Our driver picked us up from our Milan hotel for the 2 hour drive to the town of Bellagio. Once we got out of Milan, the drive itself was scenic, with the Italian Alps ahead of us, passing small villages and rural farmland. Once we got to Lake Como, we drove down a narrow winding road next to the lake itself. As always in Italy, the road was busy with cars, trucks, scooters and cyclists, but unfazed by all the congestion, our Italian driver navigated the chaotic, aggressive Italian driving that always seems to work itself out with no accidents or mishaps.
Impressions of Bellagio
Once in Bellagio, we were stunned by the panoramic physical beauty around us. It seemed like the Alps rose directly from the lake itself; the peaks coming straight out the water, forming a natural skyline all around us. We were fortunate to be staying at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.;The neo-classical architectural style fits perfectly with this picturesque Italian lake, with marble staircases and fresco ceilings. Built right on the lake, the hotel offers an unobstructed view of the water and mountains. From our balcony we could see the lights of the town of Cadenabbia on the other side of the lake, and the mountains right behind it. The hotel is also just a few steps from “downtown” Bellagio, a perfect spot to explore this little lakeside town.
As we normally do, we like to mix “tour” days with “our” days, giving us the opportunity to both sight-see with a guide, and exploring the area on our own. With Bellagio, there wasn’t much of the town to explore. With a population of less than 4,000, it’s not difficult to imagine that on most days the tourists outnumber the residents. However, we deduced quickly that Bellagio wasn’t a town to explore as much as it was a place to experience. While there are small streets and back-alleys to discover, all lined with small gift shops and cafes, we noticed immediately these shops seldom felt “cheap” like many over places we have visited in our travels. There seemed to be some pride in what these places offered to their customers, almost as if their expectations were for a higher class of tourists than found elsewhere.
The local restaurants had a similar feel to them. Since we were lucky enough to be in Bellagio for 4 days, we sampled many of the nearby eateries. Standing out to us were the excellent restaurants Bilacus and Terrazza Barchetta. In both places, they were knowledgeable about their wine selections, and each offered excellent local wines that didn’t require a second mortgage to enjoy. Food was fresh and locally sourced, and served with a confident pride we would be satisfied. We were.
Lake Como Boat Tour
The highlight tour of our Lake Como visit was a morning boat trip around the lake. Our boat driver, Carlos, picked us up at the hotel pier. From there, he drove us all around the lake, pointing out historical points of interest, natural waterfalls and islands, and swanky villas of famous people. Carlos drove us by the village of Giulino di Mezzegra where Italian partisans executed dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress in World War II. We also saw the lakeside villas of George Clooney and Richard Branson. In a solid feat of boatsmanship, Carlos took our boat upstream under a small 12th century bridge so we could see an extraordinary waterfall in the small village of Nesso.
The weather cooperated on our tour as it stayed sunny most of the day. Luckily, a cool lake breeze (called breva by the locals) kept us comfortable the entire trip. Although Carlos apologized for his “poor” English, his enthusiasm for the lake and his home was easy to understand, and we stayed attentive and engaged because of him. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on this boat tour and recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
During our time at Bellagio, it was interesting to see how embedded the lake is in the daily lives of the town’s citizens. More travelers came to Bellagio by water than by land or rail, and small water taxis criss-crossed the lake at all hours, taking people to and from their homes and places of business. Since the first settlement in Bellagio predated the Romans, the lake’s importance to this area was more profound than the simple tourist attraction it is today.
Summary and Images of the Visit
As the sun set on our last day on Lake Como, we filed our time here in our memory banks as one of the most enjoyable visits in any of our travels. Bellagio slows you down and makes you adhere to its pace. We slept, ate, strolled, toured, drank wine in this picturesque town, enjoying the scenery and fabulous weather. Normally when we travel we look forward to the next destination. Bellagio is like a young love; you leave with regret and never forget.