Sponsored Content

From Epic Hikes to Delicious Cuisine, How to Let the Lake Como Region Delight All Your Senses

Beyond its well-earned reputation for elegance, there’s a lot more to love among the postcard-perfect mountains and streams of this Northern Italian province.

Gravedona ed Uniti is but one of the Lake Como region’s many unforgettable villages.

Gravedona ed Uniti is but one of the Lake Como region’s many unforgettable villages.

Valentina Selva/Italy Tourism

At the foot of the Italian Alps in the Northern Italian region of Lombardy, Lake Como and its surrounds has been renowned for centuries as a playground for VIPs, with its bounty of exclusive boutiques, yacht clubs, and villas set against innumerable fairytale villages. Yet it’s also been a source of inspiration for countless artists and intellectuals dating back to ancient times, from Pliny the Elder to Leonardo da Vinci, thanks to its diverse cuisine, natural beauty, and an ever-evolving, international cultural heritage. Here among Lake Como, Lake Lugano, and the area’s many hidden villages, discover centuries-old vineyards, enchanted woodland waterfalls, and pockets of ancient and modern history like few other places can claim.

A colorful palate

Just a few of the local delicacies to seek out in the Lake Como area.

Just a few of the local delicacies to seek out in the Lake Como area.

Courtesy of Italy Tourism

Sharing a border with Switzerland and long serving as a junction point between Rome and Central Europe, the Lake Como region has been influenced by countless cultures, a heritage that’s immediately evident in its cuisine. In and around the Brianza area, local specialties such as cazzoeula (a hearty pork casserole stewed with cabbage), buseca (a special tripe soup), and risotto alla monzese (a rich rice dish prepared with saffron and a special local sausage) are an ideal match for a brisk winter evening. Throughout the entire region, polenta is just about as popular as pasta, and a bounty of local fish includes sturgeon and eel. A preparation of dry-cured shad in an unmissable dish called missoltino is a specialty of Lake Como.

Elsewhere in the region, you can savor rare highland cheeses and other farm-fresh treats at lakeside agritourism destinations like La Fiorida. Enjoy handmade cotechino (pork sausage) at the Alpe di Megna, seek out certified salami at a participating member of the Salame Brianza Consortium such as Fratelli Beretta, or taste the full range of Terre Lariane IGT wines on a tour through the vineyards of Montevecchia.

For a truly unforgettable experience, opt for dinner in or around Vanzonico, a hamlet of Stazzona village in the upper part of the lake, where ancient, rustic restaurants such as Crotto Bercini allow you to enjoy your meal in a traditional structure built from stone. Finally, settle in with a spellbinding stay at Villa Evelina or one of the many other cozy, family-run hotels found along the lake.

A bird's-eye view of Lake Piano, with Lake Lugano in the distance

A bird’s-eye view of Lake Piano, with Lake Lugano in the distance

Courtesy of Italy Tourism

Mountains and microclimates

From the hills of Vanzonico in Stazzona, down to the Alto and Centro Lago, or “Upper and Central Lake,” a world of outdoor activities awaits. Menaggio, an ideal midpoint between the lakes of Como and Lugano, is a great place for a refreshing swim on a hot summer day, or for a round at the Menaggio-Cadenabbia Golf Club, the second-oldest course in the nation.

Menaggio also features the start of a bike path that runs through the valley along a former railway line. It passes through pristine forest set against the slopes of Mt. Galbiga, where you can encounter more than 130 different species of birds in the Lake Piano Nature Reserve before ending up in the quaint lakeside village of Porlezza. Here, you can spend a sunny Saturday at the outdoor market, browsing the local boutiques, followed by a sunset dinner at Tivàn or at the cozy and contemporary Bistro Lurati.

Upper Lake also features the village of Sorico, where the charming hillside San Miro sanctuary can be reached via a brisk, 20-minute hike. On the protected shores of Lake Mezzola, the Pian di Spagna Natural Reserve offers an excellent opportunity to witness local birds in their natural habitat.

From the town of Gravedona ed Uniti, hike up to the complex of Santi Eusebio e Vittore, where you’ll find an ossuary, plus an oratory featuring frescoes by noted Milanese painter Il Fiammenghino. Across from Gravedona and above the Olgiasca peninsula, the Piona Priory—a 12th-century Benedictine abbey—can be accessed either on foot or by boat and affords one the opportunity to shop for products made by the Cistercian monks who live there.

Nearby, the Romanesque San Fedelino oratory has been an oasis of calm since at least the 11th century. At the foot of Monte Legnone, meanwhile, the hilly town of Colico has been a strategic defensive site since at least the early 1600s, with well-preserved forts from the Spanish army all the way to French forces from World War I.

On the shores of Lake Lugano, next to the “Painted Village” of Claino con Osten, a winding trail passes a spectacular waterfall en route to the seven limestone caves of Rescia, beloved by visitors since the 17th century. East of Lake Como, just outside the town of Introbio, you can admire the Troggia waterfall from above, which Leonardo da Vinci observed and recorded in his Codex Atlanticus. Further south and renowned for producing Terre Lariane IGT wines, the Regional Park of Montevecchia and the Curone Valley is an awe-inspiring option for mountain biking, cutting along well-maintained trails framed by terraced vineyards and picturesque chestnut groves.

The island of Baggero seems a world apart

The island of Baggero seems a world apart

Courtesy of Italy Tourism

The culture of Como

Suffice it to say, those who live to pedal have come to the right place. Along with its many bikeable roads and trails, the Lake Como region is among Italy’s most important for its cycling history. Nearby the town of Magreglio, home to the famed “Ghisallo climb” (a common feature in many important races, including the Giro d’Italia), the Fausto Coppi Memorial waits at the top of the hill, offering a stunning view to commemorate one of Italy’s true postwar sports heroes. This statue stands alongside a sanctuary honoring the Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of cycling. You’ll also find a cycling museum which, from March through November, displays important racing memorabilia while telling the tale of the Golden Age of this beloved two-wheeled sport.

Flanked by the two branches of the lake in the mountain village of Canzo, the “Woodland Spirit” route brings you to a great many enchanting sculptures and a maze worth exploring. The Astronomical Observatory of Sormano, meanwhile, has opened the night sky up for amateur astronomers here since 1989, resulting in the discovery of several minor planets and comets. (Note that this site is subject to good viewing conditions, so be sure to confirm that it’s open before your visit.)

The island of Baggero in the Brianza plain is rife with charm. Learn about the area’s industrial past with a visit to the old mill, then transport yourself to another world with a stay at Il Corazziere, a “rural resort” where history commingles with natural beauty and some of the area’s best cuisine.

Between Lake Como and Lake Lugano, near Menaggio in the heart of Valsanagra Park, the Sanagra Valley Nature and Ethnography Museum (open the last Sunday of each month) provides context for the region’s traditions, while in nearby Valsolda, overlooking Lake Lugano, you can pre-book tours of Villa Fogazzaro Roi, an immaculately preserved example of 19th-century aristocratic life. For an even closer look, close out the evening at Menaggio’s five-star Grand Hotel Victoria, among the most ornate hotels in the area.

Finally, for those who value modern history, on the western shore of Upper Lake, the town of Dongo is a must. Here, on April 27, 1945, at Palazzo Manzi, the Resistance apprehended and detained Mussolini and his senior operatives, signaling the end of World War II. The site is of utmost importance to the Resistance’s legacy, and the End of the War Museum, open throughout the summer or with reservations, helps bring that history to life.

There’s something special about the air up here. The mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, villages and preserves have proven inspiration for centuries, giving way to cultural and culinary heritage like few other places on earth. Learn more about this destination by visiting Italy Tourism and start planning your trip today.

Italy Tourism
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR