Lake Como is one of the original modern holiday destinations, a place where well-to-do Victorians would flock to enjoy the combination of crisp Alpine air, picture-perfect lake views and low rainfall year-round. Today it’s a Mecca for young couples splashing out on expensive weddings, and a home-from home for the super-rich, with the likes of George Clooney, Madonna, Donatella Versace and Sir Richard Branson all owning property around the lake. Things have come on a bit from the Victorian age in terms of booking your trip, too – Como is excellently served by Airbnb, with dozens of beautiful period homes listed for those who get their bookings in early.
I booked a beautiful apartment in the small town of Cernobbio, just down the road from the famous Villa Erba (once home to Italian film director Luchino Visconti and now the location where the beau monde say their wedding vows). Owned by a feisty local artist, the apartment was decorated with original artworks – including a lioness and a crashing waterfall – and a series of her novels, sadly unintelligible to me as they were in Italian.
What to do:
You could easily while away a fortnight just wandering the historic cobbled streets, drinking Montepulciano on the terrace of the local bars and gazing at the icy blue lake (the fifth deepest in Europe). But if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can pull up the Airbnb app again and hook yourself up with a host of the company’s relatively new Experiences packages.
I booked a private speedboat tour of the lake, taking in all the famous villas – including a nosy at the Clooneys’ place, which appeared to be empty at the time – and stopping at various waterfalls and scenic spots. You can also take a dip in the lake, which is a fairly pleasant temperature year-round, at least until you dive a few metres below the surface, at which point it gets freezing and inky black.
Even better was a group hike through the forest to the south of the lake, culminating in a hill climb to the secluded Cescina Respau hostel and restaurant. It sounds a little budget – and it’s certainly rustic, made up of interconnecting stone courtyards and a terrace carved from the forest – but the food is exceptional. Head chef Alessandro is a veteran of the local food scene and makes all of his pasta on site, with an ever-changing menu including rabbit terrine, wild mushroom ravioli and summer salads so fresh I suspect some of the ingredients came straight from the forest. After dinner you can make the short walk to the top of the hill where you get incredible views across the lake.
The funicular railway on the south-east side of the lake is another great viewing spot – and only costs a few euros – although I recommend coming straight back down to avoid the tourist gauntlet at the top. Instead settle in one of the many pizzerias at its base: even the most basic restaurants pride themselves on crafting beautiful dough and fresh pasta.
Need to know:
Our boat tour with SuBacco was booked through Airbnb Experiences and cost £45 per person; The hike and meal, including three courses and a glass of wine, was booked through Airbnb Experiences and cost £27 per person.