Lake Como in northern Italy is undoubtedly a very special lake and is certainly on the privileged list of places where the cognoscenti choose to spend time and, increasingly, to have a home. Shaped like an inverted ‘Y’, just 45 minutes from the international airports of Milan, its charms are distributed along 300 miles of shoreline set between high alpine mountains in a deep v-shaped building.
By far the most sought after places, whether for holiday or to have a home, are on the western arm with the historic city of Como at its southernmost point. Within the walled ancient city, dating back to Roman times, are a wonderful duomo or cathedral, a wide selection of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes, and tight winding pedestrian streets connecting open piazzas with every conceivable designer store to be found by those who wander and explore. The bustling twice-weekly street market along the southern walls of the city provide a wide choice for those seeking bargains.
To go to Como and promenade on a Sunday afternoon along the lakeshore alongside Italian families may round of a visit for some, but would leave untouched a wealth of interest stretched out for 40 miles either up either side of the Como arm, to Belaggio on the eastern side, the jewel sitting on a point in the centre of the lake where the arms meet and on the western side to the busy town of Menaggio.
If you choose to stay on Lake Como then hotels to suit all budgets are found along the lakeshore, but do be careful to choose wisely; many Italian hotels are need internal upgrading or have, to the international traveller’s tastes, poor levels of service. Villa D’Este in Cernobbio, just 15 minutes from Como, is the most famous by far and often rated as the world’s top hotel. BMW and Aston Martin choose to unveil their new cars at this glorious hotel, with its pool floating on the lake and beautifully manicured grounds. Others may prefer the latest 5-star splendour of CastaDiva, on the opposite shore in the village of Blevio, which offers a splendidly discreet service with modern style and flair. If your budget does not stretch to either then it is worth calling in for a drink or a meal to appreciate the views and the style, and for a while to rub shoulders with the rich and famous.
The topography of the lake has shaped the arrangement of towns and villages. Unbelievably steep and winding roads lead up to the occasional village or isolated home perched with a bird’s eye view of the lake, while most buildings are ranged along the shore where slightly less steep land is to be found. Inevitably the main road on both shores twists and turns along the lake’s fringes, sometimes a little above and at others running almost at lake level.
For first time visitors there is a mouth-watering collection of grand villas lining much of the accessible lake shore. The wealthy families from Milan followed in the footsteps of their Roman ancestors in building homes in desirable locations, with the wealth associated with the world-leading Italian silk industry spawning most of the grand villas which were built in the 19th century. Today local builders find ever-more ingenious modern techniques to build new homes and apartments on land which elsewhere would be considered too steep to merit attention.
There is so much to occupy visitors to lake Como. Cultural events in Como, the annual car extravaganza at Villa D’Este, powerboat racing at incredible speeds – Como is a stop on the Formula 1 circuit – and the more sedate regatta for historic boats. If between lunch and aperitivi and dinner you want to be active yourself then all manner of lake activities are available or you can play golf or tennis or just swim in the lake at one of the lidos. It is not surprising that so many wish to have a home on Lake Como. A melting-pot of nationalities will be found, yet the desirable Italian charm – and of course the good food and wine – remain firmly centre-stage.
My friends are understandably envious. A life spent seeking out perfect properties on Lake Como for an international clientele fits many people’s idea of the ideal job. Perhaps my suntan comes not from relaxing by the lake, but touring in search of the right properties and spending time over lunch outdoors sharing with clients my love of the lake. Waking to see the lake and mountain backdrop in their ever-changing hues, smelling the clean air and watching others discovering and enjoying all that the lake has to offer reminds me every day just why Lake Como is so special for those who have the good fortune to spend time here.