Plan for the two days
We gave ourselves two days to explore Como Lake. We planned to explore three towns, Menaggio, Varenna and Bellagio. Only when we were done with the three towns and if time permitted we would visit other towns too.
On the first day we would drive from Milan to Menaggio which was about 86 km and 1.5 hour northward. During the drive we could stop at any town that looked “nice”. When we reached Menaggio we would check into our stay for 2 nites. For the rest of the day we would explore Menaggio. On the second day we would cross the lake using the ferry and explore Varenna and Bellagio on foot.
By the end of the two days
We had a great time visiting the three towns, each had its own characteristic. Varenna was more upmarket whereas Bellagio was very touristy full of colors and shops. Menaggio was sort of in the middle. A period of two days was just enough to explore the three towns leisurely. Visiting three towns were just nice any more than that would be a drag.
Before leaving for Lake Como we had homemade breakfast in our hotel room. Our very first self-made breakfast, it consisted of ham, mayo egg, bread, some salad, cherry, strawberry and raspberry and it was YUMMY!! (I had been deprived). The egg mayo on bread tasted so good and the best part was it was easy to make.
Just put two eggs into the electric kettle after the water was boiled and kept the eggs in the hot water for 12 minutes. At the end of the 12 minutes the eggs became hard boiled with soft smooth yokes. Removed the shell and mashed the eggs with some mayo and “voila” we got tasty egg mayo for our bread.
By now, I knew I was not a fan of Italian breakfast which consisted mainly of sweet pastries and coffee and very very thin slices of ham and if lucky maybe eggs. Yat Thong liked the food but not me, so whenever a hotel/stay did not provide breakfast we were going to eat the stuffs I liked: meat like bacon and ham, eggs (fried, hardboiled or softboiled), fruits like apple, orange and grapes, greens like lettuces and red like cherry, strawberry and raspberry, all which could be easily picked up from the many big and small supermarkets.
Lake Como was huge, it had an area of 146 square meter and was the third largest lake in Italy. If it was a typical round-shape lake the lake perimeter would be about 43km, but because of its inverted “Y” shape the lake perimeter was about three times more. We had considered the idea of driving a loop around the lake perimeter but as according to google map it would take at least 4 hours. There were also plentiful of “review” feedbacks concerning the lack of parking in the towns by the lake and advice not to drive. Another alternative was to visit the towns on foot via ferry services. On foot would limit the distance we could cover so we thought of bringing our car along on a car ferry. But car ferry services were not as frequent as passenger ferry services and ended earlier too.
Till the final day before we would arrive at Lake Como we still had not decided if we should cross the lake with our car. We were going to make the decision based on the condition we would encounter when we drove into Menaggio.
From Milan we reached drove north and reached the southern end of the left branch of Lake Como, from there we drove along on road on the perimeter of the lake toward Menaggio. The road was not exactly bordering the lake as most of time the water was out of sight. We drove down smaller/side roads to get closer to the water, these roads ran through the town by the water were narrower. On the whole we felt that driving through the towns did not allowed us to stop and appreciate the view of the lake as and when we liked. The available parking were usually some distance away . By the time we reached Menaggio we decided that when we visited Varenna and Bellagio we would not bring along our car.
Unlimited rides on interlake ferry tickeT
At the ferry ticket booth we found out that the day-pass for unlimited rides was for the day and not for 24 hours. Since it was already 2 pm and with some ferry services ending by 7 pm we felt that it would leave us not many hours to take advantage of the unlimited rides.
Navigazione Lago di Como, was the name of the company that provided the public boat services at Lake Como.
These boat services were the public transportation of the locals moving from one town to the next and almost all the towns along the lake had a ferry landing.
The ferry fare depended on the distance between the towns. The distances were grouped into 8 stretches and the cost of a single one way ticket for stretch 1 was €2.50 and it went up to €12.80 for stretch 8.
We discussed with the staff at the ticketing booth and told him the towns we intended to visit and after some simple calculation we felt that it would be more economical to buy the one day pass for the “mid-lake shuttle” at €15 per person. The day-pass would give us unlimited rides between the towns classified under the “mid-lake” category.
From Lake Como Peace Lodge on the mid hill we walked down to Lake Como Youth Hostel which was just on the outskirt of town and then into the town center. Compared to the outer part of town, the town center was rather pretty. There were many cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops they were “colorfully” well maintained.
The waterfront promenade was wide, windy and beautifully pathed. It was lined with flower beds and palm trees. Looking out to the lake we could see many towns across the lake, some groups of houses were clustered by the edges of the lake, others were located further up the hill. We were very sure that of the towns directly across lake must be Varenna!
We had a great time strolling along the promenade. Everywhere we looked the scenery was very pictureque, it was a scene that we could stare for hours without getting bore. We were glad to find a cafe on the promenade fronting the lake. We ordered two cups for capuccino to “go with the scenery” and “slouched” in our chairs to just “stare”.
Two cups of capuccino costed €5 not too expensive by “Singaporean standard”. We were into our fifth day in Italy and had been drinking one to two cups of capuccino a day. Five day experience told us that the price for a cup of capuccino ranged between €1 to €3 depending on location.
On the way back to our hotel we walked through the town square again and saw a gelato shop that had this sign that stated “Home Made Ice Cream”. I ordered a vanilla ice cream in a cup and chosed the smallest cup size. The ice cream costed €2 and tasted really good. It had a strong milk taste and was not too sweet. It was the best ice cream I had so far in Italy.
We did not get a chance to see Menaggio from the lake until the second day when we went on a ferry to Varenna. Though the sky was gloomy and the lake water was choppy, Menaggio looked as lovely from far as it was from near.
The ferry journey from Menaggio to Varenna took only 10 to 15 minutes. The sky was a bit gloomy, the sunray was not overly strong making it a nice day to sit on the ferry to enjoy the view and the wind. From far Varenna looked similar to Menaggio with the usual yellow orangy colored houses and a prominent tall church tower. When the ferry sailed nearer we could see that Varenna looked more colorful than Menaggio and behind the town was a much higher hill/mountain.
Without a car, it was not easy to go far from the ferry landing. Every km we walked forward would mean a km we had to walk back. From the ferry landing we walked along the seafront on a pretty scenic path that was built by the edge of the water. Once we moved away from the ferry landing the place became less crowded, peaceful and scenic.
Varenna did not have the modern looking, palm trees lined big promenade by the lake of Menaggio, its waterfront walkway was short stretches of old cobbered pavement interuppted by waterfront restaurants.
The waterfront walk ended and we turned inland. After a short walk we saw huge multi-storey paid carpark. It seemed that car parking was not really an issue for those who wished to drive into Varenna, as long as one was welling to paid.
We gave ourselves about two hours to explore Varenna so we figured we should go forward for an hour before turning back to the ferry landing. We did not have a specific place to go, we just strolled southward passing many quaint alleys and beautiful garden.
There was a castle somewhere up the hill that suppose to have a panoramic view, but without our car and the limited time we decided that there would be no point visiting the castle especially with such an overcast sky. We were fine with our two hours of stroll and “gelato” hunting.
At Varenna ferry landing we waited for the ferry that went directly to Bellugio. Our one day passes allowed us to use a few “type” of ferry services (ferry, car ferry, express) so we did not have to wait long.
Bellugio looked similar to Menaggio and Varenna at the ferry landing, if not for its name so prominent printed on the two columns at the landing. It had the same looking yellow-colored-four-storey hotel just at the water front near to the ferry landing.
The first thought that came to our minds was a “repeat of Varenna”, oh dear it would surely be boring!
This time instead of turning right from the ferry landing we turned left. And after a short walk we came to a very quaint and colorful shopping street. It was an inclined street full of shops selling all kinds of stuff. Compared to Menaggio and Varenna, Bellagio seemed more popular with visitors. The street was so vibrantly crowded with visitors even on a rainy day. This street was an interesting change, that was not seen in Menaggio and Varenna.
We walked past a restaurant full of colorful bottle decoration and told ourselves to return for its home-made tiramisu.
Soon we reached the top of the street and turned left onto another street. There were lesser shops along the stretch so the crowd thinned out too. We came to a pretty normal looking church, took a couple of pictures and left. We had seen so many churches during our travelling so unless a church was uniquely different or had some “great story” behind it, we would just stroll by without attempting to go in.
Soon we were back at our “Colorful Bottles” restaurant which served home made tiramisu. This restaurant had been on our minds since we walked passed it an hour ago. It kept “triggering” our this “rest & relax”, “coffee” and “tiramisu” urges.
The restaurant name was La Lanterna. We walked in and found that its interior was decorated with many rows of beautifully painted bottles.
We ordered one tiramisu and one cafe latte to share between two of us. The tiramisu arrived served in a little porcelain “cooking” bowl. It looked just like its picture on the menu that was placed outside the restaurant. So far so good. The tiramisu was tasted lovely. It was rich and creamy and not overly sweet just our type.
We were glad that our first Tiramisu on Italy soil lived up to our expectation!. The total cost of the tiramisu and cafe latte was €9, €6 was for the tiramisu
Lago di Piano was an accidental find. We stumbled upon it on our way to a Carrefour Market. The grocery store at Menaggio was pretty small with limited food selection so we decided to drive down to a bigger supermaket on the second day morning to do some grocery shopping.
Whenever I found an accommodation that provided good cooking/kitchen facilities I would want to do some serious cooking, this way we would eat well without having to pay a high price.
The distance to the supermarket was about 9.5 km inland and took about 15 minutes. It was on the way there that was when we spotted a beautiful lake.
After we were done with our grocery shopping we drove to the lake to explore. There was a wooden structure (information center) and some boats for rent. The lake was rather pretty and we took a stroll along the lake sides.
There was a path around the lake and further down from the Information center was a camping area. The Lago di Piano formed part of the Lago Di Piano reserve (176 hectares) . Though the lake was small (85 hectares) it was a very lovely with its tranquillity and the dense greenery around it. We would love to spend more time at the lake but we could not as we had to visit two other Lake Como towns before the day ended.
Missing La croccetta
On an information pamphlet of Menaggio we saw a very lovely view of the town from a high view point, the viewpoint name was La Croccetta. The viewpoint was just on the hill above Lake Como Peace Lodge. Unfortunately from the Peace Lodge we could not see any steps or path that led directly to the view point.
We tried two times driving to the town of Croce where we had read that one of its branch roads would lead to a walking path where we could trek to La Crocetta. But each time after more of an hour of searching we gave up as we had failed to locate this walking path.
In the end the only way we could view Menaggio from the top was via our drone.
The picture of the town from our drone certainly looked beautiful but it was just a picture that we saw holding in our hands. It was a poor substitute from the view that we would see through our eyes if we were standing at La Crocetta. There was no sense of vastness and excitment. It was a great shame that the town pamphlet published about this great scenic view point but gave no proper information on the access to this viewpoint!
Lake Como Peace Lodge
I booked a double room at Lake Como Peace Lodge from booking.com at €118 for two nights. Some of the reasons that led us to pick this lodge were its free parking, shared kitchen, view of the lake, ensuite bathroom, breakfast, being located in Menaggio and also its reasonable price.
This accommodation had a weird check-in condition which said that there would be no check in between 2pm to 5 pm. The check in counter was not located at the Lodge but at Lake Como Youth Hostel which was nearer to the water front. We reached the check-in counter at about 11am, made our payment and requested for room key. We were told to go up to the Lodge at 5pm for our assigned room and key. Since it was before noon we requested to get our room early, unfortunately the staff manning Lake Como Peace Lodge could not be contacted. The reception staff suggested we drove up to the Lodge and looked for the “missing” staff.
Though on the map Lake Como Peace Lodge looked like it was directly above the youth hostel, to reach it was not as simple. The drive up to the lodge was through some 2km length of windy road. For those that came on foot, they could take a footpath (shortcut ) that connect the Lodge and the Hostel. Unfortunately this footpath went though some very steep stairs which would not be easy for those with luggage.
We reached Lake Como Peace Lodge, drove though its gate, parked our car and walked though the unlocked main door. From the ground of the lodge we could not see the view of the lake. I was disappointed as one of the reasons I booked a room at the lodge was its view of the lake. Hopefully our room would be on the upper level and hopefully we would have a view of the lake.
There was no staff at the reception table, there was no guest around too. We walked into a common room and saw three sets of towels + bedsheets + pillow cases layout on a table, so it looked like there would be three set of guests arriving for the day. In the dining room we saw the chairs were stacked up probably to ease the cleaning of the place. Next to the dining room was the shared kitchen, it looked like an commercialised kitchen with all the neccessary utensils and crockery. The kitchen was narrow and would not be able to accommodate more than one to two persons preparing food at a time.
Since we could not located the “missing staff” on the ground floor we went up to the upper level to search for him. Each level had a common corridor with doors on one side. Some rooms had no attached toilet while other had.
The lodge (exterior and interior) looked similar to the pictures that were posted on booking.com but some how seeing it in reality its “vibes” felt different. It felt lifeless and deserted.
We could not find the “missing staff”, we could not check-in and we were not wilingl to wait for 5 hours doing nothing till check in time. We had no choice but to leave our car in the hotel carpark and return to town. We took the shortcut, walking though the rugged path and steps that brought us from the Lodge to the Hostel.
Though it was a short 10 minutes downhill walk it would be a terrible uphill task for guests of who arrived on “legs”. It would not be easy to drag their luggage up these steps. And there was even a signboard requesting visitors to carry their luggages and not drag them up the steps. The sign was probably put up by residents who were bothered by noise of heavy bags bumpping up and down the steps!
At about 6 pm we returned to the lodge and were assigned to a room on the third level, which was accessible by a lift that was behind the kitchen. Our room was simple and very basic, it had more beds than we needed. The attached toilet was miserably small, the water closet was clashing with the shower area!
Our room was on the highest level of the lodge which a good thing because we could see the lake from our bedroom window. The bad part was all the windows on the highest level were half the size of the window on the lower level so the view was not as grand as it would have been!
The window view from our room
To see the view of the lake, we had to stand by the window. Sitting down we could only see the roof top of the neighbouring building! How I wished the room was higher up (but we were already had the highest level) and had a larger window! Then I would be able to laze in my bed and enjoy the spectacular view.
Hostel or the Lodge
I booked a double/twin room at the Lake Como Peace Lodge rather than Lake Como Youth Hostel as it had rooms with ensuite bathroom and I thought it also had better view on the higher ground. Though the youth hostel had its limitation it was a more vibrant and welcoming place, with lovely view of the lake from its dining room and it was so much nearer to the town and waterfront activity.
Unlike the Youth Hostel, the Lodge was manned by a staff that appearedonly from 5pm to midnight. A couple of photos on the Lodge on booking.com website were actually pictures of the youth hostel and they protrayed a “welcoming” impression the Lodge did not have.
Breakfast and Dinner
For the next two days our breakfast was supplied by the Lodge. The usual Italian fare, bread, butter, jam and biscuits with coffee and juice. Sigh…
On both the evenings I gladly cooked in the shared kitchen. Since there were no other guest cooking I got the entire kitchen at my disposal. Cooking on a trip was pretty easy for us, as we had “perfected” the art of cooking simple but nice and yummy meals. I prepared my meal in less than 30 minutes and we got to eat whatever we fancy. I would leave the drinks and salad to Yat Thong’s capable hands. For the first evening at Lake Como Peace Lodge, I cooked chicken pasta with eggs and tomato.
For the second evening at Lake Como we had salmon ravioli. The fresh salmon and ravioli were purchased at Carrefour Market which was on our way to Lake Piano