Things to do
Getting your bearings
At the heart of the lake are three attractive towns - Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna which are linked by car and passenger ferries; the latter also sail up and down the lake all day.
- Bellagio, the "pearl of Lake Como", is a 5 minute drive from the villa. It is a beautiful old town with steep cobbled streets, leading to some excellent shops, bars and restaurants and gelatarie around every corner. Not to be missed.
- Menaggio is the largest of the three, a metropolis by comparison, with some excellent shopping, restaurants and bars.
- Varenna is a very pretty fishing port, much quieter than either Bellagio or Menaggio. It has a couple of excellent restaurants and some wonderful craft shops selling locally made jewellery and artworks. The short hike to the castle above the town is worth it for the views alone.
But almost every town and village on the lake has something to offer. More details and recommendations can be found in the villa.
There is plenty of fun to be had on the water. There are two kayaks and a wooden rowing boat kept in the villa's harbour. Plus a couple of fishing rods to try your luck against the lake fish.
The lake itself is the perfect temperature for swimming. To avoid the motor boats, ferries and hydrofoil we recommend swimming between the villa and cypress point or swimming round to the beach. If you are tempted to swim across the lake, the swimmer(s) should always be accompanied by the rowing boat since the lake is often very busy. The current record holder swam from Villa Balbianello to the villa in an impressive  minutes. The current wooden spoon record is over 2 hours!
The Jolly Racing Club based at the Hotel Aurora, in Lezzeno offers water skiing, wakeboarding, banana boats, jet skiing. If given enough notice, the water ski boat will be happy to pick you up from the villa pontoon for an evening session.
Villas and Gardens
The Italian lakes are famous for the many grand villas with magnificent gardens that line their shores and Lake Como is no exception. The villas were built as weekend retreats for grand Milanese families, and many have now been opened to the public. The gardens of Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni are beautiful but the lake's most famous gardens are at Villa Carlotta, between Cadenabbia and Tremezzo. Villa Carlotta has extensive gardens which are filled with many tropical plants, rare conifers, orange tree pergolas, camellia hedges and the world famous azaleas and rhododendrons. It also stages classical concerts during July and August.
In our eyes, however, there is no contest - Villa Balbianello, almost directly opposite the villa, will always be our favourite. Now owned by the Italian National Trust, the gardens and villa are open to visitors, and we strongly recommend booking a guide (required for the villa tour).
There are an enormous variety of walking routes,from easy walks for families to the more difficult ones for experienced hikers.
The walks traverse ancient paths which run along the lake, or take you up to the heights of the mountains surrounding Lake Como giving spectacular views of the lake. In the summer months there are several mountain refuges (rifugi) offering a welcome rest stop and excellent examples of the local mountain cuisine.
Lake Como is a stunning area for cycling and the villa is an excellent base for cycling enthusiasts to sample the various tours around the lake, whilst less keen members of your group can relax in beautiful surroundings back at the villa. The villa is within easy riding distance of the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb, a regular feature of the Giro di Lombardia and Giro d'Italia. At the top of the climb is a church dedicated to the patron saint of cyclists and (the eponymous Madonna del Ghisallo) and fascinating Cycling Museum. The legendary Muro di Sormano, is also close by. The Muro was recently restored for its inclusion in the 2012 and 2013 Giro di Lombardia after an absence of 50 years because it was seen as "too fearsome". Every metre of elevation is marked, along with winning times and gear ratios from previous years.
Road and mountain bikes can be hired in Bellagio or Como. Most companies will deliver to and collect from the villa if booked in advance. We can recommend hire shops used by our guests in the past.
Tennis courts are available to hire by the hour at the Bellagio Sporting Club, a short drive away. The villa has a selection of very old tennis racquets, which you are welcome to use, but if you are serious players we recommend you bring your own kit to avoid disappointment.
There are several superb golf courses within reach of the villa. The nearest, Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf Club, is one of the oldest courses in Italy, celebrating its centenary in 2007 (so only 9 years younger than the villa itself). A handicap of 36 is required to play and booking is essential. Further information on dress code and green rules can be found on their website.
There are a number of specialised museums around Lake Como, some of which will interest a wider audience. Como produces almost all of Europe’s silk, supplying every Italian designer you can think of, and two former factories have been converted into museums. One is the Museo didattico della Seta di Como, at Via Castelnuovo 1, in Como. The other is in Abbadia Lariano, on the eastern branch of the Lake.
The Cycling Museum of Ghisallo is an iconic destination for cyclists of all ages and categories, both competitive and non-competitive. Thousands of cycling enthusiasts come up to Ghisallo each year -- to visit its 17th century shrine containing a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Madonna del Ghisallo, declared the patroness of cyclists. The museum is located next to the shrine and is devoted to all things cycling.
There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from on the lake, and we can't begin mention them all here. There is a list of our recommendations at the villa, and we would encourage all our guests to add to and review any of the restaurants on our list.
A highlight though has to be dinner at the Isola Comacina. The seven course menu is fixed – and has not changed for 50 years. Watching the owner, Benvenuto, perform his famous fire ceremony at the end of dinner should be an institution for all visitors to the lake. It's also a chance to browse his impressive collection of celebrity photographs built up over the years.
Bellagio and the other local towns have a few entertainment options after dark, but many of our guests prefer to while away long evenings round the dinner table. If you do venture out we can highly recommend pre dinner cocktails at the Grand Hotel Serbelloni, Bellagio. The Lido di Bellagio and Lido di Lenno both turn into night clubs after dark, and are not to be missed for the party-minded. Or for a more casual evening, the Riverside Cafe and Bar in San Giovanni (between the Villa and Bellagio) is a rustic bar/shack on the shore of the lake, open until the small hours.