Leaving the bustling city of Milan behind, we headed up to Lake Como. Well-known as the part-time home of newly-married George Clooney, Lake Como is in the northern part of Italy, near the border with Switzerland. After some initial confusion with what train we needed to take we eventually got on a train that we were fairly certain would get us to Como Nord (most of the confusion was because we needed to take an urban train to be able to get to this station). We arrived in Como mid-afternoon and got settled into our hostel, which was near the station and near the Lake. After dropping our stuff, we headed into town to eat and see the sights. After a quick lunch of panini sandwiches, we made our first stop in Como’s main church. After that, we wandered around the lake.
The shores of Lake Como are dotted with multicolored houses, big and small, similar in shape and color to the ones in Cinque Terre. The waters of Lake Como, even in late September as it is starting to get chilly is filled with a wide variety of boats. We walked around and looked at the World War II Memorial to the resistance fighters (Lake Como was a hotspot for the Italian Resistance, but more on this later) and the home of Alessandro Volta, aka the inventor of the battery (we didn’t go inside).
After a quick break to recharge our own batteries (literal and figurative), we took the funicular (cable car, but funicular is way more fun to say) up to Brunate. Brunate is a small town higher up on the side of the mountain that overlooks Como and the lake. While Como wasn’t super crowded, we were pretty much the only people at the restaurant, which was a nice chance from Milan or Cinque Terre.
Our hostel, while basic (we had what was basically a dorm room including a shared bathroom) had an out-of-this-world breakfast buffet. The entire length of a table was filled with meats and cheeses of every kind: brie, pecorino, mozzarella, edam, salami, prosciutto, prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), and a dried beef native to the region called bresaola. Bresaola is salted and air-dried for several months and tastes very similar to chipped beef.
After a massive breakfast, we hopped on the ferry to take a trip around some of the towns on the lake. Our first stop was Bellagio, which is the town that the hotel of the same name was modeled after. It came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Lake Como is also known for being Italy’s silk capital, and although they don’t produce as much silk as they used to, they still do the dying and weaving in the area. Bellagio is full of shops selling silk scarves, ties, and other elegant fashions.
The next stop on the ferry was Varenna. Similar to Bellagio, Varenna is even more picturesque. After a quick look around Varenna, we headed up to Dongo to see where Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was captured in 1945 attempting to flee to Switzerland. This event is remembered at the Museo della fine della Guerra (Museum of the End of War). This museum reopened in April and presents the story of Mussolini’s capture and of the resistance in the Lake Como area in amazing multimedia. There are recordings of stories from members of the resistance, video footage and a few artifacts from the time that all work together to tell this little-known story.
Dongo is commonly believed to be where Mussolini was executed, but that is not true. Along with several high-ranking Facist party members, he was captured here but executed (with his mistress) at a different place. Many of the officials traveling with him were executed in the town’s square before their bodies were displayed in Milan. For more information about Mussolini’s capture and subsequent execution, the BBC has an excellent recap of the events.
We returned to Como after a brief stopover in the town of Lenno. Lenno is home to Villa Balbianello, which was where several movies have been filmed, including Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II. Unfortunately by the time we got there it was closed for the day.
Lake Como was great, even if we didn’t see George Clooney! Up next is three days in Venice.