Gravedona on Lake Como, Italy – Part One

What to see and do in Gravedona on Lake Como, Italy – Part One

Gravedona, Italy by Monica Goslin

Gravedona is one of my favorite spots on Lake Como. The town of Gravedona is full of interesting churches, a wonderful old palace that hosts a multitude of events including summer concerts, and of course great gelato! Plus Gravedona has a great walkway along the water with a wide sidewalk, making it one of the few towns on the lake where you don’t have to fear for your life while trying to walk around and see the town.

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What to see in Gravedona, Italy:

-1- Walk along water and admire the views and have a gelato (a must do in any Italian town on the Lake, especially in the summer. It is an Italian summer rule of mine to have at least one gelato a day!).

-2- Santa Maria Church – This 13th century church sits in a nice open space by the water. To reach the church from the main-street and water walkway, walk south past the parking lot and continue to follow the road (some portions without a sidewalk). The church is very dark inside but portions of frescos can still be seen.

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-3-Santa Maria delle Grazie Church – This is really a jewel to see, as the frescos in this church are really amazing. The church was built in the late 15th century.  Make sure not to miss the cloister courtyard as there are some more frescos out there as well. Also for more information on the church you can always ask the attendant who is well versed in the history of the church and can give you a private mini tour on the spot.

*How to see the church: The following days and times are based on the summer 2010 information.  From July10th to September 11th the church is open 10AM-12:30PM and 3PM-6PM on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Side Note: It is not easy to see the Santa Maria delle Grazie church as it is only open for a few hours on certain days. The best thing to do is check with the tourist office in Gravedona or even in another town, for the latest pamphlet on the churches in the area. (Menaggio has a great tourism office on the main square with lots of brochures and helpful people who can speak English, Italian, and German).

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-4- Palazzo Gaglio (Gaglio Palace) – You can reach the Palace by continuing to walk along the sidewalk from the water. The sidewalk leads up and around, directly to the palace. The palace was built in the mid/late 16th century for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. The palace is used for events and concerts. Last summer I attended a couple of concerts which were marvelous and usually feature music students from local conservatories or music schools in Milan and the talent is astounding! For the concerts you can buy tickets at the door before the event; tickets were never more then 10 or 15 euros.

Side Note: August is a big music concert season on Lake Como. Check with tourist offices for information on concerts and schedules. Menaggio has on going music events in a large park by the lake, many of which are free. Varenna has small concerts in the Villa Monastero, and as mentioned above, Gravedona has concerts in the Gallio Palace. There are many events throughout the Lake to keep an eye on in the summer.

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These are the main sights of the city of Gravedona. Of course as always, I suggest walking through the city and exploring.

As another side note — Dongo

Dongo is a small town on the lake that has a rather peculiar feel, perhaps more so because of the fun name of the town, which sounds a bit ominous. Dongo come before Gravedona, so any easy stop to make on the way. As with the other towns, you can walk through the town, see the main church, and have gelato at the main square. The main piazza is also a bit odd for the lake towns as most of it is taken up by parking spots. However the small historical museum in Dongo is worth a visit, and you will learn that this where Mussolini was captured!

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How to get to Gravedona, Italy

You can take the ferry. To check the latest ferry schedules click here for the official website. (Ferry schedules change for the seasons).

You can also drive to Gravedona. Keep an eye out for parking signs. There is a rather good sized parking lot right by the lake – make sure to pay for parking and put the parking ticket on the dashboard of your car.

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Useful website – For more information about Lake Como and all of Northern Italy’s major lakes click here for italylakes.net

Travel tips for Lake Como, Italy – seeing small towns – part 2

Nesso on Lake Como, Italy by Monica Goslin

Small town of Lake Como, Italy – Part Two

Lake Como, Italy is full of small towns that are often missed by tourists who only have a few days and see the main locations: Como, Bellagio, Varenna, and Villa Balbianello (all of which you can read about on this blog). But if you have the time and enjoy seeing charming Italian villages then read on.

I have spent a lot of time exploring Lake Como, Italy and I have seen the main attractions and continue to explore the smaller, less-known areas as well. Continuing part two of the small towns to see in Lake Como with the area between Como and Bellagio.

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The towns to see between Como and Bellagio on Lake Como, Italy

This past summer I made a point of finally exploring some of the smaller towns between Como and Bellagio. Most of the towns are right on the water as the mountains on that side of the lake are very steep. I did try to drive up to a town mid-way up the mountain but the road proved to be just too terrifying.

Blevio — The main road through Blevio is at the top of the town. The town scales the mountain right to the waters edge where you will find mostly large villas and hotels. I believe this town is more of a secluded resort town, perhaps for the rich and famous.

Torno –This is truly a lovely little town with a very nice square that is actually centered around the ferry stop and boat marina. Torno is pretty flat, other then one main path down to the square on the water.

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Nesso

Nesso is a picturesque town full of stone houses and colorful shudders. This is another town that scales the mountain right down to the water and involves very steep cobblestone paths. I made my way down to the bottom of the town, finding a local beach past the remains of a church (which appears to be a private home now) and a nice café/restaurant before the ferry dock. On my way back up the mountain I came upon two little boys with their grandmother, coming back from the beach; honestly, the elderly people in this town must be in great shape to go up and down that steep path everyday! The town looks to be benefitting from the investment of foreigners who are buying the old stone houses and fixing them up for vacations homes.

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These were the towns the sparked my interest. I do recommend stopping in Torno and Nesso for sure!

** To see photos of these small towns on Lake Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography where you can browse photos and buy prints.

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How to get to these small towns:

Most of these small towns do have ferry stops but not frequently so you really have to check schedules, or you could be stranded in one very small town for hours. Renting a boat and seeing the towns from the water is another nice way to travel and see more of what the lake has to offer.

And of course you can always rent a car, but in order to rent a car and drive around Lake Como, let alone Italy, you have to be prepared for very narrow and very windy roads.

For ferry schedules for Lake Como click here for the official website.

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A note on driving around Lake Como, Italy

 Driving along Lake Como is a unique and mostly teeth clenching experience. While driving along Lake Como you have to be extremely vigilant of motorcycles darting in and out of cars and the packs of bike riders in their sleek gear and colorful uniforms that you will encounter all throughout the day and on every road and at every turn. Not to mention that driving through the towns on Lake Como means narrow streets between houses where really only one car can fit.

If you get stuck behind a tour bus, you are in a for long and slow ride as that bus tries to scrape between buildings and by cars (literally). Note other driver’s expressions as they see a tour bus or truck coming towards them. In fact some cafes in these small towns open right onto the main street and if they can squeeze a few tables right by the road they do. I honestly think the road side cafes are for the locals to watch the traffic and look for the terrified expressions of the tourist drivers; local entertainment for sure!

Travel tips for Lake Como, Italy – seeing small towns

Tremezzo, Italy by Monica Goslin

Small town of Lake Como, Italy – Part One

Lake Como, Italy is full of small towns that are often missed by tourists who only have a few days and see the main locations: Como, Bellagio, Varenna, and Villa Balbianello (all of which you can read about on this blog). But if you have the time and enjoy seeing charming Italian villages then read on.

I have spent a lot of time exploring Lake Como, Italy and I have seen the main attractions and continue to explore the smaller, less-known areas as well. Towns to see on Lake Como between Como and Menaggio:

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The towns to see between Como and Menaggio on Lake Como, Italy

Cernobbio

Cernobbio is an elegant town on Lake Como, not far from the city of Como. Every September the town hosts an international economic conference, the Ambrosetti Forum.

— Most notably is the Villa d’Este in Cernobio. The villa was built in 1568 for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, as his summer residence. The villa has 25 acres of gardens and since 1873 it has been a luxury hotel. The hotel also includes two private villas. The Villa Cima was built in 1814 by Caroline Brunswick, Princess of Wales and the Villa Malakoff was built in 1860.  For more information you can click here for the official website for the Villa d’Este and you can select English for the language.

*It is said that the security at the hotel is very intense and unless you are a hotel guest you can not get into the gardens. However with the right clothes and a nice smile, you can have lunch or coffee at one of the restaurants and then walk through the gardens.

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Moltrasio

 Moltrasio is a fairly large town right on the water and climbing up the mountain to the main road. If you start at the water’s edge (at the ferry stop and where the local road goes through town, also known as the Lungo Lago road) you will see the Posta Hotel. Go to the left of the Posta Hotel to find the paths that lead up into the town and that will take you to the main church. I do recommend eating lunch at the Posta Hotel restaurant, which has a nice outdoor seating with views of the lake and ferry stop and their salads and pasta dishes are very fresh (their Caprese salad is one of the best!).

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Ossuccio and Sala Comacina

 The towns of Ossuccio and Sala Comacina kind of run into each other and both are very charming. You can walk through the towns and make sure to find the path along the water. These towns have the main road of traffic cutting through them and no sidewalks on that road, so at times walking is a bit hair raising to say the least (just make sure to hug the wall of any building you are walking next to).

— Ossucio is home to the pilgrimage site of Sacro Monte. You can walk up to the church from the main road, it is all up hill, and past houses full of life-size diagrams of biblical scenes.

— Sala Comacina is a town with it’s own small island. Make your way down to the water to find the boats that will ferry you to and from the island where you can have lunch at the restaurant and then walk the entire length of the island and visit the ruins of a monastery from the 12th century.

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Tremezzo

Tremezzo is a lovely town and there is actually a sidewalk wide enough for two people right along the water. Tremezzo has a rather grand feel, especially as you reach the northern end of the town where the main road is lined with impressive hotels. I recommend walking along that sidewalk which takes you by the marina and into the public gardens which has a nice little café and a lovely grand fountain.

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These towns are good for a nice stroll, popping into the local church to see the paintings, and having a drink or a gelato before moving on to the next town.

** To see photos of Lake Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography where you can browse photos and buy prints.

– Plus to see photographs of the individual towns you can click on the town name.

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How to get to these small towns:

Most of these small towns do have ferry stops but not frequently so you really have to check schedules, or you could be stranded in one very small town for hours. Renting a boat and seeing the towns from the water is another nice was to travel and see more of what the lake has to offer.

And of course you can always rent a car, but in order to rent a car and drive around Lake Como, let along Italy, you have to be prepared for very narrow and windy roads.

For ferry schedules for Lake Como click here for the official website.

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A note on driving around Lake Como, Italy (in case you missed the last post on this).

 – If you are trying to get from one town to another quickly, you should take the main road. However for a more picturesque route that takes you through towns you would take the lower road – Lungo Lago, along the lake.

 Driving along Lake Como is a unique and mostly teeth clenching experience. While driving along Lake Como you have to be extremely vigilant of motorcycles darting in and out of cars and the packs of bike riders in their sleek gear and colorful uniforms that you will encounter all throughout the day and on every road and at every turn. Not to mention that driving through the towns on Lake Como means narrow streets between houses where really only one car can fit.

If you get stuck behind a tour bus, you are in a for long and slow ride as that bus tries to scrape between buildings and by cars (literally). Note other driver’s expressions as they see a tour bus or truck coming towards them. In fact some cafes in these small towns open right onto the main street and if they can squeeze a few tables right by the road they do. I honestly think the road side cafes are for the locals to watch the traffic and look for the terrified expressions of the tourist drivers; local entertainment for sure!

Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como, Italy

Villa Balbianello on Lake Como, Italy

Visiting Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy is full of fantastic villas and grand gardens, some of which are open to the public; one of the best known villas is the Villa Balbianello. Movie buffs will recognize the villa from the Star Wars Episode II and Casino Royale. You can visit the villa and gardens which I highly recommend for it is truly unique!

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The History of Villa del Balbianello

– The villa has changed hands many times, below are the previous owners:

1-  The villa was built in 1787 for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini, on the site of a Franciscan monastery.

2 – In 1796 after the Cardinal’s death, the villa was bought and renovated by Giuseppe Arconati Visconti.

3- In the 19th century the villa belonged to the Porro-Lambertenghi family.

4 – After falling into disrepair in the early 20th century, the villa was bought and renovated by Butler Ames, an American military officer.

5 – In 1974 the villa was purchased by Guido Monzino, known as the leader of the first Italian expedition to Mount Everest. Monzino was an art collector as well and filled the villa with his collection.

6 – The villa was left to the National Trust of Italy by Monzino, who passed away in 1988.

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When visiting Villa Balbianello, you can just visit the spectacular gardens; which provide wonderful views of the lake and towns. If you like, you can also purchase a ticket to have a guided tour of the house (not essential to the visit as the main attraction are the gardens).

** For more photos of Villa Balbianello click here!

*And to buy prints of Lake Como, Italy click here for The Monica Store.

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Ticket prices for Villa Balbianello:

-The villa is open from mid March to mid November.

-Tickets for the garden are only 6 Euros for adults and 3 Euros for kids (4-12 yrs).

-Tickets for the garden+villa are 12 Euros for adults and 7 Euros for kids (4-12 yrs). There is a maximum of 15 people in a group and a guided tour is mandatory. Tours last one hour.

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How to get to Villa Balbianello:

 1 –  Walking – You can actually walk to the villa. If you are driving in the area you would stop and park in the town of Lenno – there is a narrow parking lot at the edge of the town. From the parking lot you will see a path leading up the hill and through the forest, which will take you to the villa, where you will enter at the top of the gardens. The walk takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

2 – By Boat – From the parking lot at Lenno you will find a small boat at the water’s edge that takes you to the villa. (There are other boat services from neighboring towns and you can also hire a private taxi boat as well with price depending on the number of people and time needed for the boat ride). I recommend arriving by boat as it really gives you a sense of the villa and seeing it from the water is much more impressive!

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For information about Lake Como and all of Northern Italy’s major lakes click here for italylakes.net

What to see and do in Varenna, Italy

What to see and do in Varenna, Italy – a beautiful town on Lake Como

Varenna, Italy is simply a lovely town on Lake Como. Varenna sits just opposite of Menaggio and has a view of Bellagio. The three towns (Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio) create a constant triangle of ferry traffic and consequently are some of the biggest tourist towns on Lake Como.

All of the towns on Lake Como are unique; Varenna, as a small fishing village has a more relaxed atmosphere.

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1 – Ferry and Walk into Town – Arriving by ferry is the best possible way to really appreciate the town’s location. From the ferry you will have great views of the town, seeing how it juts out into the water, admiring the brightly painted houses, and getting a glimpse of the castle at the top of the hill (hard to see at first). Plus the ferry ride gives you ample time to get at least a few dozen photos of Varenna, (Note to photographers, the light is best at sunset as the town sits on the east side of the lake).

From the ferry stop you can walk along the footpath that takes you right over the water and into the heart of the town.

* Ferry schedules can be a bit confusing but you can always be sure you are going to the right place because the stops are always announced and tickets are always checked before you board. – Ferry ticket prices are more then reasonable and round trip is always cheaper. Click here for a link to the Lake Como ferry website for more information.

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2 – I suggest taking a seat at one of the cafes and enjoying the view with a good cup of cappuccino. There is always a lot to watch while seated at the cafés in Varenna – from the constant boat activity to the ferry traffic to the occasional wedding party traipsing by to get to the next photo spot (popular wedding photography town). All of the cafes are good with pizza being the best thing to order and the last gelato stand is highly recommended (by me!).

3 – From the little cluster of cafes you can continue walking through the lower part of town which will eventually lead you to stepped path. The square at the top of the town has two churches – both have incredible frescos to see. The smaller of the two churches is at the end of the square, past the hotels, at the end of the parking area.

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4 – Villa Monastero – From the square, if you walk along the road going south you will reach Villa Monastero and gardens. You can walk through the gardens and tour the villa, I recommend both! Villa Monastero was built in the early 13th century and was a Cistercian convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. The garden is very extensive and can take a couple of hours to see.

—–>Ticket Prices for the Villa Monastero in Varenna, Italy:

– To just see the gardens it is 5 euros, while to see both the villa and gardens it is 8 euros. – There are discounts for senior citizens, children, and groups of ten or more. – Summer hours are 9-7 from May to September. – October to November, and during April, the hours are 9-6.

For more information on Villa Monastero in Varenna, Italy click here for the official website (although the English translation is a bit off).

5 – Castle Vezio – Castello Vezio – The castle ruins at the top of the hill date back to the 7th century. Reaching the castle can be a challenge only because it is hard to find the signs that point the way. The castle has changed a lot over the last ten years! When I first visited the castle in 2002 it really was just a ruin that you could walk around and now it is more of a complex with a formal pathway through olive groves, an admission fee (just 4 euros), and events and a birds of prey show. If you have time and you are up for a small hike, you will get great views as you can climb up one of the towers!

—->  How to get to the Castello Vezio above Varenna, Italy:

– From the ferry stop, go straight ahead and up a little cobble stop path until you reach the street. Cross the street (if you look hard enough you will see a little yellow sign to the castle) and continue on the cobblestone path. You won’t feel like it is a correct path but if you make a sharp turn on it to the left and continue to climb up you will eventually reach a very shady path in the middle of small forest. The path goes right into the small town at the top of the hill and you have to continue through the town (following those yellow signs) to the castle. The walk up should take about 45 minutes.

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On the whole, Varenna, Italy is a lovely town to visit! You can simply go to Varenna to sit in a café along the water and just admire the view. I do highly recommend seeing the Villa gardens and of course having that daily gelato!

Hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know of your trip to Varenna or anything that shouldn’t be missed on a visit there!

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For more photos of Varenna, Italy click here for my stock photography website with photoshelter.

And for framed photos, canvas prints, books, and more on Lake Como, Italy click here for The Monica Store.

Travel tips for Bellagio, Italy

Travel tips for Bellagio, Italy – beautiful town on Lake Como

Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como by Monica Goslin

Bellagio, one of the best known towns on Lake Como where ladies can buy beautiful straw handbags and men can buy silk ties. Bellagio is also home to the Rockefeller Foundation and close by are The Gardens of the Villa Melzi.

What to see and do in Bellagio, Italy:

1 – Shopping – Bellagio is another ritzy town on Lake Como but with a smaller scope than Como. Walk along the lake to find stores selling beautiful hats, colorful straw bags, and gorgeous scarves. Make your way up the different cobble stone paths (steep steps so comfortable shoes are advised!). You will find various small art galleries, purse/bag stores, antique shops, hand painted pottery, and kitchenware made out of olive tree wood. ~ For silk products and straw bags I recommend the Saraceno store: there is one shop on the main shopping street across from the people ferry stops, and a Saraceno outlet store up the stairs across from the Hotel Metropolo.

2 – Basilica of San Giacomo – The Basilica was constructed between 1075 and 1125 and sits at the top of the town.

3 – Rockefeller Foundation – The Rockefeller Foundation has conferences and also prestigious residencies for scholars (residencies are available for one month to no more then 20 scholars/artists at a time). The foundation has been in Bellagio since 1960. You can take a tour of the grounds (which involves a lot of walking up hill), and although you can not tour the house you do get a glimpse of the villa and the gardens are gorgeous. I have been on the Rockefeller Foundation tour two different times and actually had a different walking route each time so saw new things! The tour guides are very knowledgeable and always eager to answer questions.

To make a tour: Buy tickets in advance. The ticket office is on the right side of the plaza by the Basilica of San Giacomo in an old stone tower. Tours are available from April to the 2nd of November from 11 am to 4pm. There are no tours on Mondays. Buy tickets in advance as only groups of 20-30 people are allowed at a time. Tickets are 8.50 euros and the tours last about an hour and a half.

4 – Walk along the lake and have a gelato! – This is an essential activity while visiting Lake Como in the Spring or Summer; I make sure to have gelato at least once a day while traveling in Italy in the summer!

5 – Villa Melzi – If you walk along the lake, away from the ferries, you will reach the gardens of the Villa Melzi which you can enter for a ticket price of 6 euros and 4 euros for students. (Gardens are open from the 28th of March to the 30th of October). The villa was built between 1808 and 1810 for Francesco Melzi d’Eril who was nominated the Duke of Lodi by Napoleon, and later became the Chancellor of the Empire.

Overall Bellagio, Italy is a beautiful town and a wonderful day trip!

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To see more photos of Bellagio and other towns on Lake Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography.

For framed photos, canvas prints, and photo books on Lake Como click here for The Monica Store.

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How to get to Bellagio, Italy:

The best way is by ferry from Menaggio, Varenna or Cadenabbia; ferries are frequent and provide a leisurely ride with of course spectacular views the whole way! You can get a hydrofoil boat from Como but it is quite a long way. And of course you can drive, although the road between Bellagio and Como is narrow with lots of curves; so you spend most of the time hoping you make it to your destination and driving with white knuckles.

Travel tips for Como, Italy

Como, Italy - gardens at Villa Olmo

What to do and see in Como, Italy on Lake Como

Como is one of the main cities on the Lake Como and it is a ritzy shopping location. Como is a great place to visit for a day trip if that is all the time you have, and you can see the main sights in a day. (Read to the end to learn a fun fact about Como, Italy!).

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Maint Sights to see in Como, Italy

1 – Duomo – Cathedral: The main Cathedral in Como is stunning both inside and out. The Cathedral dates back to 1396 when construction started. The façade of the church, with the rose window, was built in 1457 and the entire building was completed by 1740. Inside you will find tapestries and artworks from the 16th and 17th centuries.

2 – Basilica di San Fedele – This stone church was built in the 12th century (although the bell tower was rebuilt). Note the door with medieval decorations and the beautifully black and white tiled floor.

3 – Villa Olmo – The large villa can be reached by walking along the lake and through the large park. The Villa Olmo was built in 1797 and housed many important figures including Napoleon and Archduke Franz Ferdinand I. The villa now houses art exhibitions and the gardens are free to walk through.

4 – Funicular up to Brunate: Take the funicular up the mountain for spectacular views of the city and the lake. It is only 4,50 euros for a roundtrip ticket. However if it is a hazy day you will not see that far, so make sure to go on a clear day. Unless you plan to make the trek up to the lighthouse (on top of the mountain) there isn’t much else to see other then a quick walk through the town of Brunate. If you decide to meander through the town, wear good walking shoes, as there are many steep steps and cobblestone streets. (Also note that the funicular is very steep and if you are afraid of heights or wary of small contraptions or claustrophobic you might not enjoy the ride).

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These are the main sights but otherwise it is essential to walk around the city of Como and literally get lost. You will see beautifully painted and decorated buildings, so architecture and art lovers will be thrilled with Como! Explore the streets, see the fancy shops, dodge the bike riders, eat gelato, and marvel at the beautiful buildings. Enjoy!

To see more photos of Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography.

To buy framed photos and photo books on Lake Como, Italy click here for The Monica Store.

*For a special accordion card of Lake Como, Italy click here!

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How to get to Como, Italy

1 – Take a train to Como from Milan. If you take a train from Milan’s main train station you can get a direct train to Como (ride is an hour long). If you are going right from the airport (Malpensa) you still have to take a train to the main train station (from the airport, take a train to the main train station: 40 minute ride).

For fares and schedules click here for the always useful Rail Europe website.

2 – There are also various boats/ferries from different towns on Lake Como.

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Key travel tips for Como, Italy:

1 – It is a bike town. Most of the historical downtown is pedestrian, with the occasional car/truck to watch for but you need to be aware of the bike riders!

2 – Bring an umbrella! – I have been to Como more then a dozen times and only one time did it not rain!

3 – If you do not have time to take the funicular up to the top of the mountain it is okay  – while it is beautiful up there the main things to see are the views and a few beautiful villas. Find the funicular by walking along the lake and follow the signs to the funi. A round trip ticket on the funicular is 4,50 Euros.

4 – If visiting the area in the summer, ladies make sure to bring a light scarf to put on your shoulders to enter Cathedrals – you will not be let in with strapless tops or tank tops. This is a general rule for most of Europe!

5 – Beware the traveling in Italy on Easter weekend means crowds – lots and lots of people in cities and on trains. If you travel anywhere in Italy on Easter weekend book hotels and trains way in advance!

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Fun and crazy fact about Como, Italy: The Rockefeller fountain at the Bronx Zoo in New York City was once in the main square in Como! The fountain was purchased by William Rockefeller in 1902 for about 600 dollars and invested 25,000 dollars to bring it to New York City!

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For information about Lake Como and all of Northern Italy’s major lakes click here for italylakes.net