This summer I set off on a rather ambitious semi-round-the-world adventure with two children in tow. It was, for the most part, fantastic. A total dream come true. One of our favourite parts of this journey was the four days we spent on Lake Como.
Mr. Chef and I had been talking for ages about taking a trip to Como. He has roots in the area, and fond memories of childhood summers spent in a villa overlooking the lake. So this year we decided it was finally time to spring for it, and spend a few days on Lake Como.
Since the majority of our European holiday was to take place in Switzerland, we both flew into Zurich. The kids and I were flying in from Montreal, and Mr. Chef was coming in from Singapore. We booked our flights to arrive within minutes of each other, hoping to meet up somewhere after immigration. Miraculously, (well, perhaps predictably since this is Switzerland, after all) our flights arrived perfectly on time, and we found each other right after baggage claim.
Since it was early morning, we stopped at the airport grocery store to pick up a few provisions. I loaded up on my favourites, chocolate yoghurt, Gipfeli and Apfelsaft (Swiss croissants and sparkling apple juice). Then we went down to the SBB train station on the first floor of the airport. We got on the next train back to Zürich Hauptbahnhof, a convenient 10 minute ride away. From there we caught a train to Lugano in the Swiss canton of Teicino, where we met Mr. Chef’s cousin who drove us the rest of the way.
We crossed the Swiss border into Italy easily and without issue. Although Switzerland is not part of the EU, it is a Schengen country, so there were no border controls.
If you are traveling from Zurich to Como by train, it’s a short four-hour journey, via Bellinzona and Chiasso. The majority of this journey can be done on a SwissPass, if you have one. I recommend reserving seats, as the Zurich-Bellinzona portion of the journey can get crowded.
We are incredibly fortunate that Mr. Chef has relatives who have a vacation home on Lake Como. Their house became our home base for the few days we were in Italy. Located on the hillside overlooking the lake, it was an absolute gem of a place. The house was built in the 20’s and was full of rustic charm. There was an outdoor kitchen with a big terrace and a swimming pool and views of the lake. We spent most mornings lazily eating breakfast on the terrace, and most evenings eating long dinners with our hosts and enjoying the view.
On our first day we had lunch at La Brea (which, full disclosure, is owned by a relative of ours). This was easily the stand-out meal during this trip. The restaurant is charmingly rustic, and focuses on honest seasonal, local fare. Typically Italian. I had a beautiful plate of gnocchi and local cheese accompanied by a crisp glass of white wine. We sat in a private room, so our incredibly jet lagged kids were not a bother to anyone.
The majority of our time in Italy was spent in a small village next to Argengo. This little village is located about half-way down the Western shore of the Western-most leg of Lake Como. We explored the cobblestone streets, ate our weight in gelato, and hung out by the lake, feeding the ducks. There is a gelateria in the Piazza, right across from the fountain, which is recommended!
While the weather was too cold for swimming while we were there, there is a nice little beachy area on the shore of Lake Como, which looks pretty comfortable.
We wanted to take the cable-car at Pigra and enjoy the views down Lake Como, but unfortunately (no miraculously!!!) our kids kept sleeping in, and we never got an early enough start. The cable-car goes every half-hour and closes over lunch time. It’s too bad we missed it, the views are stunning.
While we were in Lombardy, the weather was unseasonably cool and overcast. On one sunny, almost warm day, we caught the ferry from Argengo to Bellagio. This was a real standout from our trip. Not for the village of Bellagio itself, necessarily, although it is lovely. But the dramatic views of the shoreline around Lake Como stand out in my memory as being an absolute highlight. As you cruise north along Lake Como, rolling hills grow progressively more imposing, becoming proper mountains with beautiful green alps and glacial formations visible in the distance.
The boat ride can take about an hour if you go by fast boat, slower if otherwise. But it was a pleasant journey, especially since Hugo took some nice naps on the boat! Here’s a link to the boat schedule.
Bellagio is an utterly charming, if somewhat tourist infested, medieval Italian town. The crowds were thick, and it was a bit difficult to find a restaurant for lunch, but we happened upon a little place in a piazza on Via Centrale that served pizza. Restaurants were pretty accommodating of young families, offering highchairs and plenty of goodnatured baby-cooing. Hugo got his first real taste of food here, cutting his (non-existent) teeth on real, Italian pizza crust.
Unfortunately our stay on Lake Como was entirely too short to really appreciate this iconic city. And, even more annoyingly, much of our time was eaten up trying to find a camera charger, because, predictably, I had left mine behind.
We caught a bus from the Piazza in Argenio to Como. The the bus was absolutely jam-packed with holidaymakers, and poor Mr. Chef had to stand for the 45 minute journey. We disembarked at the train station, and walked a short distance towards the city centre. Since we were in Como over the lunch hour and early afternoon, most of the shops were closed, and we could only window shop. Had we made more time, we would have liked to take the funicular up the hill. Instead, we wandered the streets, checked out the Domo, and hung out by the lake, where there is a lovely playground and splash pad.
Despite the unseasonably cold temperatures, and distinct lack of planning on our part, this was a great trip, one we hope to repeat in the coming years.
So, if you have any great Lake Como recommendations, I’d love to hear them!
Argengo, Bellagio and the surrounding region is pretty hilly, and our flimsy umbrella stroller was no match for the cobblestone streets. I wouldn’t recommend ditching the stroller altogether, it was very much a necessity for our tired kids, and being able to hang much of our junk from the frame was pretty great. I would, however, suggest opting for a sturdier set of wheels if you have one.
Be aware that many businesses (and also the cable car in Piga) close over lunch time. I also noticed that ferries were less frequent from about noon until three pm.
When choosing a restaurant, or even a cafe, for that matter, avoid the ones that are obvious tourist traps with plastic menus and pictures of food. We also avoided restaurants that were right on the lake, opting instead for smaller places a bit out of the way. Mr. Chef has a bit of a nose for good restaurants, obviously. We happened upon a fantastic gelateria in Bellagio We paid close attention to places that looked like they were frequented by locals, and that strategy didn’t disappoint!