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There are a few places in the world that are so disorientingly peaceful that you stop dead in your tracks and can’t help but take a deep breath.
Lake Como wrote the book on that effect, and we were lucky enough to experience its astonishing beauty and Xanax-like atmosphere firsthand last month. I’m feeling more relaxed even typing this.
Tyler and I recently took our daughter, Charlotte, on her first trip to Europe. I could go on and on about how special this trip was to us.
I’ll write a blog post about what I learned from traveling with a baby, but for now I’ll just say that it was one of our favorite trips we’ve ever done and truly an experience I will treasure forever.
Because it was our first time taking a baby abroad, we wanted to keep the itinerary simple and avoid any huge cities.
We decided on five days in the South of France (more on that too in the weeks to come) and fours days in Lake Como.
Why Lake Como?
When we first started planning this trip, we knew FOR SURE that we wanted to take Charlotte to Italy. It’s where we honeymooned and where we can’t help but going back year after year.
We wanted to go somewhere new, though. At first we thought Cinque Terre would be a good option. I had been only once in college for less than 36 hours and thought Tyler would be obsessed. We ended up changing our minds because Cinque Terre can get really, really crowded and it seemed like it was going to be too nuts for Char’s first trip. (I think we’ll go eventually but maybe in the offseason).
So we chose Lake Como instead, and BOY was that a good decision.
Lake Como has been on my bucket list for years, and by years I mean ever since John and Chrissy got married there, okay, I’m sorry.
With Lake Como, you get the charm of Italy paired with a staggering, stunning mountain lake setting. What I mean is this: if you’re not sitting at the base of the Alps, looking out at the most hauntingly deep blue water you’ve ever seen with a slice of pizza in one hand and a glass of prosecco in the other, why bother even going to Europe?
Shaped like an upside down Y, Lake Como is huge–encompassing around 56 square miles of change-your-life saphire blue/green water.
Lake Como has been a low key hotspot for million-and billion-aires for years. The shores of the lake are sprinkled with both sleepy pastel Italian towns and foreign-owned villas that are so grand you kind of have to squint when you look at them.
Because it’s gained some popularity in recent years, there are areas of Lake Como that do seem touristy and claustrophobic. If you plan it right, though, it’s one of the most peaceful, beautiful places in the entire world.
We did tons of research for this trip–more than usual. We really wanted to get it right and make the trip as relaxing and enjoyable as possible with a baby in tow. We also had some help from the owner of the hotel we stayed in who helped us map out our time. (See below).
Here are our recommendations for how to plan, where to stay, and what to do in Lake Como. And as always, where to eat.
It honestly seems like you can’t go wrong with the time of the year. Lake Como is one of those places that I want to see under the caste of every season.
Obviously, summer is your safest bet when it comes to weather. But what can I say? I’m shoulder season gal.
We love traveling in the spring or fall and do our best to avoid the sometimes-hectic and always-hot atmosphere in the more popular areas of Europe during the summer.
We went during the last week of September and couldn’t have had a better experience. The busy season’s crowds had begun to taper off, and the weather was flawless–not too hot, not too cold–nearly every day we were there.
Lake Como is a quick and easy jaunt from Milan, either by train or car. This accessibility makes the area a perfect place to either start or end a trip to Europe (although I, personally, recommend the latter; relaxing lakeside with some pasta in front of you just feels like a grand finale).
Four days in Lake Como allowed us to get a snapshot of what the area has to offer, but we could have easily stuck around for a week or even longer. The lake is just so big and there are so many little towns and areas to explore.
And since you really do go to Lake Como to relax, you’d want to make sure you have an even mix of activity days and chill days, if that makes sense.
Use Torno as a base for exploring Lake Como
Our first round of research led us to the conclusion that we should stay in either Bellagio or Varenna, both central and charming options that you’ll find suggested on most travel guides (including Rick Steves’).
Upon taking a closer look, however, we decided to go for something more tucked away. Bellagio and Varrenna are beautiful, but we felt like they both looked a little too popular, know what I mean?
We ended up deciding on Torno.
Torno sits near the point of one of the “Y’s” of the lake, just down the road from the town of Como.
This tiny town’s quaint, picturesque waterfront might be one of my favorite settings in the world.
A handful of fishing boats are docked in an enclave in the middle of the town square, nestled against a light yellow church and surrounded by a couple of cafes that serve espresso and prosecco at all hours of the day. (I just read that description back and realized that this place is actually my version of heaven, lol).
The rest of the town sprawls across the hillside, providing the few visitors the town gets with a pastel-colored and cobblestone-covered maze to get lost in.
We loved, loved, loved Torno. I can’t say enough how perfect of a place this is.
Where to eat and drink in Torno
For a 6€ pizza that you’ll want to eat every night of your stay (definitely not something we did…), head to Pizzeria Primavera and say hi to the owners for us. Our favorite was the mozzarella di bufala.
For a relaxing meal at any time of the day, grab a table outside at Bar Italia. Order the margherita pizza and pesto pasta, and enjoy the flawless view of the lake.
On our last day in Lake Como, we had a really long lunch at a table outside at Bar Italia. Char was SO relaxed that day and just laid in our laps and ate baguettes and was so silly and laughing and resting and it was so special. The food was delicious, and the view from our table was dreamy. It’s one of my favorite travel memories ever.
Torno has a little grocery store with a butcher in the back. It had everything we needed to keep the apartment stocked. Also, there’s a pharmacy right next to it where we bought diapers once we ran out.
And one last Torno to-do: walk or drive down the road to the Mandarin Oriental and make your way down to the outside cocktail bar. We explored the property and then cozied up on a loveseat with Char and ordered shakeratos. Sigh.
Stay at the Villa Matilda
When I was little, I was a nonstop reader with a big imagination. I begged my dad for years to build me a treehouse. (I’m going somewhere with this, promise.) When I finally wore him down, he hauled a wood pallet up a huge oak tree that sat about halfway down our little hillside in the country. He secured the pallet on top of a couple of large branches with some rope and a few nails, built me a ladder to go with it, and told me to be careful as he headed back up towards our house. I was elated. Every day I’d climb up the ladder with a book or two and my journal. I’d spend hours by myself, reading, writing, brooding, and daydreaming. I was a princess in a tower, a secret agent spy in hiding, a lone survivor fending for herself in the wilderness.
The point of this nostalgic tangent is to say that our stay at the magical Villa Matilda in Torno stirred a sense of wonder and imagination in me that I haven’t experienced since I was a little girl daydreaming in the princess tower my dad built for me. (Cheesy, I know, but it’s true. This place is a fairytale).
We stayed four nights at the Villa Matilda, a historic tower that once served as the town’s castle. The Villa Matilda has four apartments, all thoughtfully curated with gorgeous details. Each apartment is fitted with luxury amenities, and every room is furnished with beautiful antiques and artwork.
The property sits at the top of the town of Torno and is situated right along the old Roman Road that Julius Caesar walked thousands of years ago.
The owner, Tony, is from the U.S. and just gets it, you feel me? He knows everyone on the lake and has a restaurant recommendation (or five) for every type of eater and budget. He and the onsite manager, Viviana, made sure we were totally taken care of and helped us plan out our time in Lake Como.
As if the charm, history, and views weren’t enough, the Villa Matilda offers travelers all of the amenities you want but are sometimes hard to find in Europe: a washer and dryer, a fully functioning kitchen, a Nespresso and a “normal” coffee machine, plenty of towels, etc. We were completely set while we were there.
The Villa Matilda is one of the most unique and special places we’ve ever stayed. We feel that it truly encompassed everything Lake Como has to offer: history, Italian charm, and jaw-dropping views.
One of these apartments would be the perfect place for a honeymoon: romantic, charming, and tucked away on a hillside overlooking the lake.
We’d also recommend it for traveling with a group, too. Staying in either of the two bedroom apartments would be a great way to each have your own space and then still be able to hang out with your travel buddies and enjoy the common areas of the apartment together.
And of course, we recommend it for family travel. We stayed in the Michaelangelo apartment. Tyler and I slept in the master bedroom that is literally fit for a royal (just look at the bed!). Charlotte slept up in the tower–her princess tower. It was the dreamiest little room that had the best view in the whole villa! Lucky girl.
Our favorite part of the Michaelangelo apartment, though, was our private terrace. We spent as much time as we could up there.
We read in the morning while Char napped and then ate dinner and relaxed every night up there too. The view from the patio alone was worth the entire trip to Lake Como (and Europe, for that matter).
I’m still dreaming of these sunset views.
What to do in Lake Como
Use the ferry to get around
Tyler and I love, love, love ferries. I get a kick out of seeing a place for the first time by way of water and watching the scenery grow bigger and bigger as we get closer. I love standing in the back of a ferry and watching the wakes behind the boat slices through the water.
Lake Como boasts an extensive ferry system, and it’s by far the easiest and prettiest way to get around. Our favorite thing was jumping on and heading out to explore another area of the lake for the day.
The ferry schedule can be a little confusing at times, as there are both “fast” and “slow” ferries that run at various times of the day between various towns with seemingly no rhyme or reason (welcome to Italy, right?). But it’s all a lesson in slowing down and going with the flow, per the spirit of Lake Como. Right, Tyler?
We took the “slow” ferry back to our side of the lake a couple of times at sunset. We napped Charlotte in the carrier, ordered prosecco from the bar, and stood out on the deck, admiring each of the towns as we floated by.
Char was surprisingly really into the ferry (think because it was bigger she didn’t get seasick?). She kept doing this cute thing where she’d open her mouth so wide when she would point to the lake and say, “Char, look!”. It’s hard to explain but it was the cutest thing ever.
We definitely recommend a sunset cruise on one of the slow ferries at least once–there should be a symbol of a wine glass on the schedule next to the ferries that have bars.
Bellagio is one of the most famous towns on Lake Como and is nestled right in the middle of the “Y” of the lake.
Between its cobblestone alleys, the town center that you’ve seen on Instagram too many times, and ridiculously picturesque gardens, Bellagio attracts tons of visitors each year.
While we were happy with our choice to stay in the much quieter Torno, Tyler and I had a lot of fun exploring the nooks and crannies of Bellagio one day.
Hike in Varrenna
We didn’t make it over to Varenna on this trip but wanted to include it on this post, as it came highly recommended.
Take the ferry from Bellagio over to Varrenna and walk through the car-less old town and waterfront.
If you have time, hike up to the old castle for a sweeping view of the entire lake and surrounding Alps.
Drink a bellini and rent a boat in Moltrasio
Moltrasio is another town that I’ll always have a soft spot for. It was right across the lake and just a five minute ferry away from Torno, so we went there a lot to catch the bigger ferries.
La Vecchina in Moltrasio makes the best bellinis. In the world. We went there three or four times over the course of the trip because I was obsessed.
We rented a boat for a few hours one day from the dock in Moltrasio. It was our big splurge activity and we had a great experience.
The boat was a little bit more fun in theory than it was in reality only because I was a nervous wreck about Charlotte the whole time. The smallest life vest they had was too big for her, so I had her in a death grip bear hug on my lap the whole ride. And then I think she got a little seasick and was kind of fussy.
We took a break at Nesso and gave her some snacks and then she did much better. She even fell asleep on me on the ride back to Moltrasio which rarely happens. I was in heaven.
The ride from Moltrasio to Nesso is totally doable in the two hour time slot, and Nesso is a lovely spot to have a little picnic on the front of your boat. When you arrive, check out the right side of the town and see if you can spot the “hidden” waterfall behind the bridge.
Explore the Villa Carlotta
Walk through Lenno and visit the Villa Balbianello
You might recognize the Villa Balbianello from James Bond and Star Wars (or if you’re me, you might not. Pop culture is a weak spot for me). Either way, this place is truly iconic, and pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice.
You can easily spot the property from the lake, but if you want to tour it, get off the ferry in Lenno. Make your way across the waterfront, and then you can either take a boat shuttle over to the entrance or do the hike up to the entrance.
This brings me to my next point: Villa Balbianello was not stroller friendly. I’ll cover this more in my post about what we learned about traveling with a baby on this trip, but just a note if you are in fact planning on bringing a baby to Lake Como: definitely leave the stroller at home on this day in particular and just keep your baby in the carrier. The gardens at this Villa are insane but they are all on a hillside, and it was extremely difficult to maneuver the stroller around most the property as well as the hiking trail up to it.
The villa is stunning, though, and worth the trip over. Make sure to grab a scoop of gelato at La Fabbrica Del Gelato either before or after your time at the villa, and enjoy your leisurely walk through charming Lenno.
I hate to be pushy, but Lake Como needs to be on every Europe trip itinerary. Its charm, history, and staggering beauty makes it the perfect destination.
Hopefully this guide was helpful. Let us know if you have any questions, and we’d love it if you chose to follow along on Instagram!