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krisek Como - A travel report by Krys
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Como,  Italy - flag Italy -  Lombardia
6812 readers

krisek's travel reports

Surprisingly pleasant, vibrant & picturesque. Como

  9 votes
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I did not expect Como to be a nice town. I imagined that only little rustic villages at the lake's shores could be lovely and photogenic. I was wrong to think that just because Como was relatively large, it could not be wonderful. It was a perfect hangout!


Como travelogue picture
Como, which sits at one of the lake's three ends, is a large town, which surprised me with its old town. It has stunning architecture - some structures date back to the 11th century - great atmosphere, relaxed attitude, and so many places to sit down, sip coffee or Martinis and relax, that it would easily fit a description of a perfect holiday destination if it also had a nice sandy beach.

The town is about 2,200 years old, which is much younger than many places in Italy. It was founded by the Romans, of course, but the area was occupied since the Bronze Age by ... a Celtic tribe, apparently. Julius Caesar was so determined to put the town in a perfect location, that he ordered a swamp near the lake to be drained, so the town would be positioned closer to the lake. The name of Como at that time was Novum Comum, as it was moved from the nearby hills to the space where the swamp used to be.

I arrived in Como on a fast boat from Varenna, and I having known very little of the place, I had no expectations. It was Sunday, and Como was the place, where the bicycle race Giro di Lombardia had its finishing line. The town was overridden by cyclists in their tight colourful outfits and alien-looking helmets. If the bright colours of the villas and houses, and the colourful trees painted by the autumn were not enough, the super-vivid hues of the cycle suits made it up. It was sense's overload.

The race filled the town with spectators, who made Como look very busy. Weather was perfect. No cloud disturbed the homogeneous texture of perfectly blue sky, and the sun managed to warm up the air to 18C. The pavement cafes were full. People seemed happy. It was such a good day!

Favourite spots:
Piazza del Mercato del Grano
Piazza del Mercato del Grano
Piazza del Mercato del Grano with very old houses, la basilica collegiata di S. Fedele of 11th century (with the paleochristian origins) built of stone and jewelery and paintings market was a superb place. It had two cafes with tables on the cobble-stone square, both serving excellent coffees, savoury snacks and cakes. I do not know much about jewelery, but I could tell it looked much better than the paintings sold in the other stands.

The old basilica had a nice bell's tower with an interesting clock. Some of the houses, had wooden facades and were squeezed between narrow townhouses, built much later, it seemed. Some were painted in red, yellow, orange, light brown or a combination of those. The white parasoles of the craft stands were blocking some view, but at the same time, provided shade, so people could admire the art.

What's really great:
Duomo di Como
Duomo di Como
The main cathedral, Duomo with its central rosette on the facade was magnificent! The cathedral rose in the old town completely unexpected. It was squeezed in a small piazza that it was hard to photograph it. Its elaborate decorations were surprising, too. The church was large and stood out of the clusters of the houses surrounding it. Its domination could be appreciated from the hills leading to Bellagio.

Little squares scattered around the old town were the second surprise for me. I did not have a map and had no idea what to expect, and which way to go to make most of my time. So, all the squares appeared hidden in the old district and could only be found through a navigation through the narrow, shaded lanes. It seemed like a great adventure browsing through them!

The old district was big enough to spend an entire day there exploring, and sitting at the pavement cafes and gelaterias every now again to refuel and then go for visiting some more.

Sights:
Como travelogue picture
The main sight of Como is of course the cathedral, Duomo, whose construction started in 1396 on a site of an earlier temple. It was subsequently changed in the 18th century. But Como has also other interesting and old churches in town - San Fedele (12th century), Santo Agostino (14th century) or basilica Santo Abbondio (11th century). In addition to those there are a number of flamboyant and grand mansions, palaces, and villas. One of the largest and most famous ones, where once Napoleon had stayed, was Villa Olmo. The town hall, affectionately called Broletto, is a great example of how the Italians pioneered their architecture. Adding to this all there are a good number of museums and even a medieval, if small, fort Castello Baradello, a rather a defensive tower than a fort. A funicular operating almost from the lake level to the palace on the top of the hill (picture opposite) was also a great attraction. And the view from above down to the town - superb.

Accommodations:
Como travelogue picture
There should never be a problem to find accommodation in Como. The town has countless hotels and a few hostels, too. Still, the area around Lake Como has not been the cheapest place to stay. Two star hotels offered rooms from c.€70 and three stars from c.€80. Interestingly, some of the three star hotels offer rooms cheaper than some of the two star hotels. A similar pattern is applicable to the three and four star hotels, so it is worth shopping around.

After the season, when leaves begin to fall, so do the prices. And not only at hotels. Restaurants and cafes charge less, too. Sometime much less. A price of cappuccino can drop 30%!

I am sure that one holiday, I will come to Lago di Como to stay at the Hotel Metropole or the Hotel [di] Lago or Hotel Swisse or Hotel Splendide in every town by the lake. It might be an interesting experience and a benchmarking exercise. If very expensive, too.

Nightlife:
Piazza Alessandro Volta
Piazza Alessandro Volta
Como is not famous for its nightlife. Apart from cinemas and a number of pubs, like Greenwich, or the minibrewery, Il Birrificio di Como, there is not much of a night scene in the town itself. One would have to drive to Villaguardia to try the disco and live music pub - il Tartaruga, which is normally open until 3 o'clock in the morning. It is about 15 minute drive out of town.

In Como, many little cafes, which in reality are like clubs (for card games, etc but not loud music and dancing), are the very spots where people congregate to socialise. Many of them are tiny, fitting only a couple of small tables, and are hidden in the narrow alleys. This is what makes them special.

Hangouts:
Como travelogue picture
Piazza Alessandro Volta (the same, who invented a battery!) with pavement cafes was my second favourite place to hang out. It had the best view of that palace on the hill with the funicular station. It was spacious and sunny. The surrounding buildings were old and in excellent condition and brightly painted. The places to sit down for an aperitif, snack, lunch, dinner, ice-cream or coffee - or a combination of those included: Tom & Jerry, Ice Cafe, il Caicco, Cafe Alessandro Volta and restaurante Hosterietta, which offered dishes with black truffles at a very reasonable prices - starting from €16.

The other great place to sit down and relax, and even watch the scenes on the lake was Piazza Roma. I sat at Paticceria Monti for a couple of hours drinking their latte macchiatoes and Martini rosso, served with a slice of orange. Their tables on the piazza were perfectly located to catch the autumn's sun rays.

Restaurants:
Como travelogue picture
Como had a great choice of restaurants scattered around the old town. Many had tables on the pavements, or rather on the little squares squeezed between grand buildings and mansions, to which narrow shaded alleys led. On good weather, they were both eateries and spots to watch people. Piazza Alessandro Volta had a number of good restaurants, and the corner one, decorated in semi-medieval decor, restaurante Hosterietta, was arguably the best in town for good value dishes sprinkled with black truffles.

It was almost impossible to stumble upon a place that did bad pizzas. So, I could recommend just any pizzeria in town. But there were a few that did not care about their lasagnas. If cheap-ish restaurants still baked incredible pizzas, their pasta was not always equally great.

Other recommendations:
Lenno's most famous villa
Lenno's most famous villa
One can take a fast or slow boat all the way from Como to Colico via Argegno, Lezzeno, Lenno, Tremezzo, Bellagio, Mennagio, Varenna, Bellano, Dongo, Gravedona and Domaso or Piona. To Varenna they take one or two hours, respectively. The ride offers breathtaking views. Slow services have better observation decks, though. Among the best parts of the lake is the Villa del Balbianello.

A frequent ferry (c.20 sailings a day, between 7am and 10:30pm) runs from Varenna to Menaggio and Bellagio. It costs €3.50 ow and takes 20 minutes. Views from the ferry are unforgettable and Bellagio is a great place, if little overrun with tourists, who hope to meet some of the film stars, like George Clooney, who bought villas there. If anyone is so lucky?

Published on Saturday October 25th, 2008


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Thu, Nov 06 2008 - 07:22 AM rating by rangutan

Wonderfully described location on a beautiful lake.

Tue, Oct 28 2008 - 07:58 AM rating by gloriajames

loved the scenery captures and of course your take on the story writing.

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 09:51 AM rating by davidx

I think my wish list has been long enough to outlast my life for some time but you force me to add to it!

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