Well, you’ve booked your holiday on the most beautiful lake in the world, and now you’re getting into fine detail about your trip. How to get there!
The most common question I’m asked by guests who have already booked, or those looking at booking a family/friends holiday in Lake Como, is how to get get to Bellagio from the airport. It doesn’t matter where you’re staying, there are key things to know about transport on and around Lake Como. This is partly because most tourists under-estimate the size of the lake! It’s huge! When I first moved to Lake Como, I drove around every shoreline of it. The entire journey, without stopping, took four hours.
In discussing travel from the airport, it’s important to remember that Milan has three airports. If you’re arriving from anywhere outside Europe, you’ll arrive at Malpensa, Milan’s international airport. Also flights inside Europe can also land there.
You may also arrive at Bergamo or Linate. Linate services mainly EU flights and is only half an hour from Milan by shuttle bus. Bergamo is a much trickier airport. We often have people arriving there too late to arrive anywhere meaningful on the lake. This is because normally you have to take a bus to Bergamo station, then a train into Milan and another train out. Or a train to Lecco, then wait quite a long time for a bus to any part of the lake. If you’re not hiring a car that is. If you don’t arrive before around 6pm, you can almost forget arriving on the lake that day.
If you’re staying in Bellagio or Como, or even Menaggio, it could be argued that you don’t need a car. But without one you’d be limited to seeing the same tourist places thousands of other tourists to the area are seeing. You’ll have the same choice of tourist restaurants, which experienced travelers know don’t always provide the best food because their owners know their customers will probably never back. These places will be serviced by a network of ferry boats. This will be fine for people who really don’t like driving, or really want to stay in one of these larger towns, where there is, in any case, extremely limited and expensive parking for tourists.
But if you want to discover great restaurants that only locals know, and see places slightly off the beaten track, you really should hire a car. Unlike the rest of Italy, tiny narrow roads are not so common on the lake – except the ones on the lake shore!!! The smallest roads are in historical centres, called Centro Storico (with road signs indicating them with what looks like a bull’s eye), and tourist cars aren’t allowed to drive inside them in any case.
To arrive in Bellagio, or Civenna, Villa Ponti Bellavista’s village, from Malpensa by car, there are two main routes, and an alternative if you have a late checkin and want to see some of the lake while you wait.
The fastest and most direct route is through the middle of the two arms of the lake – the Como arm and the Lecco arm. This will take you through Canzo/Asso. Although not in itself a particularly beautiful town – despite having some lovely villas since it used to be a weekend getaway for wealthy Milanese – it has some of the best restaurants in the area where locals flock but where, because there is generally no view, you will rarely find a single tourist. We go here regularly and won’t tell you our favorite one – we reserve this secret info for our direct booking guests:)
Nevertheless, you can stop here to shop for great wine and cheese at Latteria Locatelli. You won’t see the owner’s special ‘enoteca’ or cave below unless you ask for it. Just say vino and the owner will break into a large smile and show you the secret door to his cellar. Here he has a small but discerning collection of fine and inexpensive Italian labels to stock up for your holiday. Beware most shops close for lunch from around 12.30 to 3.30pm!
You can also find Famila supermarket here to stock up for your family vacation.
This road will take you about an hour and a half to drive from Malpensa to Bellagio – or an hour and 20 minutes will get you to Villa Ponti Bellavista in Civenna:)
The other way to go is much more scenic, but you need nerves of steel or be an exceptionally good driver, who does not habitually drive on the English side of the road, to negotiate. This takes you along the Como arm of the lake, past charming vistas and villages. Sadly stopping at them might prove difficult from a parking point of view, but there are places where you can stop for lunch with an exceptional view. Bare in mind however, that this side of the lake gets sun very late in the morning, because of San Primo and the mountain range which separates the two arms of the lake, but the sun sets on this side also quite late in summer. The road will take you to Bellagio directly and takes around two hours because it is extremely curvy and narrow compared to the inland route.
Another way to reach Bellagio is on the ferry from Como. There is a car ferry and also a passenger ferry. The hydrofoil takes an hour, and also heads to the top part of the lake, called Colico. If you decide on public transport from the airport and not to hire a car (don’t even think about hiring a car in Como – it will cost twice the price of hiring it at the airport….simply a matter of volume) you can take a train into Milan and another out, from Milano Centrale, to Como San Giovanni. A trick for young players, there are no less than THREE train stations in Como! From Como San Giovanni it’s quite a walk to the ferry stop, but there are buses.
If you want to drive past George Cluny’s house, take the road on the other side of the Como arm. A highway from the airport takes you to Cernobbio, where you will take the signs to Moltrasio and Laglio, where Cluny’s house was located. Be warned though, you won’t see the villa from the road. (The only way to see it is from a chartered boat for the purpose of seeing some of the luxury homes on the lake.) This is my favorite road on the lake. However, from Cernobbio towards Argengo, there are two roads. The higher/upper road is faster, but the lower road, which goes past Cluny’s house, is much more scenic. It takes maybe 20 minutes longer to drive this stretch, depending on traffic. It’s so scenic that there are even two bus routes, one which takes the high road, and the other the low road. Once you drive past Sala Comacina (if you can manage a booking at the restaurant Tirlindana you will be the happiest person on earth, with pics to match), then Lenno and Villa Carlotta, you can take the car ferry from Cadenabbia to Bellagio. This ferry runs every half an hour, plying backwards and forwards across the Golden Triangle, all day from early morning until almost midnight, depending on the season.
Whichever way you choose to arrive, pair it with your driving skills and temperament, and how tired you’ll be when you arrive. If you miss a lakeshore drive on your arrival day, there are any number of ferries who will take you along any part of the lake shore in comfort and style for a ticket of a few euros.
If you want to get to your destination easily, choose the wide roads through the centre, past Canzo. The beginning of the drive is quite ugly, with many industrial and commercial buildings, but once you pass the snakes and ladders of Como, and go off the main road, the scenery becomes charmingly rural.
Don’t hesitate to ask if you need any further info:)