Lake Como, Italy, travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

*Top picks

1. DISCOVER A NEW DROP

Whether you are a lover of fine wines or prefer a craft brew, Lake Como has a drinking destination to suit you. For craft beer, head to Il Birrificio di Como in Como town; try their Vudu, a complex dark wheat bear. The Valtellino wine region skirts the northern tip of the lake, and its terraced vineyards produce some lovely wines: try a delicious red from Nino Negri ilbirrificio.it, gruppoitalianovini.it

2. LIVE LIKE A LOCAL

If grand hotels aren't your style, head for the Palazzo del Vice Rey, a luxury B&B with just a handful of rooms located in the tranquil village of Lezzeno. The friendly team can organise all sorts of activities, from hikes or kayaking to visits to scenic spots. The palazzo even has its own beach club for those who feel like lazing around by the lake. See palazzodelvicere.com/

3. ENJOY A MOUNTAINTOP MEAL

The hills are alive with the sound of… lunch. The slopes overlooking the lake are home to a number of rifugia, rustic eateries with simple meals and staggering views. Try Rifugio Martina, where you can order anything you like as long as it's polenta, or Rifugio Menaggio, which sits just below the summit of Monte Grona, home to one of the area's best viewing points. See rifugiomartina.it rifugiomenaggio.eu

4. TAKE TO THE WATER*

Of course you are going to spend some time on the lake itself; the question, is how will you do it? For cost-conscious travellers, the ferry is a great option. Buy an all-day pass to check out several different villages around the lake. Be sure to plan your route in advance, though; some trips take longer than you might imagine. If you prefer flexibility and a touch of glamour, companies such as IC Bellagio can organise a private boat and driver for a day's exploring. See icbellagio.com

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5. SOAK UP SOME HISTORY

On screen it has provided a backdrop for James Bond, but the real-life history of the beautiful Villa del Balbianello, perched on the lake shore, is even more fascinating. Take a guided tour to hear stories of the villa's past residents, from powerful cardinals to one of Italy's foremost adventurers, Guido Monzino. Monzino's fascinating personal collections – including everything from ancient carvings to artefacts from his Everest expedition – are also on display. Finish with a stroll through the beautiful gardens. See villabalbianello.com

6. CHOOSE A ROAD LESS TRAVELLED*

The 11 kilometre Como Greenway is the lake's most famous walking trail, but there are hundreds of lesser-known trails criss-crossing the hillsides sloping down to the lakes. A local guide will help you find a route near you that is tailored to your interests, whether that is nature, history, or just spectacular views. Many of these trails are unmarked, which means you are unlikely to come across anyone else on your hike. See icbellagio.com

7. GO OFF THE WALL

Known as Mr Savethewall, Italy's version of Banksy first became famous for the stencilled art that he affixed to public walls in Como using adhesive tape. So many passersby took the artworks home with them that Mr Savethewall became a local hero. He now exhibits internationally and even has his very own gallery in Como, where you can admire his provocative takes on current events. Mr Savethewall himself is sometimes on hand to talk about his work. See savethewall.it/

8. DISCOVER A SACRED SITE

Here's something most visitors to the lake don't realise: it is watched over by a sacred mountain. The Sacro Monte of Ossuccio, perched overlooking Isola Comacina, is one of Italy's World Heritage-listed Nine Sacred Mountains. The highlight here is the Viale delle Cappelle, the Way of the Chapels, studded with 14 ornate baroque shrines, each decorated with stuccos, frescoes and sculptures. The trail culminates at the impressive grand sanctuary.

9. TAKE A PIZZA MAKING MASTER CLASS*

Love good food? Hoping to meet some locals? Then we have an activity for you. This hands-on pizza making class with an Italian family is also a great activity if you are travelling with kids. Discover the secrets of making great dough and pick toppings fresh from the garden before firing up the wood-burning pizza oven. The highlight of the day is, of course, feasting family-style on slices straight from the oven. See icbellagio.com

10. SLEEP LIKE A PRINCESS

Set amid gorgeous gardens, the Villa d'Este is one of Como's most famous hotels, and one of its best. Once home to George IV's wife, Caroline of Brunswick, it maintains a regal grandeur thanks to its sweeping staircases, its ornate fountains and chandeliers, and its richly upholstered interiors. Despite the grand surroundings, there is a warmth to the service that only comes from a family-run hotel. For a see-and-be-seen vibe, promenade on the front terrace; if you prefer a little privacy, there are five acres of gardens at the back. See villadeste.com

11. HIT THE SILK

Silk weaving is a local tradition, and this old-school craft is still going strong: some of Italy's top companies source their silk from the Como area. If you are keen to pick up a vividly-coloured silk scarf or a silk top as a souvenir, drop in to Mantero in Como, a 100-year-old company which produces its handmade wares 15 minutes from the city centre. Or, try Saraceno in Bellagio, which has no fewer than three outlets including one in the Piazza Garibaldi. See mantero.com

12. ENJOY AN ISLAND FEAST*

There's no such thing as a menu at Locanda dell'Isola Comacina. Instead, this inviting island eatery offers all of its guests exactly the same meal: but since that meal is a sumptuous feast, no-one minds too much. Surrounded by the lake's glittering waters, your repast may start with some simple dishes, including a flavour-packed tomato simply sliced and served with salt, and is also likely to include some trout fresh from the lake. See comacina.it/en

13. SAY YES TO YOGA

Is there a more relaxing way to start the day than with yoga in the park? Australian yoga instructor Maddy Gray, a long-time resident of the area, can take you through your downward dogs and your tree poses in a private lesson that will stretch your body and centre your soul. Unfurl your mat on the grass and enjoy a session tailored to your abilities. See maddygrayyoga.com

14. RISE ABOVE IT ALL

Love the view but not the climb? Less energetic visitors can still soak up magnificent panoramas thanks to the funicular that takes you all the way to the town of Brunate, which sits 500 metres above Como. The pretty town is a popular destination for day-trippers and is also the starting point for a short but steep trek that takes you up to the Voltiano lighthouse from where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Switzerland.

15. GO GREEN

The gardens that surround Lake Como include some of the loveliest in Italy, offering plenty of opportunities for romantic strolls. Topping the list of must-visits are the gardens of Villa Carlotta, famous for their extraordinary groves of rhododendrons and azaleas, including more than 150 different varieties. These diverse gardens also feature everything from giant cedars to tree ferns. Also worth a visit are the terraced Botanic Gardens attached to the Hotel Villa Cipressi. See villacarlotta.it hotelvillacipressi.it

16. UNCOVER A HIDDEN TREASURE

Everyone pays a visit to the pretty towns of Bellagio and Como, but the northern end of the lake is home to some under-the-radar gems. One of the most charming is Gravedona, which has retained its medieval layout. It has a couple of impressive churches (the mosaic floor in Santa Maria del Tiglio dates back to the 5th century), and a splendid waterfront promenade complete with sandy beaches and bike paths.

17. EAT FARM FRESH

While you are exploring the northern end of the lake, book in for a meal at Agriturismo Sorsasso, near Domaso. This rustic restaurant serves classic regional cuisine, much of it harvested locally, paired with their own wines. This family-run eatery gives all guests a warm welcome; they may even throw in a glass of homemade blueberry grappa to finish. If you are booking in for dinner, bring an extra layer; the evenings can be surprisingly cool. See sorsasso.com

18. CATCH A CONCERT

Lake Como's rich musical traditions are highlighted in the annual Lake Como International Music Festival, which stretches from February to September and features concerts by a range of ensembles and performers. What's more, many of the palazzi and gardens around the lake also have their own musical programs. Check to see whether any events are scheduled during your stay at Menaggio's lakeside park or Gravedona's Gallio Palace. See lakecomofestival.com

19. REV YOUR MOTOR

The Italians have always had a flair for creating vehicles that look good as well as going fast, which is why design fans as well as revheads will enjoy a visit to the Museum Moto Guzzi. This museum in Mandello del Lario displays a rare collection of these classic Italian motorcycles. More than 150 vehicles are displayed inside the historic Moto Guzzi factory, including the legendary Eagle, launched in 1921, and the 8 Cilindri 500 of 1957. See motoguzzi.com

20. MAKE A SPLASH*

If you prefer to explore the lake under your own steam, sign up for a kayaking tour with Bellagio Water Sports. Michele, the friendly owner, offers a range of tours catering to beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Highlights include the Historical Villas and Boats tour, which traces a route past some of the lake's most spectacular homes, and the atmospheric sunset tour. See bellagiowatersports.com

Ute Junker travelled with the support of IC Bellagio.

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