There was just one weekend left for a final hurrah before wrapping up our year of studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences.
Lucky for fellow classmate Lily, it happened to fall on her birthday, and she was determined to make it to the famed Lake Como before moving back to the US. A very budget hotel (with a fab view of Milan’s central train station, no less) brought us together from all over – Bra, Andalusia and the Cotswolds – for one night in the big smoke before training it up there for a whirlwind almost-weekend.
Lake Como is renowned for obvious reason. Enveloped in green mountain peaks with fairytale villas at their base, villages crawling up the hillsides marked with slender cypress tress, and miniature toy-like boats coming and going along the glassy waters. It all feels pretty magical. The upshot of such stardom, though, is that this relatively small spot becomes chockers with tourists pretty quickly.
Even on the first weekend of May, it seemed off season wasn’t a thing in these parts once the weather warmed up. We were hard pressed to find a seat on the ferry (among a good number of fellow English speakers), while the prices for a modest trattoria or a very basic hotel were up to double what I’ve grown used to in lesser-known regional Italian spots.
In a bid to stick to a very tight budget, we opted to stay in Como town – the small and much more affordable city at the entrance to the lake – rather than one of the picturesque lakeside villages, where you’ll pay a handsome fee to spend the night. From Como proper, it’s easy to day trip to other towns by ferry anyway (bar missing a couple of boats in our case – swear it was the confusing timetable and not the afternoon spritzes) which doubles up as a scenic day on the water.
Two nights-and-a-day in town was definitely not long enough – here’s what we got up to to make the most of it…
Morning pastries and coffee at Cremeria Bolla, going strong since 1893.
Wandering well away from the crowds (it only took a kilometre’s stroll) in Bellagio for lunch at Ristorante Silvio. They catch their own fish from the lake and serve traditional local dishes – like pesce in carpione, little white fish marinated in vinegar, bay leaves and onions, and perch fillets with polenta or with parmesan and lemon-spiked rice – which are less common on mainstream tourist menus.
Aperitivo at Fresco Cocktail Shop, a welcome spot given Como town is pretty quiet come sundown.
Riding ferries all over the lake for the best views of the towns that line the shore – including a former Star Wars film set.
Feeling oh-so fancy thanks to a tour of the gardens and estate of the 17th Century Villa Carlotta, overlooking the water from Tremezzo. Most tourists tend to head for well-known spots like Bellagio and Varenna, but there are so many other – and often more peaceful – places to check out like this one.