Planning to Lake Como
When planning the attractions in Milan, I chanced upon several Youtube videos about travels to Lake Como. The stunting views of the mountains seemingly watching over the tranquil lake and the characteristic colourful houses sitting by the lake shore make this a picturesque place a must to visit. There are several towns around Lake Como, but impossible to see everything within one day. Hence I had to be very targeted on what we wanted to see. From the YouTube videos I watched, Varenna, Bellagio, Como and Brunate are the most popular towns around Lake Como. So we started from Varenna, the furthest from Milan, and worked our way to Como, the nearest to Milan. We also wanted to watch the sunset over Lake Como at the viewpoint in Brunate.
Getting to Lake Como
Lake Como lies north of Milan, and the towns around Lake Como are easily accessible by regional trains serviced by Trenitalia with hourly departures, so it is not necessary to pre-book train tickets. Getting the train tickets from the train station was very easy; we had to pop by the ticketing machine, select our destination (Varenna-Esino), and we got our tickets in no time. There are two classes of seats onboard the train to Varenna. 2nd class costs €7.10, while 1st class costs €10.50. We initially thought the price difference wasn’t great and went for 1st class, thinking it would be more comfortable. Upon boarding the train, we found no differences in the seats between 1st and 2nd class; the only difference is the yellow handle on the seats that marks it as 1st class seating. We ended up sitting (this service is free seating) in a less crowded 2nd Class carriage. We thought getting 1st class tickets for this trip was a waste of money. The train ride from Milan Central station to Varenna-Esino station took 1 hour.
We alighted at Varenna-Esino station and were guided by well-marked signs towards the lakeside. After about 5 minutes of walking, passing by buildings decked in light pink and bright yellow, we came to the shore of Lake Como. Before our eyes were stunning views of mountain ranges, some even snow-capped, across the massive Lake Como. My friends and I wasted no time and kept ourselves busy taking selfies, wefies and pictures of the beautiful Lake Como scene. Then, we strolled along the coastline, taking in the tranquillity of the lake and the beautiful scenery before our eyes towards Greenway di Patriarchi. About 5 minutes later, we arrived at the ferry station. This is where we would return later for our ferry ride across the lake to our next destination in Lake Como.
We continued our early morning stroll along the coast and arrived at Passerella sul lago, also known affectionately as the Lover’s way. This walkway offers visitors an unobstructed view of the lake and the houses by the lake. We did not see many visitors during our visit, which also gave us great photo-op chances. We chanced upon a small playground equipped with a slide and a strategically placed swing to face Lake Como. One of my friends immediately hopped onto the swing and admired the tranquil scenery before her eyes. Pass the swing, we spotted a marina of some sort, and there do not to be any more pavements that would lead us further. So we made a U-turn and headed inland towards Cheisea di San Giorgio. As we walked past some shops, we passed by earlier and took a gelato break (partly to use their toilet). One gelato later, we continued our walk towards the church. We took the staircase beside the gelateria, hoping it would lead us to where we wanted to go. Walking along the walkways between buildings was very pleasant. At times, Google Maps led us back towards the lake, which gave us a different perspective of Varenna and Lake Como.
After some more ups and downs through the snaking pathway, the pavement suddenly opens up to a bigger road. We walked along the road and spotted Cheisea di San Giorgio. The grey stone facade of the church gave it a medieval look. A simple hut-shaped building accompanied by a small bell tower, this 700-year-old church exudes a rustic charm. This is the only church in Varenna (we did not see any other churches along the way). We did not enter the church as the oversized wooden main doors were closed during our visit. At this point, my friends asked where we were heading next. I had plans to visit Castello di Vezio which would offer us some great views of Lake Como and Varenna. However, Google Maps suggested the castle was temporarily closed. We decided not to risk investing extra time walking to the castle and finding it closed. Instead, we headed back to the ferry station and prepared to head to the next village in Lake Como. It took us another 15 minutes of walking to reach the ferry station. After getting our tickets, the friendly staff informed us that the next ferry to Bellagio would only leave in the next hour. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to have lunch in a restaurant next to the ferry station.
The ferry ride to Bellagio took about 25 mins from Varenna. We got front-row seats on the ferry, allowing us to take in the beautiful and tranquil scenery this part of Lake Como offers. As we were approaching Bellagio, we could see some differences between Bellagio and Varenna. The buildings in Bellagio are mainly painted in yellow and white, which is duller compared to the vibrant-coloured buildings in Varenna. These buildings seem to congregate mainly at the harbourfront, with a few on the hills behind the harbour, making this town look compact. There were more visitors at Bellagio compared to Varenna. Several restaurants with outdoor alfresco settings occupy the key real estate of the pier front, allowing visitors to enjoy the mountainous scenery as they dine. We would have dined here if not for our lunch in Varenna. From the pier, we can see Bellagio felt more enclosed by mountains, with a small waterway peeking right around the corner.
For us to get a better grasp of the time we had in Bellagio and to be able to reach Brunate before sunset, we went around finding out the next time for the fast ferry to Como. Two types of ferries ply between Bellagio and Como, the fast ferry takes around 37 mins, and the slower ferry takes around 1 hour 11 minutes. In the interest of time, we wanted to catch the fast ferry for Como. The ferry for Como leaves from a different pier from where we just alighted. We were greeted by an unmanned ticket booth with a piece of A4 paper sticking on the window of the ticket booth that stated “siesta”. There were ferry schedules pasted on the ticket booth window, and from there, we found out that the next ferry leaves for Como in 45 minutes. We waited a little longer for someone to appear so we could get our ferry tickets. After some wait later, we thought it would be a waste of time to continue waiting. With the time we had left, we could only visit Punta Spartivento, a breakwater on the northern end of the town about 8 minutes from the ferry station. As we walked towards Punta Spartivento, the scene turned from rows of shops (mainly occupying the harbour area) into residential villas. The bustling harbour front with restaurants and shops welcoming visitors’ tourist dollars turned into a tranquil village. The crowd gets thinner the further we peel away from the pier. The absence of cars on the road makes walking in Bellagio very pleasant.
A gravel pavement marked the entrance to Punta Spartivento. A small park marked the end of the gravel road. The park is decked with benches dotting the coast, providing visitors with incredible views of the mountains and the lake, an ideal scenic spot for picnicking. Punto Spartivento is a breakwater. We walked to the end of the breakwater, where an amazing unobstructed view of the mountains sitting quietly behind the lake waters awaited us. A lone pink building rests amongst a forest of trees on the edge of Bellagio, facing the calm waters of Lake Como, draped by mountains in the far background under the blue sky lightly decorated by thin clouds, making the scene feel peaceful. We got busy snapping pictures of the awesome view. A while later, it is time for us to head back to the pier.
We traced the same path we came from to get back to the pier. Nearing the piers, we came across a split road leading up into some buildings while the other led down towards the pier. We wanted to experience walking amongst the narrow pavements in Bellagio with shops flanking both sides, so we took the upper road instead. I knew we could get to the pier using one of the stairways at some point. The first building we spotted from the split road was Basilica di San Giacomo, a small brick-built church in the middle of residential buildings. As the door was open, we popped in for a quick peek. Though modest, the church houses a painting of the Deposition and a large statue of the Dead Christ. We continued our walk to the pier as the ferry was about to depart in 10 minutes. We walked through the maze of cobble pavements, occasionally stopping for a quick picture. When we reached the pier, the ticket booth was again unmanned, and the ferry was about to leave. Lucky for us, the ferry crew allowed us to board and purchase tickets. We spent the next 45 mins on the uneventful ferry ride towards Como.
We reached Como 1 hour before sunset. Como is the innermost town on the southern end of Lake Como’s western branch, surrounded by hills. From the pier, we could hardly see the vastness of Lake Como as we had in Varenna and Bellagio. The town is bustling with activities such as Christmas markets and funfairs. Como was built by the Romans, serving as an important communication point between Rome and its northern territories. When we got off the ferry, I could spot one of the attractions we would visit. The small Tempio Valtiano sits by the shore of Como overlooking Lake Como and is dedicated to the inventor of the electric battery. At the entrance to the temple, we learnt there was an entrance fee to enter the temple. We thought the scale of the temple was not worth the price of the fee and decided to skip the temple. We took a quick wefie in front of the temple and headed for the funicular that would take us to Brunate for a scenic view of Lake Como and sunset.
Along the way, we spotted a bridge-like structure that suggested that we could cut across the lake to reach the station. We walked along the bridge and were soon met with a sculpture and a dead end. This is where we realised we had wasted 5 mins walking on the bridge that led to nowhere except for the Life Electric Sculpture, a huge piece of metallic sculpture dedicated to the inventor of electric battery. We traced back to where we came from and walked along the lakeside towards the funicular station.
Some 15 mins later, we arrived at the funicular station. To our astonishment, the funicular was closed for maintenance till the end of November. We bumped into a family of three who was equally shocked to discover the funicular was not operational. The family told us we might still be able to get to Brunate via bus. As we spotted a bus terminal when we were walking towards the station, we decided to head there to see if anyone could point us to the bus that would take us to Brunate. We spent the next 30 mins trying to find out from locals and anyone who could point us to the right bus that could take us to Brunate. No one seemed to know how to get to Brunate from Como. Finally, we spotted a bus driver who told us there were no buses to Brunate near Como Nord Train station. By this time, the sky had turned dark, and we saw no point in getting to Brunate. We originally planned to visit Basilica di San Fedele and Piazza Vittoria, located in the heart of Como town; I guess we were too turned off by not being able to visit Brunate even to bother. We decided to head back to Milan after some retail therapy at the supermarket next to the bus terminal.
Naviglio Grande: Picking off what we left off yesterday
We took the next available train bound for Milan Central station. Since the night was still young, we decided to head back to the Duomo area and get some gloves to prepare for the cold weather later part of our trip. By the time we reached the Duomo area, we had learnt that most of the shops were closed or were closing. At this point, I suggested to my friends to visit Naviglio Grande via tram since we did not manage to do so the day before. So we hopped on the next tram and were happily underway. The tram passes through the city centre to a residential area. Sensing something was wrong, I took out my phone and started navigating using Google Maps. True enough, the tram service brought us further from Naviglio Grande. We got off the tram at the stop with a Metro station and took the Metro.
Genova FS metro station is the nearest station to Naviglio Grande. Exiting the station and after about 10 mins, we reached a body of water. We thought this was Naviglio Grande. The Milanese government created Naviglio Grande to transport marble during the construction of Duomo di Milano. My first impression of the canal was not as lively as I thought. From my research, restaurants dotted both sides of the canal bank where we could settle for dinner. So far, we only saw one eatery, and we thought there might be more eateries further down the canal. As we continued walking along the canal bank, we soon realised that is the end of the canal. I was a little disappointed that there were no restaurants where we could settle for our dinner. We ended up dining at McDonald’s. There was nothing much at Naviglio Granade; after eating, we headed back to the metro station. Walking towards the metro station, I noticed the canal split into another branch. I exclaimed to my friends, “this IS the Naviglio Grande I wanted to bring you guys to!”. By this time, we were tired even to bother walking across the road and confirm if this was the “real” Naviglio Grande. We returned to the hotel to pack our luggage for the next leg of our trip, Venice.