Lake Como, with its total surface area of 146 square kilometres, is the third largest lake in Italy after Lakes Garda and Maggiore. The lake is of glacial origin and it plunges to a depth of 410 metres (approx. 1,345 feet) making it the deepest lake in Europe. Lake Como is shaped like an inverted Y and therefore has three distinct branches: to the north the Colico branch, to the south east the Lecco branch and to the south west the most famous branch, that of Como. Lake Como boasts the longest perimeter of all the lakes due to this distinctive upside down Y shape – a total of 171 kilometres.
The lake is surrounded by mountains with the highest peak being Mt.Legnone (approx. 8,600 feet high) which dominates the town of Colico at the northern tip of the lake. The most important river is the Adda which is also the lake’s only outlet. It leaves the lake at Lecco, at the far tip of the south eastern branch of the lake, flowing into the smaller lakes of Garlate and Olginate before heading south of Milan to join the River Po.
Travelling along the south-western coastline (the busiest coastline on the lake) from Como, the first important village you encounter is Cernobbio where there are several important and luxurious villas such as Villa D’Este, Villa Erba and Villa Il Pizzo.
Heading further north you come across Lake Como’s only island, the Isola Comacina, nowadays uninhabited but in bygone times an important centre on the lake. The small church is dedicated to St.John. The island is lit up by a spectacular firework display every year on the Saturday following St.John’s day (24th June).
Further north is the village of Giulino Mezzegra where Benito Mussolini was shot followed by the villages of Tremezzo, Cadenabbia and Griante. Cadenabbia was the spot chosen by the German chancellor Konrad Adnhauer for his annual vacation. Across the shores from Menaggio, is Varenna where “Fiumelatte”, considered to be the shortest river in Europe flows. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about the Fiumelatte in his Atlantic Code as “Fiumelaccio” – he was baffled by the fact that this river flows for just a few weeks of the year, in springtime. From Varenna the south-eastern branch flows towards Lecco, a town made famous by Alessandro Manzoni, an important Italian novelist who wrote the “Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed), a love story set on the shores of Lake Como. This part of the lake is not as popular as the rest of the lake and has several pebbly beach areas.
In the central area of Lake Como, at the point where the chain of mountains that separate the south eastern branch from the south western one ends, is Bellagio, the “Pearl of Lake Como”. Bellagio has been described as one of the prettiest villages in Europe with its characteristic cobbled alleyways and steps adorned with shops, bars and restaurants as well as the fabulous Villas Melzi and Villa Serbelloni (property of the Rockfeller Foundation since 1959). Returning to Como from Bellagio you come across some interesting villages such as Nesso with its spectacular waterfall and the bridge of the Civera, then Torno with the Villa Pliniana. The capital town of Como appears majestically before your eyes as you leave the characteristic village of Blevio.
Campione d’Italia is a small Italian enclave in Swiss territory, south of the Ticino region with 3,000 inhabitants. 7 kms from Lugano, the capital town of the lake. Campione d’Italia is famous for its Casino. Campione d’Italia is officially under the Province of Como and has a lovely lakeside promenade as well as some beautiful little churches.
The Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only island which boasts some Roman remains, is in a particularly beautiful spot on the lake, overlooking the so-called “Bay of Oil”. Colourful houses dot the coastline and the mountains are full of silvery-grey leaved olive trees. Close by, in the village of Lenno, is a local oil press where Lake Como’s olive oil is produced. Slightly further north on the mainland at Ossuccio, one can see the characteristic bell tower of the Church of St.Mary Magdalene. The island is lit up by a spectacular firework display every year on the Saturday following St.John’s day (24th June). The fireworks re-evoke the island’s historic events (the destruction of the island in 1169).