Located right on the waterfront of Lake Como, in the Italian region known as Lombardy, idyllic Bellagio is a maze of red-roofed and green-shuttered buildings, steep stone staircases, lush cypress groves and rhododendron-scented gardens all flanked by a waterfront collection of bobbing boats. It’s a place that’s impossible not to fall in love with. Our guest blogger Sonal Sarin, an ex-Googler, mother of two young kids visited and was captivated by this extraordinary part of Italy….
As Wordsworth said “ Lake Como is a treasure whom the earth keeps to herself”. For our Italian vacation this summer, we decided to end what promised to be an action-packed trip with pure joy of doing nothing – Dolce Far Niente! We started off in gorgeous Tuscany and decided to kick back in Lombardy region’s Lake Como with our friends. Minutes away from Switzerland, at the base of Rhaetian Alps lies Italy’s third largest lake. Shaped like an upside-down Y, its stunning shoreline is lined with quaint villages and beautiful expansive villas. Bellagio is the crown jewel of Lake Como area.
Bellagio is a wonderful break from the sensory explosion of beautiful Italy. As beautiful but sinfully laid back and relaxed! One could just sit around all day enjoying a glass of wine and look at chic women and dapper men stroll by. Not to mention the very expensive and hot cars! Celebrity sighting is supposed to be common.
We visited Bellagio in peak season – early June – it was quite hot during the day, so we reserved it for board games, movies and hanging out in the garden. With 6 kids in the party there was always enough to do and more to play. The early evenings were pleasant and the wind picked up – that’s when we headed out. The kids enjoyed this routine more as weather was cooler and they ended up taking a short nap during the afternoon – so they were always fresh! The cobbled stairways, streets lined with wares and gorgeous gardens made for lovely walking tours and kept everyone entertained.
Bellagio is an hour and a half drive away from Milan Airport. You could also take the local train to Como, Varenna or Lecco and then take a ferry to Bellagio. Having a car helps as it is easier to navigate the sometimes hilly and windy streets of the town especially if you have kids. The parking is limited in city centre but everything is a short walk away so always be in comfortable shoes.
Where to stay
Whilst there are plentiful hotels in Bellagio, they tend to be pricey and one has to contend with the tiny rooms. Airbnb and many other similar sites have opened up plethora of options to stay in and around Bellagio. We chose to stay in an enchanting estate dating back to 18th century with 15000 sq mts of centuries-old garden surrounding the house. It was less than 5km from Bellagio in the sleepy village of Guello, and getting in and out was super easy. It served well for the three families and 6 kids. There was always someplace to explore and something to do on the house grounds itself. We booked months in advance (not a requirement) though – and got a great deal! I would highly recommend such options over staying in a hotel – it truly added the laid-back feel to the entire trip.
Things to do
Bellagio has some very pretty neighbours. We chose to take a short ferry ride to Varenna – made famous by Rick Steves. It is a small town with a castle offering centuries-old panoramic views. We packed a picnic and the three couples with 6 kids decided to hike it up to Castello Di Vizio. In hindsight, it was not a great idea. The hike was quite steep for the kids (youngest was little over 2), made tougher by the hot weather. We were rewarded at the summit with an Ice Cream parlour where we all cooled off. The views were breathtaking !! We were lucky to also see a show of birds of prey by a local falconer at the castle. We caught lunch by the lakeside and then strolled across the very romantic passerella to catch the ferry back. All in all a happy fun-filled day.
Activities on the lake
Apart from jet boating, sailing or hiring a private boat to cruise the lake, you could also kayak and canoe as a family. The only thing to remember is to do it first thing in the morning – not only is it exceptionally pretty that time, the big boats are not on the water yet. We saw lots of people fishing and they were clearly having a good day – not one bucket was empty.
If you have had your fill of the wooded hills and cool waters of Como; head over to Switzerland. In less than an hour, you cross over the Swiss border. We headed to Lugano one afternoon and enjoyed the lovely town. It is a very pretty town with quite a bit to see and do. We chose a short hike and had a hearty meal in the main square before heading back.
Little-known to those outside of the industry, Como, rather than Milan, is famous for its elegant and skillfully crafted silk products. Ties, shawls, skirts and more famous scarves can be found in gazillion shops strewn across Como. If it is the designer stuff your heart desires and that too at dirt cheap prices, head over to the outlets and factories of manufacturers Frey and Ratti. Some of these are located right outside of the Como city. It would be around an hour from Bellagio. You could also head over to the outlet stores in Milan or Foxtown (across the border into Switzerland) for a whole day of shopping.
Italians worship their food and quality of ingredients is sacred. While versions of Tiramisu are done world over- there is nothing like the authentic thing – light as fluff, an explosion of flavours, tasty but not sugary, sometimes even slightly spiked. I had to have it for every lunch and dinner!! Please do try it even if you are not a dessert person. The bruschettas, pasta, pesto, even the smell of basil is just different and tasty. We stuck to Italian cuisine and it pleased adults and kids alike. In Italy, expect to pay for water and pane e coperto (small cover charge per head) in restaurants!
Cooking in Italy was a pleasure too. Most sauces are freshly made and it is easy to toss up flavorful pasta or do barbeque with locally procured artisanal meats, veggies and cheese; freshly ground spices and milled olive oil. Having wine flowing freely is not only easy but really cheap as well.
I had fun experimenting with making different types of bruschetta: Fresh Foccacia topped with gorgonzola, pears and walnuts or simply topped with chopped tomatoes, basil and dash of olive oil and many others too!
While we ate out at least one meal almost daily, the meal that stood out for me was at La Punta. They serve speciality fish caught from the lake along with simple traditional Italian cuisine. The venue offers panoramic views of the lake and its three branches. With its extensive wine list and romantic setting, it was a true treat. It is sold out almost every day so book in advance. It is conveniently located 5-7 minute walk from the city centre. The kids pigged out on the pasta and pizza at Antico Pozzo. It was located in one of the many meandering bylanes of Bellagio. I would recommend choosing restaurants not located in city centre – as most times they are tourist traps! Walk around, it is a small town and there are plenty of places to choose from.
We loved the refreshing and fresh flavours at Gelateria Del Borgo and it was reasonably priced too. Multiple trips, many days and one lifetime is not enough to absorb the beauty and history of this beautiful country!
All words and most images by guest blogger Sonal Sarin. Sonal is an ex-Googler, mother of two young kids, who is currently enjoying time with her family and basking in the Californian sun. Her favourite destinations are New Zealand and Norway.