italian standards (but not expensive “Capri” or “Positano”). It is also very touristy, especially in the depths of the high summer season.
And, yes, if you’re looking for high-end boutiques — your Dolce & Gabbanas, your Armanis — you’re sure to find them.
Meanwhile, Bellagio, one of the lake’s most upstream towns, is absolutely an enclave for the wealthy – which is why the Las Vegas casino is named after it. But even Bellagio was much smaller than we expected.
In fact, unlike Aspen (which has become far too expensive to live in, even for its workers), Como is teeming with local Italians living normal Italian lives. We saw lots of retirees, school children, and a surprising number of immigrants from Africa and Southeast Asia, giving the city a welcome racial diversity.
As a result, cheap food options abound and the city has public markets that many tourists ignore, all filled with affordable and extremely fresh meat, cheese and produce.
Wealthy tourists can exhaust their Platinum visas. As for us, we loved the sprawling pop-up markets that often stand just outside the old city walls.
Look, we’ve all heard how beautiful Lake Como is. He is often cited as the most beautiful lake in the world.
Somehow it managed to exceed even our very high expectations.
Lake Como is located at the foot of the Alps, in the shape of an inverted “Y”. From the top to the longest of its two lower branches, it measures about forty-seven kilometers.
It was created by glaciers, which carved deep cuts into the earth and created steep, sheer mountains on either side. As a result, the lake is the deepest in Europe outside of Norway: 400 meters deep in some places.
The waters are now a deep azure blue and the steep hills are densely forested in a brilliant green. A series of quaint Italian villages dot the coastline at regular intervals.
In other words, all this repeatedly and regularly took our breath away.
We both love our hometown of Seattle, Washington, but the city has gone through three decades of explosive, crazy, off-the-beaten-path growth.
There’s still natural beauty out there today – but you only see it if you can somehow ignore all the shopping malls, congested highways, and endless urban sprawl.
There’s no doubt that older Italians decry how Lake Como today isn’t like Lake Como of yore, but to our eyes it still looked incredibly charming and authentically Italian.
Going up the lake by ferry, we pass village after village, each one more idyllic than the other. Red terracotta tiles topped pastel-colored buildings.
During this time, when we stopped to explore these villages in turn, we found them all more charming than the other: cozy little ports that led to winding stone stairs that rose to shaded parks with moss-covered sculptures and bubbling fountains.
At the risk of sounding like elitist snobs, we also appreciated that the lake wasn’t overrun with jet skis and speedboats, and that the area wasn’t marred by sprawling resorts and towering condominiums.
Instead, everything fits together perfectly. For the most part, modern highways are hidden behind hills and in tunnels, and cities and their buildings gently follow the contours of the terrain. The architecture is outdated and consistent.
Perhaps our favorite towns were those perched high on hills, sparking our imaginations as to why someone decided to build so high in the first place – and how, to this day, they routinely handle the incredibly steep climbs. steep.
Lake Como is surrounded by roads, one along the shore and a more modern highway higher up in the hills.
But the way to really see the lake is on one of the many ferries that ply its narrow length.
You have two options: high-speed hydrofoils and battelli, which are a kind of local ferry.
In fact, the hydrofoils aren’t that fast – slashing the one-hour-and-forty-minute journey from Como to Bellagio by just over half an hour. They are also gated which means your view of the lake is limited and they require a small fee.
Our recommendation? Take the high-speed ferry in one direction and take the battelli on the way back, giving you a better view of the glory of the lake and its many villages.
Listen, we love Italy. And we’re really happy that Lake Como still feels authentically Italian and has retained so much of its old-world charm.
But the downside is that they’re not really prepared for the hordes of tourists descending in our current era of over-tourism.
Those ferries we loved so much? It is not possible to buy tickets through a machine, and online purchases are limited, and there are only (at most) three ticket offices open at the Como Ferry Terminal.
This means long lines almost every hour of the day, even during less busy shoulder seasons. And the ferries fill up in high season, meaning you might have to wait for a ferry or two to get home.
Meanwhile, the complicated ferry schedule is virtually unreadable to non-Italian eyes (save time and just ask any available agent how to get where you’re going).
The queues can be even worse at the famous Como funicular that goes up to the charming village of Brunate, which is worth visiting if only for the incredible view of the lake.
The funicular was built in 1894, and frankly, it looks like it accommodates about the same small number of people it carried back then.
On the one hand, Lake Como seems picturesque and bucolic – a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
On the other hand, it’s a short forty-five minute train ride from Como to Milan, Italy’s second largest city.
And what a city!
Milan was, of course, one of the centers of the Renaissance and is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “The Last Supper”, which was painted directly on the refectory wall of the Santa Maria della Grazie church.
The centerpiece of the city is its famous Duomo – figuratively and literally: all roads start from the church or circle around it. It is known for its Gothic soaring roof and its overwhelming number of statues: some 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 other miscellaneous figures.
Moreover, in Milan, do not miss the marvelous Monumental Cemetery, which houses an absolutely amazing variety of crypts, tombs and ossuaries.
Lake Como is so close to Switzerland that your cell phone can often tell you that you have entered this country even if you have not crossed the border.
From Como, the Swiss city of Lugano is a very easy forty-five minutes by train – just two short stops.
And it’s absolutely worth visiting.
The highlight may be Lugano’s two-part funicular that transports visitors to the summit of nearby Mount Salvatore. Once at the top, the view of Lake Lugano below is, well, see for yourself:
But one thing to keep in mind: Italy is one of the most “affordable” countries in Western Europe, and Switzerland is one of the most expensive.
Concretely, this means that the prices of food, accommodation and everything else will at least double once the border is crossed.
We’ve long said, “The closer you get to a major tourist attraction, the worse the food will be.” After all, if the restaurants mainly cater to tourists, they don’t have to worry about repeat customers.
Lake Como is definitely a major tourist attraction, but we still found the food to be very good to excellent.
And the ice cream? It was always great.
Then again, maybe “surprisingly good food” is true for all of Italy. The Italians seem to take real pride in their cuisine.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author, and Michael Jensen is a novelist. Together they write Brent and Michael Are Going Places, a couple of itinerant gay digital nomads. Subscribe to their free travel newsletter here.