Lessons learnt in Lake Como
After a short, but sweet, stop in Switzerland, Brett, Paul and I travelled to the third country of our Interrailing trip – Italy. Over the next few days, we explored the city of Como and visited three of the picturesque villages along the shore of Lake Como. Prior to setting off on our Interrail trip, our four-night stay in Como was what I was looking forward to most of the whole trip. And while we still had a fun time exploring, our experience did not *quite* live up to what I had been imagining.
In this blog post, I'll share the story of our trip, as well as what we learnt that would make our next visit to this beautiful region even better! (It's quite a detailed post, so feel free to just skim through to look at the pictures – I promise I won't judge).
Day 0: Getting to Como
While Brett and Paul were climbing up Mount Pilatus near Lucerne, I said goodbye to Dan in Zurich. We managed to coordinate our timing so that Brett and Paul could meet me on my train heading south. A delayed train meant we missed our first and only connection of the trip (in Switzerland no less!), but we made the most of the situation and spent the hour enjoying the view over Lake Lugano.
We were greeted at the Como train station by our Airbnb host, who drove us to where we'd be staying for the next four nights – our longest stop in any one place during our Interrail trip. An hour later, we headed out to catch the bus to downtown Como.
Lesson 1: The buses don't accept card and many only accept coins.
Unfortunately, we didn't have coins, so we ended up walking into town. After stopping at a supermarket to grab some breakfast and snack essentials (including a bottle of olive oil that was our best purchase on the trip), we grabbed dinner at Pizzium. The restaurant wasn't in the most picturesque of locations, but any reservations we had about our choice of restaurant disappeared when our pizzas were served. They were by far the best pizzas we had on the trip!
Day 1: Tourist chaos in Como
On our first morning in Como, Brett and I walked into town and headed for the lake. After some basic research online, I'd learnt that the only place you can buy ferry tickets is in person at the terminal. What the online research had failed to warn me was that the queue for the ferry terminal can get long...like really long. By the time we arrived at 11:15, the queue stretched for over 100 metres. We quickly gave up and agreed we'd spend a different day on the lake.
Lesson 2: If you're traveling in the summer, get to the ferry terminal as early as you can to avoid waiting in long queues
After meeting up with Paul, we explored the lakefront and visited the Life Electric statue, one of many monuments in the city honouring the physicist Alessandro Volta. We grabbed lunch at a food festival in the nearby park – I couldn't resist getting both bruschetta and focaccia. While exploring the food festival, we learnt that we were visiting Como during an Italian public holiday, which could explain some of the tourist chaos we were experiencing! I was eager to go for a swim, but signs up near the lake made it clear that swimming wasn't allowed here.
The Bruante funicular also had a seemingly never-ending queue, so we decided to buy bus tickets to go to the small lakeside town of Nesso, one of the main destinations I wanted to visit on Lake Como. We arrived at the bus stop 20 minutes before the bus was meant to depart, yet when the bus finally arrived, it didn't even stop – it was already full and no more passengers were allowed on! After getting used to travel during a pandemic, the amount of tourists that day felt almost overwhelming.
Instead of heading to Nesso, we spent the afternoon exploring the beautiful streets of Como's Old Town. We visited the impressive cathedral and got ice cream (I can't visit Italy and not eat ice cream every day).
After a siesta at the Airbnb, we ventured back to the lakeside at golden hour. There were less people and it was easier to admire the Life Electric statue in the softer light without being blinded by its mirrored surfaces. Brett and I had a lot of fun taking abstract photos of the statue.
Lesson 3: Embrace the siesta lifestyle. Get up early and nap during the hottest part of the day.
After eating dinner at one of the restaurants on the Piazza Alessandro Volta, we wandered along the quiet city streets and headed back to the Airbnb. I couldn't resist stopping for self portraits with Brett on the way.
Day 2: Hiking in the clouds
We woke up on our second morning in Como to grey, rainy weather. After a lazy morning at the Airbnb, we took the bus into Como (the driver didn't seem interested in taking our money), and then caught the funicular up to Brunate. We were relieved that there was no queue to catch the funicular, probably thanks to the crappy weather! We hiked to the Faro Voltiano monument which, on clearer days, offers fantastic views out over Lake Como. Unfortunately, all we could see were clouds...it felt like we were back at the Top of Innsbruck! Luckily, on our way back down the hill, the sky cleared enough for us to see out over the city of Como. It wasn't a wasted excursion after all!
After returning to Como, we headed to a small cafe where Brett and Paul had their first Italian espresso of the trip! Can confirm, I am not a fan of espresso, but the boys seemed to enjoy the experience. That night, in an attempt to save money and eat actual vegan food, we cooked a delicious pasta feast back at the Airbnb and spent the night sipping local limoncello while relaxing on the balcony.
Day 3: Exploring the lake
On our last day in Como, we got up early and walked down to the lakefront. The sun was shining and the skies were blue – ideal conditions for a day on the lake. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 7:40, before the ticket desk officially opened for the morning. Luckily, one ticket booth was already open and, best of all, there was no queue! Just a few minutes later and we had finally purchased our tickets to explore Lake Como. Can you tell I was excited?
We still had over an hour before the first ferry of the morning would depart, so after buying our tickets, we stopped at a nearby cafe so the boys could get espressos. We headed back to the ferry terminal well before our ferry was meant to start boarding, which ended up being a good idea because the waiting area quickly filled up. Boarding the ferry was quite a commotion, so I felt relieved when we made it onto the boat!
We managed to grab seats at the very front of the ferry, where we had a great views out over the lake. We had opted for the Como middle lake pass, on the "slow" ship, which meant the ferry stopped at various towns along the lakeside. However...
Lesson 4: The ferry doesn't stop at all of the towns on the map on every journey. The timetable can be difficult to decipher, but it's worth looking at carefully to make sure the ferry you're on will stop at the towns you want to see.
An hour after departing from Como, and still very confused by the ferry's seemingly random route, we were pleasantly surprised when the ferry pulled up to the dock at Nesso – the destination we had been aiming for! Nesso is a charming village halfway between Como and Bellagio, built into the hillside along the edge of the lake.
As we had caught the first ferry of the morning, the town was almost deserted as we wandered along the path near the edge of the water. Within minutes, we had arrived at the Ponte della Civera, a picturesque stone bridge with views towards the Orrido di Nesso gorge and waterfall. I'd seen this spot countless times on Instagram, so it felt magical to finally be experiencing it in person, and without hoards of tourists!
After admiring the view and taking some self portraits, we continued to follow the cobbled path. We had no idea where it was taking us, but when we emerged onto some stony steps next to the water, we decided it was a perfect place to eat our lunch of leftover pasta.
We continued hiking along this random path, climbing away from the lake and passing houses only accessible on foot, before we appeared on the main road passing through Nesso. From there, we headed deeper into the town. As we explored tiny alleyways, we were amazed to stumble on a viewpoint which revealed a hidden waterfall passing right beside the town's houses. We relaxed for awhile, admiring the view.
After crossing over the canyon, we descended along steep, winding paths back to the lakeside, where Brett and I enjoyed swimming in the turquoise waters near the Ponte della Civera. It felt a little dangerous navigating the water as countless private boats appeared to see the view of the bridge and the waterfall, but I was in my happy place.
After seeing someone jumping off the historic stone bridge, I knew I had to give it a go. What an adventure! Still shaking with adrenaline, I dried off and we headed back to the ferry pier.
As we stood looking at the ferry timetable, we realised we wouldn't have enough time to make it to Bellagio and explore the town before the last ferry home. Oops!
Lesson 5: We were under the impression that the ferries would allow you to "hop on, hop off," and visit many of the small villages in a day, but the timing and low frequency of the ferries makes this logistically challenging. Plan your day carefully so you can see what you want to without missing the last ferry back to wherever you are staying.
Instead of continuing north to Bellagio, we decided to catch a ferry heading south to visit some of the other small towns on the way back to Como. As we were on the ferry leaving Nesso, we got a final view of the magical town we had just explored, with the impressive waterfall just barely visible behind the Ponte della Civera. Of all the places we visited on Lake Como, Nesso was definitely our favourite.
After another stunning ferry ride, we disembarked at the colourful harbour of Torno. We wandered along the town's winding alleyways before Brett and I went for a quick dip to cool off from the afternoon heat.
Our final stop of the day was at Moltrasio, a short ferry ride across the lake from Torno. We trekked up the so-called Holy Staircase so Brett and I could get ice cream. From there, we hiked up to the Cascata del Cam, a secluded waterfall high above the lake.
That night, after returning to Como, we ate at one of the only vegan restaurants in the city – Il Lughino. I had pesto lasagna for the first time, which was surprisingly delicious. It was a perfect way to end a beautiful day.
The following morning, we had an early train to Milan. Our Airbnb host graciously picked us up from our apartment and drove us to the station, sending us off on our next adventure with hugs and a big smile. What a sweetheart! If you're planning a visit to Como, we would definitely recommend Graziella's apartment. Her warmth and kindness cannot be understated.
Here's a few other things we learnt on our trip to Como:
You have to have confidence when visiting Italy – the cars won't stop at crosswalks unless you are actively walking out across them. Good luck and stay safe!
Renting a car would make it easier to see more of the villages around the lake, but you're gonna have to be a confident driver (see point above)
Language was definitely more of a barrier here than anywhere else we visited on our trip, as many of the locals didn't speak English. Brett's knowledge of Spanish came in handy multiple times, as did good ol' Google Translate.
You can't be in a rush in Italy. Good things take time.
While our trip to Como wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I still had a great time and would be excited to return and explore this area again in the future.