A look into the sublime beauty of the World's most famous Lake
The North of Italy is the country’s hub for industry, moneymaking and sophisticated modern cities. Urban centers like Milan and Torino boast a contemporary landscape and high standard of living that rivals other capitals like Paris and New York. However with the big-town hustle and chaos, many Northerners take advantage of a nearby tranquil escape – the lake of Como.
For centuries royals, titled aristocrats and wealthy Milanese families have made the pilgrimage to Como in search of supreme tranquility, un-matched beauty and unspoiled nature. The lake is the third largest in Italy and is nestled between crisp snow-capped alpine peaks. Despite the high altitude and elevation, the lake and its picture-perfect towns (the most famous are Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio and Cernobbio) maintain lush, vibrant Mediterranean foliage and distinctively Italian architecture.
Illustrious Residents and Visitors
For hundreds of years, poets, writers, artists, politicians and wealthy families have flocked to Como’s jagged shores to unwind in sublime beauty and layered history. Its rich past stretches to the Romans, when the writer Pliny the Younger first voiced the beauty of the lake describing his two villas. Como continued to served as a muse for Shelley, Puccini, Twain, Bellini and Liszt. Verdi’s La Traviata, Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks, Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma and Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden were all created lakeside under the bewitching spell of the Como. Other illustrious residents and visitors include the respectable Napoleon, John F. Kennedy, Churchill and pop culture stars like Madonna, Sylvester Stallone and Brad Pitt.
Today wealthy Americans, Russians and British billionaires, such as Richard Branson, populate villas freckled around this wishbone shaped lake. Undoubtedly, the lake’s most famed current resident is George Clooney who purchased Villa Oleandra in 2002. In fact, it was only after Clooney’s acquisition that Como landed on international radar for "new moneyed" wealthy Americans and Russians. Even though the lake is the epitome of serenity and relaxation, tourists cannot keep their pulse down when there’s a common Clooney sighting.
Touring Como's Villas
One of the best ways to take in the beauty of the lake is with a boat ride. The boat’s vantage point allows curious travelers to appreciate the impressive villas that line the shore.
Situated between the towns Tremezzo and Cadenabbia lies one of the most famous palaces on the lake, Villa Carlotta. The building of the villa was begun in the 1690s by the Milanese Clerici family and by the late 1700s had fallen in the hands of the Sommariva family. One of the stately owners, Giambattista Sommariva, was lawyer turned politician who eventually moved full time to the lake and began collecting art. The villa’s museum today can thank Giambattista for the various masterpieces that grace its halls. After visiting Canova’s statues, tourist must step outside to meander through the colorful formal Italian garden. Although the botanical gardens are splendid year-round, they are specifically famous for their rhododendrons and azalea flowering of over 150 different variations during the springtime.
Cruise to the town of Cernobbio with the eminent world-class hotel, Villa D’Este where Clark Gable, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen are among the few legendary guests. Since the opulent hotel’s opening it has continuously drawn the world’s VIP guests not only for its unrivaled architectural beauty, but also for its expansive gardens, floating swimming pool, prime position on the lake and impeccable service. The history of the villa is long, and it was once the residence of Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of George IV. Today the villa’s beautifully maintained gardens are available for touring.
The austere, neoclassical Villa Melzi sits just south of the elegant town of Bellagio. The villa’s exterior speaks simplicity with simple and modest lines, while the inside is elegantly and extravagantly rich in décor. The estate’s main attraction is its lush gardens that lines the water and spiral lead up to the house. Get lost in the winding paths. The garden exudes romance and history with Egyptian sculptures, Roman statues and exotic trees. A Japanese lily pond with cedar and maple trees transports visitors to another time.
Fans of Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and Casino Royale may recall scenes from the gorgeous Villa del Balbianello on the southwest branch of Lake Como. Before gaining its place in cinema history, the villa served as the site of a Franciscan monastery in the late 1700s. The death of the Franciscan Cardinal brought the arrival of the Visconti family, who transformed the gardens and loggia. Visit the villa to admire the architecture and gardens. Once tourists see the villa’s view over the lake, it’s easy to understand why the films chose this top location.
If you are in the charming town of Varenna do not miss visiting what is perhaps the most beautiful of all villas around the lake: Villa Monastero .
Finally, make sure to cruise past and visit the town Cernobbio’s decadent Villa Erba. This classical 19th century villa today serves as an exhibition and conference center, but its gardens and villa are often open free to the public. In recent years, the villa gained spotlight as Nightfox’s villa in Oceans 12.
Perhaps Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem sums up the lake’s beauty. He wonders,
"I ask myself, Is this a dream?
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?"
We urge you to go, fall under its spell and let us know if there anywhere rivals this lake’s beauty.