Lake Como or Lake Maggiore: An impossible choice?
Lake Garda might be the most famous, but Como and Maggiore are the elegant duo of the Italian Lakes. They’re often talked about together, although each one has its own personality and atmosphere – not to mention a jam-packed list of things to see and do. Take a look at our guide to both lakes to help you pick which one to visit next.
What’s Lake Como like?
With its calm, sophisticated vibe, Lake Como is the more glamorous of the two. It’s shaped like a wishbone and is surrounded by the soaring Grigna mountains – so it’s like a cross between a Mediterranean hotspot and a Norwegian fjord. Europe’s rich and famous have flocked here for centuries, and many of them built extravagant palaces and gardens that still dot Como’s shores. The towns and villages are home to grand churches, brightly painted houses, buzzing piazzas and promenades.
Bellagio sits at the tip of the lake’s peninsula, with views out onto all three branches of the water. Nicknamed the Pearl of the Lake, the town’s known for its cobbled streets and botanical gardens. Soak up the scenery as you wander through art galleries and antique shops, and stop at a waterfront restaurant for lunch. While you’re there, try the local speciality, missoltino – a salt-cured fish that’s traditionally served grilled, and goes perfectly with polenta and a glass of red wine.
The scenic hamlet of Cadenabbia lies on the western shore of the lake. It’s a peaceful place with just a few hotels and shops, and there are excellent boat links to other parts of the lake. It’s also a short walk to neighbouring Tremezzo and Griante, so it’s a great base if you want to get out and see the area.
Menaggio’s medieval old town is full of narrow streets that lead to small town squares. Browse independent shops for knick-knacks, local produce and leather goods. Or head down to the elegant promenade, which is lined with fir trees, fountains and bars, and stop for a coffee or ice cream.
Surrounded by olive and orange groves, Tremezzo is full of charm. Walk along the lakefront promenade to see stately buildings and colourful gardens. And to get the best views over the rooftops and lake, you can climb one of the stone stairways that wind up the hillside from the main road.
Top 3 things to do on Lake Como
1. Catch a boat to most other villages and hamlets around the lake, including bustling Como town on the southern shore.
2. Explore the grandeur of Como’s lakeside villas, like the famous Villa Balbianello and Villa Carlotta.
3. Walk along the Greenway del Lario trail from Cadenabbia to Colonno – you’ll pass by ancient villages, monuments, villas, and ‘wow’-worthy viewpoints.
Where to stay on Lake Como
Hotel Grand Menaggio, Menaggio: Grand by name, grand by nature – this hotel has peaceful gardens, a lovely outdoor pool and a prime waterfront location. And in the evenings, you can dine al fresco, and sit under the stars on the terrace with a drink from the bar.
Hotel Britannia Excelsior, Cadenabbia: An excellent-value hotel right across the road from the lake. During the day, head to the lido pool or sit back on the floating deck and soak up the views. Then head to one of the all-inclusive bars and restaurants for a drink or a bite to eat.
Hotel Bazzoni, Tremezzo: It’s comfortable, charming and full of character. The hotel was destroyed in 1944, but it was rebuilt and still has lots of its original furniture. Take a dip in the pool or head to the nearby sister Hotel Britannia Excelsior to relax on the floating deck.
What’s Lake Maggiore like?
Stretching up into Switzerland, Lake Maggiore is lined with palms, promenades and world-renowned gardens. For centuries, most of the land here was owned by the Borromeos, a powerful aristocratic family. Their legacy is the three Borromean Islands – Maggiore’s most popular and beautiful must-dos. Take a boat to each one to explore the pristine gardens and villas of Isola Bella and Isola Madre, and the fishing village of Isola Pescatori.
Laid-back Baveno is in the Borromean Bay, and looks out over the three islands. Days here are all about strolling along the sun-soaked promenade and stopping for a spritz or an ice cream in one of the many cafés and bars that line the cobbled streets. You can also explore the granite-stone town square, and see the beautiful frescoes in the Romanesque church.
One of Maggiore’s most popular towns, Stresa is a blend of waterfront palaces, piazzas and pedestrianised streets. Wander through the bustling centre to find stylish shops and cafés. And head into the open-air market to try the local meats, cheeses and wines. Round off the day with a drink at a rooftop bar along the lakefront.
Top 3 things to do on Lake Maggiore
1. Catch the cable car up from Stresa to the Mottarone peak to explore a network or walking trails and get 360-degree views of seven lakes.
2. Visit both Isola Bella and Isola Madre, which are known for their ornate villas and splendid gardens. See white peacocks walking around the tiered gardens of Isola Bella, whose grounds and palace were designed to resemble a sailing ship. And stop off at Isola Madre to tour the collection of plants from all over the world.
3. Spend an afternoon on Isola Pescatori, the only Borromean Island with a living community. You can wander through the maze of tiny alleys and traditional shops. And make sure you stop for lunch at one of the excellent seafood restaurants.
Gardens of Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
Where to stay on Lake Maggiore
Hotel Della Torre, Stresa: The Della Torre is a great-value hotel with superb food. The inside is nice and simple, and all of the rooms have a balcony. And outside, you can relax by the private pool or sit out on the porch with an aperitivo. When you fancy a wander, it’s a 20-minute walk down the hill to the centre of town.
Hotel Beau Rivage, Baveno: Just outside the centre of Baveno and right on the lakefront, the Beau Rivage has been family-run since 1910. There’s an outdoor pool and pretty gardens tucked behind the hotel. Or you can head to the bar and terrace at the front to cool down with a drink and savour the great views.
Hotel Grand Bristol, Stresa: The elegant Grand Bristol is just a few steps from the water and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Take a dip in the large outdoor pool, head to the wellness centre, or grab a drink at either of the two bars. The excellent service is a big plus too.
Gardens, lake islands and villas dripping with history – Como and Maggiore show you the best of Italy, whichever you choose. And if you just can’t pick, you can spend time in both on a multi-destination holiday.
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