Lake Como Italy vacation

Photos: Christina Pfeiffer

Mention Lake Como and most people think of George Clooney, Mel Gibson or Madonna.

For centuries, Lake Como Italy, or “Lago di Como”, has inspired poets, novelists, composers and movie stars with its beauty. Think Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable.

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The lake is one of Europe’s deepest and Italy’s third largest. It’s a picturesque region with charming villas, lovely gardens, cobblestone villages and the snow-covered Alps.

Food lies at the heart of Lake Como’s culture. So it’s not surprising the communities around the lake are filled with family-run eateries that dish up delicious local fare.

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The local fare is delicious and wholesome. Lavarello is a white fish commonly served fried with a squeeze of lemon. There’s also a delicacy called misoltino, which is a tinned dried fish preserved with bay leaves.

Here are some of our favourite spots to eat, stay and spot celebrities.

Lake Como restaurants

1. Albergo Ristorante Silvio (+39 031 950322; Via Carcano 12, Bellagio) has wonderful views and a menu prepared from traditional recipes of the Ponzini family. Silvio Ponzini and son Cristian are professional fishermen. The family restaurant has been dishing up fresh fish since 1919.

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2. Locanda dell’Isola Comacina (+39 0344 55083; Ossuccio, Lago di Como) has a simple menu that hasn’t changed since 1947. Even though the food is homed cooked, it is a haunt for a who’s who of Hollywood. Yes, George Clooney has been here!

First course is usually an antipasto all’isolana of tomato and lemon accompanied by fresh vegetables and prosciutto. Then the food keeps coming.

There’s salted beef, fresh trout, free-range chicken and parmigiano reggiano cheese. The final course is somewhat of a ritual where host Benvenuto Puricelli burns brandy in a pot while recounting the island’s history.

3. Harry’s Bar (+39 0313 347 057; Piazza Risorgimento, Cernobbio) and Il Gatto Nero (+39 031 512042; V. Monte Santo 69, Cernobbio) are two places you might bump into George Clooney, if you’re lucky.

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Lake Como hotels and accommodation

Lake Como’s grand hotels are legendary and staying in luxury is quite an experience.

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1. Villa d’Este is one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. Before opening as a hotel, it was the home of several European aristocrats including Caroline Brunswick, Princess of Wales.

The gardens are a stunning display of topiary hedges, colourful flowers, terraces, temples and fountains. The hotel is opulently decked out with antiques, Murano chandeliers and marble statues.

Rooms have a historical feel and have opulent old-style furnishings and heavy drapes.

2. Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (+39 0319 50216; Via Roma 1 – Bellagio) is Bellagio’s most luxurious hotel and is located right by the lake. The dining terrace serves up scenic views as well as fine food.

The hotel has a museum-like interior, with plush decor of frescoes, gold-gilded paintings, antique Persian carpets and imperial-looking furniture.

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3. Grand Hotel Tremezzo (+39 031 571755; viale Masia 34, Como) was built in 1910 and has a renovated ultra-luxe rooftop floor suitable for a movie star.

Things to do in Lake Como

1. Bellagio is one of the prettiest villages by the lake. Its narrow cobbled lanes are picturesque. Who knows who you might bump into! Bring your credit card as the shops are upmarket and sell quality clothes, belts, bags and shoes.

bellagio Lake Como Italy vacation

2. Stroll around a garden. Many of Lago di Como’s villas have beautiful gardens. Villa Melzi (+39 0339 4573838; Lungolario Manzoni, Bellagio) and Villa Monastero (+39 034 1295450; Corso Matteotti, 3, Lecco) are tranquil spots for a lakeside stroll.

3. Villa Erba has a museum devoted to Italian movie director Luchino Visconti (+39 031 3491; Largo Luchino Visconti 4, Cernobbio). The villa was the director’s childhood home and has an impressive display of memorabilia of his career.

4. Villa Carlotta (+39 034 440405; via Regina, Tremezzo, Como) was built in the 17th century and has seven hectares of geometric Italian gardens. The villa was once owned by Princess Marina from the Netherlands (wife of Prince Albert of Prussia). The museum is a treasure house of 19th-century art and sculptures.

5. Remember Star Wars? Built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery, Villa del Balbianello (+39 034 456110; Via Comoedia, Lenno) was used in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. It was where Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker tied the knot. And also where Daniel Craig’s James Bond recovered in Casino Royale.

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The terraced garden with cypress trees, azaleas and rhododendrons are soothing to wander around. Inside, the villa has crystal chandeliers and 18th-century antiques. There’s also a small museum with paraphernalia of the villa’s last owner. Italian explorer Guido Monzino was the first man to climb Torres del Paine’s north tower in Patagonia.