It’s impossible not to be smitten by Bellagio’s waterfront of bobbing boats, its maze of steep stone staircases, red-roofed and green-shuttered buildings, dark cypress groves and rhododendron-filled gardens.
Like the prow of a beautiful vessel, it sits at the crux of the inverted Y that is Lake Como; the Como and Lecco arms of the lake wash off to port and starboard.
Wander out of the old town centre to Punta Spartivento and gaze north up the third arm towards the Alps. In Roman times, Pliny had one of his favourite villas here. Bellagio is hardly a secret.
On summer weekends, foreign tourists are overwhelmed by hordes of day trippers up from Milan. Try to come midweek if you want a modicum of peace. It makes a nice base for ferry trips to other locations on the lake, in particular Varenna, on Lake Como’s east shore.
What to do in Bellagio
Bellagio is one of the most attractively-situated of the lake resorts, and it is a pleasant place to ramble. Passenger ferries stop alongside a tree-lined waterfront. Across the road is a lovely arcade where cafes and restaurants afford shade and shelter from the elements. This is a good place to come for an aperitivo or after-dinner drink. Walking to the right as you disembark from the boat, you’ll find more ‘touristy’ cafes – the types of place where you can sit in the afternoon on a lakeside terrace with a big fancy ice-cream and watch the boats passing by. A little further along in this direction you’ll pass the car-ferry departure point, the historic Hotel Grand Bretagne which is currently abandoned and falling into disrepair, and then reach a pretty lakeside promenade.
From the central waterfront, stepped and cobbled lanes rise up the hill in a tight little network separating the lakeshore from the town’s main street, Via Garibaldi. This is a pretty lane where you’ll find more shops, cafes and also Bellagio’s main town square, Piazza San Giacomo, or Piazza della Chiesa. The square is dominated by the town church, the Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo, which is worth a visit for its frescoes and statues. Externally you can admire the attractive bell-tower and elegant apse. On the opposite side of the square is a medieval tower, once part of Bellagio’s now-disappeared defences. The fountain in the centre of the piazza is said to have been originally commissioned by a resident Englishman for his garden to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Walking from the piazza past the church and out towards the tip of the Bellagio promontory, you reach a viewpoint, park and little harbour at Punta Spartivento, where the lake divides. Heading in the other direction from the square, Via Garibaldi passes the main entrance to Villa Serbelloni and reaches the town hall (Municipio). At this point a paved footpath (signposted) leaves the road and heads towards Pescallo, about ten minutes’ walk away. Pescallo is an enchanting little fishing hamlet looking out over the western Lecco branch of Lake Como, on the opposite side of the promontory to the main settlement of Bellagio. There’s a restaurant with tables right on the water’s edge, and although there are one or two hotels, the atmosphere here is low-key, charming and miles away from the smart, touristy world of Bellagio.
From Pescallo, following the ‘Bellagio suburbs’ walk suggested by the tourist office pamphlet, you pass by some agricultural ruins ripe for renovation, then the imposing, empty Villa Giulia and its dramatic ‘Vialone’. This is a wide grassy path cleared by an early owner of Villa Giulia, in order to give his house views over both branches of the lake. At the far end of the Vialone you can head left down to another waterside settlement, San Giovanni, where local teenagers sun themselves on the harbour wall and where the little town square is decorated with a ‘grotto’ constructed by the local priest in the 1950s as a shrine to the Madonna of Lourdes. There is also a rather specialist museum at San Giovanni, dedicated to navigational instruments (the Museo degli Strumenti della Navigazione). Back in the direction of Bellagio, the next little fishing harbour is Loppia, where you can see examples of the historic local lake boats. Try to get a glimpse of the old village church, now enclosed in the private grounds of Villa Trivulzio Gerli. The route back to Bellagio lies through the gardens of Villa Melzi one of the two most iconic Villas on Como Lake together with Villa Serbelloni.
In the tourist season you may see a little tourist train (trenino) tootling by; this takes a 20-minute tour towards the hamlet of San Giovanni. It’s not a hugely scenic route as the roads don’t run along the lakeshore, but it is fun, especially if you are travelling with children. The departure point is indicated by a notice-board, near the car-ferry jetty.
Where To Stay in Bellagio
Cernobbio offers you the best of both worlds when you visit Lake Como. It is close enough to Como town to enjoy all the attractions that it has to offer. At the same time, Cernobbio is far away enough from the bustle of Como to have a unique charm all of its own.
In general, accommodation prices are somewhat lower in Cernobbio than in Como. Furthermore, this small town has a good boat connection and is also served by Como taxis. So if you miss your ferry or bus back to Cernobbio, you will still be able to get back to your accommodation easily.
$: Hotel Du Lac