Cruising the steep southern shores it appears that Lake Como is the preserve of the Clooneys, Bonds and Bransons of this world. Head north of Menaggio, however, and the millionaire quotient drops to nearly nil, the opulent villas and five star hotels metamorphosize into campsites, B&Bs and agriturismi, and the price of a holiday tumbles accordingly. At the tip of the lake (the area known as Alto Lario) the panorama opens up and here the serious Alps begin. The best bases in the area are Domaso, Gravedona and Colico, although the surrounding hill villages do offer accommodation options too. It is a region beloved of outdoorsy types from all over northern Europe, especially windsurfers, kite surfers, mountain bikers and hikers. Pick a road leading uphill from the lake and meander up it to discover ancient churches, alpine meadows, stone hamlets, superb food and incredible views of forest, lake and mountain. Such a beautiful area and yet still very reasonable. And not a movie star in sight.
The local station is Colico, buses and ferries run all around the lake. Better still to travel by car: 1.5 hours from Milan airports.
Google map: bit.ly/13kYoSI
After you have visited the villages around Lake Como head north for the Balcone d' Italia. Standing on the edge of a cliff you cast your eyes over the green valleys and vineyards of Italy and Switzerland but are drawn to the mountains behind them. In one astonishing sweep you have the south slopes of some of the biggest mountains in the Alps - Monte Rosa at 4634m and the Matahorn at 4478m and nestled beneath them are Lake Lugano, Lake Varese and Lake Maggiore. Travel north from Argegno to Lanzo d'Intelvi where you can drive, bus or walk through the forests up to the Balcone. For those who want to stop awhile and absorb the spectacular views and atmosphere have a coffee in the small cafe or relax on one of the seats nestled in the trees. The day we arrived we were lucky enough to be entertained by some local 'singing' walkers who just added that something special to make our trip unforgettable.
Take the S340 along side Lake Como, turn left at Argegno and travel through the Intelvi Valley. The road climbs steeply offering increasingly wide beautiful views of Lake Como, the villages and villas along both shores. 12 miles further on through the spa resort of Lanzo d'Intelvi, the road leads to the viewing point of Balcone d'Italia.
Google map: bit.ly/MmWDyL
During a family weekend by Lake Como, we loved our Sunday morning spent exploring 17th-century Villa Carlotta. Inside, we were impressed by antiquities and preserved rooms. But the biggest treat was outside: exquisite terraced gardens with magnificent views of the lake, room to picnic and play, a hidden valley of ferns and even some enchanting tiny turtles in one of the fountains.
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