By Luca Sartori
Leaving the north suburbs of Milan you can quickly reach Como, capital of one of the most beautiful and appreciated lake basins in the world. After exiting the highway, you have to cross the city until you reach the banks of the lake. It is here that starts one of the most spectacular and exciting itineraries of Lake Lario, that from Cernobbio leads to Menaggio, skirting perharps its most spectacular stretch, the western shore of the Como branch. The medieval village of Brienno, the Isola Comacina, the only one of the lake, Lenno and Tremezzo are the centres that follow each other along the path that leads to Menaggio, overlooking the heart of the lake.
Situated on a promontory, with its busy little port, its elegant hotels and the many flowered parks, Menaggio is dominated by the bell tower of the 17th century church of Santo Stefano, located in the centre of the populated area at the end of Via Calvi, pulsating heart of the historic area. Among other architectural buildings, there are the church of San Carlo, Villa Garovaglio-Ricci, Villa Mylius Vigoni and the castle of the X century still with the perimeter walls, two towers and the entrance, situated on a hill behind the village.
The weekend continues on the boat that from Menaggio leads to Bellagio, the heart of the lake, situated at the northern end of a promontory that divides the two branches, the one of Como and the one of Lecco. Called the pearl of the Lario, it is without any doubt its most exclusive centre, with its historic hotels, parks and villas. You should absolutely visit Villa Melzi, splendid dwelling in neoclassical style with the enchanting park embellished by statues and exotic plants. The Orangery is also worth visiting, which preserves a small museum with Renaissance frescoes, Napoleonic relics and precious archaeological findings.
Another charming dwelling in Bellagio is Villa Serbelloni, characterized by an eighteenth-century core and sumptuous Italian gardens, with specimens of exotic flora, statues and caves. However, Bellagio is also shops and workshops, to explore during a stroll among its colourful alleys, the views on the waters, the staircases; allow you a stop in one of its cafés, and maybe a dinner in one of its restaurants by enjoying a good risotto with fish fillets combined with a good white wine from the area or the typical dish of Bellagio, the "tòc", the typical local polenta prepared with yellow cornmeal, water, butter and fresh cheese to serve with salami of the Lombard valleys or fish from the lake.
The third stop of the weekend is the picturesque Varenna. The boat crossing of the lake is enchanting. Once you leave Bellagio, you will reach the village on the eastern shore of the lake among the colours of the mountains and the multi-coloured residential area. The view of Varenna from the lake is really a breath-taking one, ancient fishing village, situated on a promontory on the mouth of the stream Esino, surrounded by a beautiful green crown of woods and by the colourful facades of the houses that frame the little port.
Core of the village that preserves the characteristic medieval structure, a succession of staircases, small squares, narrow streets and steps on the lake in a galaxy of plants and flowers. Do not miss the climb to the church of San Giorgio, dating back to the XIV century, that preserves a carved Baroque confessional, a fifteenth-century board of the Lombard school and a polyptych again of the Fifteenth Century. On the square of the parish church, the oratories of San Giovanni Battista and the one of the Madonna delle Grazie also stand out; the first it’s Romanesque with frescoes of the Fourteenth Century, the second of the Seventeenth Century, with an interesting wooden altar with golden decorations, paintings of the XVII century and statues in polychrome wood.
Then there is also Villa Monastero, unmissable stop for those who come to Varenna. Historic house museum and botanical garden, it was an ancient cloister founded in the XII century, transformed in the seventeenth century, restored and decorated in eclectic style, an authentic jewel of the eastern shore of the lake. Before returning to Menaggio you have to dine with smoked fish from the lake. Then the boat and the way back between the last views on the lake, the beautiful city of Como illuminated by the evening lights and the highway to Milan.