Bellagio the most important place on the Lake Como. Few places are as romantic as Lake Como, and even fewer resorts as beautiful as Bellagio. Called the “Pearl of the Lake”, Bellagio’s world class hotels and restaurants provide the perfect place to soak up the lake’s famous panorama. The village is characterised by century-old buildings, stone lanes and picturesque cobbled stairways filled with shops showcasing the finest Italian wares.
Follow one of historic walking tours for an insight into days gone by, or follow your taste buds to the fresh fruit flavours of gelato – or the wonderful aromas of café – of the kind found only in Italy. A wonderful climate to relax, take part in sport or lake activities and all against the backdrop of this stunning lake and it’s magnificent villas.
Bellagio is a small village at the tip of a long hilly promontory between the two southern branches of Lake Como. It is an elegant and long-established tourist resort, which still retains considerable charm despite the daily influx of trippers. The historic village of Bellagio only has a population of around 200 (compared to 900 beds for tourists), and most locals live in other hamlets and villages on the headland, all grouped together under the local authority, the Comune di Bellagio. The tiny town is an excellent place to while away an afternoon, to spend a relaxing romantic holiday or simply to base yourself for an exploration of Lake Como. With lovely views, classy boutiques, two gardens to visit, picturesque lanes, a choice of restaurants and bars, and frequent boat services, Bellagio really is one of Italy’s top holiday destinations.
Bellagio is one of the most attractively-situated of the lake resorts, and it is a pleasant place to ramble, explore or simply potter. Passenger ferries stop alongside a tree-lined waterfront. Across the road is a lovely arcade where cafes and restaurants afford shade and shelter from the elements. This is a good place to come for an aperitivo or after-dinner drink. Walking to the right as you disembark from the boat, you’ll find more ‘touristy’ cafes – the types of place where you can sit in the afternoon on a lakeside terrace with a big fancy ice-cream and watch the boats passing by. A little further along in this direction you’ll pass the car-ferry departure point, the historic Hotel Grand Bretagne which is currently abandoned and falling into disrepair, and then reach a pretty lakeside promenade. A few minutes further on, you come to one of the two gardens open to the public, Villa Melzi (see below for more information on the gardens).
From the central waterfront, stepped and cobbled lanes rise up the hill in a tight little network separating the lakeshore from the town’s main street, Via Garibaldi. This is a pretty lane where you’ll find more shops, cafes and also Bellagio’s main town square, Piazza San Giacomo, or Piazza della Chiesa. The square is dominated by the town church, the Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo, which is worth a visit for its frescoes and statues. Externally you can admire the attractive bell-tower and elegant apse. On the opposite side of the square is a medieval tower, once part of Bellagio’s now-disappeared defences and now a tourist office where you can buy tickets and rendez-vous for the tours of Villa Serbelloni’s gardens (highly recommended; see below). The fountain in the centre of the piazza is said to have been originally commissioned by a resident Englishman for his garden to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Walking from the piazza past the church and out towards the tip of the Bellagio promontory, you reach a viewpoint, park and little harbour at Punta Spartivento, where the lake divides. Heading in the other direction from the square, Via Garibaldi passes the main entrance to Villa Serbelloni and reaches the town hall (Municipio). At this point a paved footpath (signposted) leaves the road and heads towards Pescallo, about ten minutes’ walk away. Pescallo is an enchanting little fishing hamlet looking out over the western Lecco branch of Lake Como, on the opposite side of the promontory to the main settlement of Bellagio. There’s a restaurant with tables right on the water’s edge, and although there are one or two hotels, the atmosphere here is low-key, charming and miles away from the smart, touristy world of Bellagio.
From Pescallo, following the ‘Bellagio suburbs’ walk suggested by the tourist office pamphlet, you pass by some agricultural ruins ripe for renovation, then the imposing, empty Villa Giulia and its dramatic ‘Vialone’. This is a wide grassy path cleared by an early owner of Villa Giulia, in order to give his house views over both branches of the lake. At the far end of the Vialone you can head left down to another waterside settlement, San Giovanni, where local teenagers sun themselves on the harbour wall and where the little town square is decorated with a ‘grotto’ constructed by the local priest in the 1950s as a shrine to the Madonna of Lourdes. There is also a rather specialist museum at San Giovanni, dedicated to navigational instruments (the Museo degli Strumenti della Navigazione). Back in the direction of Bellagio, the next little fishing harbour is Loppia, where you can see examples of the historic local lake boats. Try to get a glimpse of the old village church, now enclosed in the private grounds of Villa Trivulzio Gerli. The route back to Bellagio lies through (or by road around) the gardens of Villa Melzi, described below.
In the tourist season you may see a little tourist train (trenino) tootling by; this takes a 20-minute tour towards the hamlet of San Giovanni. It’s not a hugely scenic route as the roads don’t run along the lakeshore, but it is fun, especially if you are travelling with children. The departure point is indicated by a notice-board, near the car-ferry jetty.