Lake Como with children
Here are my tips for anyone visiting Lake Como especially for those of you travelling to Lake Como with children.
I keep dreaming of my holiday to Lake Como, the third largest of the Italian Lakes and hope to re-visit here soon.
One word to describe it – serene.
History and location
When you google Lake Como, inevitably the search produces reference to George Clooney as the two have become synonymous since his purchase of Villa Oleandra, an 18th century Italian villa in 2002. There is really only one word to describe Lake Como and that is serene. Historically, the Lake was a playground for wealthy Milanese, however Lake Como is now a household name and an extremely popular global destination thanks to its famous part time resident.
Lake Como is situated in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Only an hour by train from Milan, this place really does take your breath away.
Where to stay
When researching on where to stay in Lake Como, as we had our children, we decided to stay in Laglio, one of the less populated towns, mainly to avoid the thousands of tourists that flock to Lombardy during the European summer and also to stay at the beautiful Villa Relais Vittoria (another Mr and Mrs Smith find). The villa catered to our every need and our children found there was lots to do within the hotel itself (swimming in the pool, playing in the gardens, collecting pebbles from the lake, sitting on the jetty, paddling the kayak, drawing or playing board games in the lounge, playing the piano, watching movies in bed).
Laglio has a tranquil, authentic Italian village feel about it that is in contrast to the hustle and bustle of its neighbours in Como, Menaggio and Bellagio. In addition, it is home to Como’s most famous resident whose villa is a short hop, skip and jump away (I have to admit I often took my morning walk or paddle toward Villa Oleandra in the hope of spotting George sipping a Nepresso on his balcony)!!
Child friendly excursions
Here are my suggestions on half day excursions and activities around the Lake purposely kept short due to the desire for us all to have an afternoon rest (or as they say in Italian, take a riposa).
Due to the length of our European holiday we decided Lake Como would be four days of rest and relaxation and opted to spend half of each day poolside.
Villa Relais Vittoria has a heated outdoor infinity pool, complete with beautiful views of the lake and mountains, set within a manicured garden. Each day we found nothing more appealing than lying on one of the many sun-lounges, book in hand, gazing out at the glistening water, marvelling at the scenery and waving at the passing boats, kayaks and sea planes.
Luckily for us, our children were more than happy to put on their swimming costumes, play on the lawn, order gelato, get mum or dad to take the canoe out for a paddle or pretend to be a mermaid in the infinity pool.
Fun on the lake
At Villa Relais Vittoria, we loved the novelty and thrill of being catapulted in a kayak into the lake off the hotel’s private jetty. The jetty here has a draw bridge that when released drops you into the water. Hours of fun were had just doing this or picking the daisies growing by the jetty and making flower chains. As they say – the simple things in life are often the best.
I had written down to visit the water trampolines and floating lounges at Hotel Villa Aurora care of Scribe and Spoons’ blog post of Lake Como with children (I highly recommend this read if you’re heading to Lake Como with children. Sally has written an extremely comprehensive post which helped me plan my holiday to Como – a huge thank you). Unfortunately we didn’t get here this time.
Catching local transport
My parents have always said that the best way to experience a city is to do as the locals do. So with this in mind, we chose to catch the local blue bus for a few Euros versus hire a car or book a private tour. The scenery along the drive from Laglio to Lenno (which is much easier for you and the children to view if you are sitting high in a bus versus low in a cabriolet) is beautiful, taking you around the perimeter of the Lake, and showcases numerous villas and trattorias along the way.
A note on bus tickets: we did not know to pre-purchase our bus tickets so our Driver kindly stopped the bus at the next available hotel so we could do so. It is €13.50 for a carnet of 11 tickets which can be validated on board any blue bus. These are available at most hotels, bars and tobacconists. For more information click this link.
A jaunt on the lake is a must on any visit to Como and if your budget doesn’t stretch hiring a glamorous speed boat, hop on one of the ferries that criss-crosses the lake (http://www.navigazionelaghi.it/ENG/index.asp). For the senior traveller, there is an over 65’s fare for an extremely discounted €3.20 (on presentation of your identity card), valid only on a Monday through to a Friday. An adult circular fare will return you to where the ticket was issued for 14 euros with children under the age of four travelling for free.
With all due respect to the cost effectiveness and experience of public transport, there are fast ferries and there are S L O W ferries. After our few hours on the water we bussed back to Laglio from Menaggio as when I say S L O W, I mean S L O W. For any of you who have seen the new Disney movie, Zootopia – just recall the scene with the sloth. Need I say more!!
The town of Vareena
We chose to spend our time ashore the village of Vareena on recommendation from our good friend Nicco Moretti of Urban Provider. Nicco travels here annually with groups of “gourmet” travellers. This village is made up of a number of inlets and bays, providing many beautiful vantage points to marvel the opposing Provincia Di Como.
As a family we walked the “lover’s walk” or passabile along the lake’s edge to stunning gardens and villas – Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi. I’m sure this walk is usually very romantic however; it was an adventure and workout for my husband and I as we pushed our 4 year old in a Maclaren’s stroller along the often steep cobble stoned paths.
The passabile has an array of cafes and restaurants along its path which offer beautiful food and views of the lake from the Di Lecco side. Be sure to take advantage of this as further afar the options are minimal.
Within the main square of Vareena we visited the Church of San Giorgio, consecrated in 1313. Its flooring is made entirely by the black marble of Vareena. Here our girls lit a motive candle and made a prayer also allowing us time to sit and rest and gain refuge from the crowds and the heat.
Villa Balbienello, Lenno
My mind was set that I was going to be like a celebrity and take a speed boat across the lake. A brilliant option came into play when I saw in Lenno signs advertising speed boat water taxi’s to take passengers to Villa Balbienello . This plan also meant I didn’t have to trek the half an hour up a steep hill with our Maclaren’s stroller and my 4 year old (Daddy offered to do that)!
My tip to anyone who is unfit, has mobility or cardiac issues is to do the same and that is to catch a water taxi if you are planning to visit Villa Balbienello.
If you are lucky like my daughter and I, you may be the only passengers aboard your speed boat, so you get to feel like a VIP when you arrive at the bottom of the villa’s garden by a pair of wrought iron gates. Here you step up into what was once the home of Milanese entrepreneur, Guido Monzino before he gifted it to the Italian National Trust.
Villa Balbienello’s history and fame
Villa Balbienello is one of the most marvellous and also most famous villas along the Lake. It has been featured in movies such as Star Wars and Casino Royale however; the true pride and joy of the Villa is the garden, which is dominated by the vine covered loggia. The garden is planted with holmoaks, camphor trees, magnolias and cypresses as well as spectacular azaleas, rhododendrons and masses of hydrangeas. Despite it being a bit chilly, we spent a good hour just walking through the terraced grounds, my children looking for fairy folk and taking marvel in trying to blow the seeds from the dandelion globes.
I highly recommend the garden and villa guided tour. Both my children loved the stories of its history as well as the secret doors and passageways.
Note: the villa is closed on a Monday and Wednesday.
If you like cheese, cured meats, fresh fruits and bread you’re in luck as many towns between Como and Lecco have weekly markets. The following link directs you to which towns hold markets, on what days and importantly, what the market has to offer. http://www.lakecomo.it/en/sports/shopping_and_spare_time/markets
We visited the Lenno market, purchasing some provisions for a picnic by the lake. The children of course loved the opportunity to buy themselves a souvenir.
“Ice cream, ice cream we all scream for ice cream”. Gelato is the Italian word for “ice cream”, derived from the Latin word gelātus. A continual source of our children’s excitement and daily activity in Italy was finding a gelato shop so they could try another flavour. Strawberry, pistachio, bounty, coconut, limone, chocolate, cherry, peach, vanilla, Nutella, the list went on.
Some history worth sharing (in between licks, spills and baby wipes) is that it was during the Italian Renaissance when the great tradition of Italian gelato began. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cook in his spare time, took part in the competition. Ruggeri’s tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today’s sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately put Ruggeri in the spotlight and hey presto, gelato was invented.
Tip: the gelato servings are generous. We stuck with the children’s cones which were still big and filled our tummies. At €1 a cone it was hard to resist an ice-cream a day.
Serene and tranquil are two words to sum up my experience of Lake Como. I will return one day soon and cross my fingers that Daddy might get a stint at the Australian Institute of Sport training centre in Turin (we would then only be an hour’s drive away from this beautiful part of the world).