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Lake Como covers an area of 56 square miles and is surrounded by more than 20 charming villages, including Bellagio, Menaggio, Cernobbio, Varenna, and Laglio, The Lake has been, for centuries, is a magnet for artists, aristocrats, and travelers who find inspiration and refuge in this stunning setting.Great writers such as Gustave Flaubert, Mary Shelley, and Stendhal made Lake Como their home at some point in their lives. Stendhal said the views of the lake form his Bellagio villa were “the most beautiful in the world after the Bay of Naples”. Musicians also sought refuge in the towns surrounding the lake.
Among them, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Vincenzo Bellini, who wrote his opera Norma during a brief stay in Lake Como. Frederick Barbarossa, the Sforza family, King Phillip II of Spain, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mussolini, and Giuseppe Garibaldi helped shape the mystique that follows the Lake, a playground for some of history’s most famous personages. But the Lake’s allure dates to ancient times when the Roman legions brought the laurels and olive trees that today adorn the coastline.Lake Como is a place of many delights.
The city of Como looks like a movie set from the Italian neorealism. Its legendary train station, built in 1885, its old town, and Piazza Cavour, with its fountains and the most spectacular views of the lake, are points of great interest for visitors. Also, the funicular to Mount Brunate, Piazza del Duomo, Villa Olmo, Palazzo Terragni, the museum-house of Alessandro Volta, and the Teatro Sociale are sites not to be missed while visiting the area.
Bellagio is the darling of Lake Como, a fascinating town, which some regard as the most beautiful on the lake. In addition to its alleys, dotted with boutiques and restaurants, you will love the summer villa built for Count Francesco Melzi, an example later followed by the Lombards’ Villa Serbelloni, home to the Nelson Rockefeller Institute since 1959, and the Romanesque churches of San Giacomo and San Giorgio. Other tourist attractions in Bellagio are the elegant boutiques on Via Garibaldi and the busy Punta Spartivento, a beautiful park from where visitors can take in the fabulous vistas of the magical lake.
The charming town of Cernobbio also boasts a collection of interesting attractions: Villa d’Este, built in the 16th century, was the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925), and the famous 19th-century Villa Erba—now a beautiful conference center—will make a travelers delight. Meanwhile, the municipality of Ossuccio is home to the only island on the lake, Comacina, and the Sacro Monte of Ossuccio, a place of pilgrimage recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 2003.
This region has a strong connection to the world of cinema. You can’t miss a visit to Villa Passalacqua and Villa del Balbianello, in the towns of Moltrasio and Lenno respectively, where scenes from Star Wars were filmed in 2002, as well as Casino Royale (2006) from the James Bond series. In Tremezzo, you will discover Villa Carlotta, famous for its gardens, terraces and a museum with works by Canova, Thorvaldsen, and Hayez.
Sports, leisure, and outdoor activities are some of the most attractive options in Lake Como. Sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, jet skiing, water skiing, paragliding, climbing and hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are some of the ways to keep active on land or water. Visitors can also play golf at any of the seven internationally renowned golf courses.And after an active day on the lake, there are plenty of places to indulge in fine dining. The cuisine of the region is famous for its risotto ai filetti di pesce persico, its olive oil, its great variety of vegetables, Drezzo and Rogaro asparagus and other succulent fish dishes.
With all the luxury venues available, Lake Como and its surroundings have become a haven for celebrities seeking reprise from the spotlight. Actor George Clooney bought the 18th century Villa Oleandra in 2001 for more than US $9 million. Located in Laglio, It was the setting for his blockbuster movie Ocean´s Twelve (2004). The current estimated price of the property is about $40 million. Also, Donatella Versace, Madonna, Richard Branson and Silvio Berlusconi all have purchased lavish residences in the area. ■