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Dispatch From Lake Como

Lisa Strain gives us the intel on the best places to stay, eat, and explore in the always-fabulous Lake Como.

Lake Como, land of Clooney and Bond films, glamour galore, and beauty everywhere, has been on our travel list for some time now, so we caught up with our friend Lisa Strain, a regular Lake Como explorer, to find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat. Can a non-oligarch non-bazillionaire really vacation there?

What is special about Lake Como?
Breathtaking beauty and grace, without all the crowds of other Italian hotspots. The lake is a short drive from Milan, but a world apart. There are a limited number of hotels, so you never feel like you’re being overrun by tourists. The vibe is casual but sophisticated – a perfect combination.

Where should someone stay if they want a more lively, social scene?
For true late-night action, you need to go into Milan. But Como city is busy and vibrant, with lots of shopping and places to eat and drink. Most tourists stay in the mid-lake area, either at Menaggio, Bellagio, or Varenna – three small towns all a short ferry ride from each other.

What about a more relaxed scene?
There’s a stretch of the lake between Cernobbio and Argegno on the western shore where you find a handful of beautiful, quiet, small towns, each with a charming town square and a ferry dock. And they’re all connected by a stunning trail along a ridge of the lake. Relax, hike, read, swim, and meet some of the locals. It’s perfect.

Top 3 restaurants in Lake Como?
There are some fabulous Michelin-starred restaurants, but we prefer small, family-run places with traditional, non-fussy food. Our favorites include Trattoria del Glicine in Cernobbio, Osteria 20 in Carate Urio, and La P’Osteria in Argegno.

What’s the best way to get around town?
There’s nothing more relaxing that hopping from one town to the next on the ferry system, but it doesn’t run at night, so it’s always best to rent a car. No Uber. Luckily, the drivers in northern Italy are completely sane. And with Mr. Google, you never get lost.

Any hole-in-the-wall markets or shops people should check out?
Just off the main piazza in Como, inside a very arty courtyard, you’ll find Gianoli.  Best spot for bohemian, flowy, one-of-a-kindish, casual Italian clothing for women who don’t need a designer label to make a statement. And when you finish there, go across the courtyard and up the steps to the very sophisticated home design store called Dep.  Interesting jewelry along with very cool home goods.

What are the best hikes for people who like to be active on their trips?
There are an unlimited number of hikes through the mountains surrounding the lake. The ridge top is dotted with small rifugios that offer simple rooms and meals. For less adventurous folks (like me), the Greenway runs along the western shore of the lake, with very little elevation change, and stunning views around every corner.

What do you think is the best time of year to go?
Fall is spectacular. By late September and October, the tourists are gone but the sunny, warm days linger on. It’s by far our favorite time of the year.

Where does one go to see the glitterati? 
Easy—just keep your eyes open, they walk amongst us, especially in the little town of Cernobbio. Old guard Hollywood types will pop up later in the evening around the bar at Villa d’Este. Apertivo time across the lake at the swanky new hotel, il Sereno is always good for a hit of glitterati as well.

What is the best way to get to Lake Como?
Fly into Milan (Malpensa or Linate airports) and then it is an easy 45-60 minute drive to the lake by taxi or rental car.  40 minutes by train.

Lisa Strain is the co-founder, CEO, and Board Director at Kari Gran Skin Care

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