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 - the Italian way

Menaggio - The Perfect Base to Explore Lake Como

The small town of Menaggio sits pretty on the western shores of Lake Como in a central position.

Menaggio harbour with small fishing boats

In many lake towns, an elegant, water-side promenade spans the length - ornate metal balustrade, seats under shady trees and softly glowing street lights - this is Menaggio, perfectly romantic.

While Menaggio is a peaceful spot with everything you'd expect from Lake Como, the little town is often overlooked as a stop on the 'must see' list. To me this makes Menaggio even more alluring but her best feature has to be the central gateway she provides to the rest of the lake making Menaggio the perfect base to explore Lake Como.

Menaggio pier on a sunny day on Lake Como

Lake Como is Y-shaped and Italy's third largest, 47 km from the northmost tip in Sorico to Calolziocorte at the southern most point. Como, together with Garda, Iseo and Maggiore, make up Italy's largest lakes.

Once a popular holiday spot for aristocrats during the 18th and 19th century, Como enjoyed sublime status and development due to a roaring silk industry. Gentry from Milan would flock here to escape an intense summer heat, fashioning luxurious ville and summer houses along the shores or in the hills above Argegno which were filled with visitors, some particularly famous. The romance of pointed cypress trees in rugged, lush landscape paired with Como's balmy waters add to the appeal of escapism this lake has always held. The silk trade still flourishes, ville are still admired and Como continues to draw stars and celebs - the likes of Madonna, Richard Branson, Sylvester Stallone and Gianni Versace have lived here and of course George Clooney is a local VIP who purchased Villa Oleandra.

Menaggio look out on Italian lake

These days, a sense of grandeur remains juxtaposed with camping villages and lido beaches, while stepping into the lake towns feels like an Italian romcom - pretty piazze lined with Romanesque palazzi, quaint osterie, boutique shops and cafés packing tables and chairs facing the lake. Cobbled back lanes wind between churches or up towards terraced slopes and luxury houses with manicured gardens.

Lake Como hosts 1.5 million visitors a year but most of her admirers automatically start at the principal town of Como and branch out from there. While this makes sense because of the number of ferry boats travelling up the length of the lake, somehow this town lacks the charm of the lake's north shores where hazy cliffs narrow and drop into the waters to create dramatic landscapes and rambling hamlets.

The town of Como is grand and beautiful, don't get me wrong, and very well equipped with hotels and parking but tends to become overcrowded, bustling with construction and seemingly endless roadworks plus its southern position makes exploring the north of the lake feel 'out of reach' even if the hydrofoils travel fast!

Ferry crossing Lake Como

Getting Around Lake Como

The public boat system may seem like a maze to negotiate but actually is relatively simple once you start to use it. Navigazione Laghi is the website to get to know. Download the itinerary where you'll find regular timetables. For rates, look at purchasing a day pass if you're planning to visit many towns or a 6-day ticket if you're staying longer. A good option is the Circular Route Ticket which permits as many stops as you like before returning to your original port.

The car ferry operates between Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna and Cadenabbia if you choose to explore by road but remember, there's always more to see and do than what's on the lakefront and most of it is walkable so our suggestion is: leave your car parked somewhere safely and use the ferry to explore Lake Como with Menaggio as your well-situated base. The ferry port is located in Via IV Novembre 89 with both car and passenger ferries departing frequently.

Menaggio's bus station is easy to reach with a few routes including number C10 which will take you south to Tremezzina or north to the stunning area of Gravedona. The buses are efficient and simple to use - find all the information here.

Private boat tours are a fabulous way to explore the lake, especially if you're in a large group or splashing out on something special. At every town you'll find docks where you can rent a boat or 'limousine'. Offering endless options, private tours can include a town stop, a sunset aperitivo, flowing prosecco and/or a guide - take your pick!

Menaggio harbour wall with fishing boats

Getting to Menaggio

Reach Menaggio by road or water.

Come in at the handy bus station, since town is small you can easily walk to your accommodation. Driving in is only advised if you are ok with steep, winding roads (not easy for campers or caravans) and manic road traffic. Menaggio Commune generously provides free parking spaces but it these fill up quickly so always check with where you're staying as to what they think is best.

If the lake is part of your wider itinerary or road trip, I'd suggest you consider leaving your car in an autosilo or long-stay parking in Como and book accommodation in Menaggio which you can then reach by ferry. Base yourselves in Menaggio and see the lake doing day trips from the port so the stress of driving narrow roads in Italian traffic is off your shoulders and more time can be spent soaking up the sunshine whilst admiring views from the water as you cruise between towns across the lake. This website has good parking options in Como.

Piazza Garibaldi in Menaggio on a sunny afternoon

Don't worry if you're purely after R and R - long, lazy lunches, late-morning coffees on the piazza and gentle promenade strolls - all this you can experience in Menaggio. No need to dart around the lake if you choose not to, Piazza Garibaldi is the heart of town and here you'll find restaurants, strolls and la dolce far niente at your fingertips.

What to do in Menaggio

Plan day trips to Bellagio and Varenna to visit sumptuous Villa del Balbianello and these two very popular destinations.

Branch out south to Nesso and walk the gorgeous trails on the eastern shores to picturesque waterfalls that many love to capture - you'll recognise them from Instagram.

Gelateria on small Italian Street on Lake Como is an informative website full of day trip ideas, itineraries and travel information if you'd like tips of places to visit and sights to see around the lake.

From Piazza Garibaldi walk the trails to small fishing village Nobiallo. Find directions on Menaggio's excellent website as well as hikes up to the rfiugio (mountain hut) at 1400m, the golf course in Croce or Loveno - Menaggio's elevated hamlet, home to dreamy Villa Mylius Vigoni.

Hike the Antica Strada Regina - a 9 km one-way hike along an ancient Roman Road with beautiful hidden hamlets and panoramic views. Then catch the bus back - here are all the instructions.

Have a beach day! Choose between public beach Lerai or Lido di Menaggio equipped with swimming pools. Lerai beach is part of Camping Europa and free to visit with stunning lake views. The campsite hires out pedal boats, rowing boats and canoes - fantastic opportunities to get onto the water - and into it!

Hire a water 'limousine' for sunset drinks you'll never forget, don't forget the Prosecco, oh, and a bottle opener.

Water taxi and Limousine on Lake Como

For more ideas of what to see, sip and tuck into, get inspiration from Menaggio's well informed website.

Where to stay in Menaggio

Menaggio boasts a range of accommodation choices - hotels, B&Bs, holiday villas and CampingEuropa but does get booked up early. Our suggestion: visit fuori stagione (out of season)

Less crowds and more options mean you can enjoy the lake to your utmost. May and September are warm months with average temperatures around 20°C - perfect times to use Menaggio as a base to visit Lake Como. You could even get a swim in!

Osteria in small alley on Lake Como

Remember hotels, boat tours and campsites open from Easter to October (and some for Christmas) but then tourism shuts down for a few months. Good news though - ferries run all year round.

Have you been to Lake Como?

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'What to order in Como' is your guide to Lake Como's delicious culinary marriage between land and water...

Buon viaggio!

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