Corse di mus, the donkey race in Fagagna/Friuli, Italy

 Lake Como has it all, including Clooney
Enchanting villages, hamlets and Bellagio

Lake Como – Cernobbio, Tremezzo, Bellagio (2018) – Italy definitely offers a lot of places where one can feel utterly heavenly. I'm not spilling any secrets when I tell you that one of these divine spots can be found in Northern Italy's Lombardy region. North of Milan, where Italy meets the Alps, close to the Swiss border, there it lays, the breathtaking jewel Lake Como. The 30 miles
(50 Kilometer) long "Y" shaped lake with its gorgeous villages at its shoreline is considered an Italian gem since the days of the Roman Empire and has lost nothing of its magic ever since.
It didn't need to co-star in all these great Hollywood movies to increase its fame but it sure helped to become worldwide known. The perpetual presence of international statesmen, politicians and famous business people put additional spotlight onto the lake, the villages, villas and palaces.
Lake Como became a popular retreat for aristocrats, wealthy people, artists, famous musicians
and actors and a bit Monaco and Hollywood. Today the famous region is nothing less than an upscale resort area which has it all, the gorgeous scenery, enchanting villages and hamlets,
luxury life in Italian style and of course George Clooney. 
Bellagio at Lake Como
Lake Como – A great experience almost guaranteed
"Lago di Como", as the local call it, is the second largest lake in Italy, only Lake Garda is bigger. Even though the lake area and its villages are really easy accessible by car, driving on the winding roads can become a bit of a challenge even outside of season and more so a nightmare during the summer month when literally the whole world is driving on the same road. The roads are very narrow outside of the villages and there is not too much extra room when two regular sized cars pass each other. Now imagine a fearful or inexperienced driver in front of you. And to tell you the truth, there are also some parking issues in some of the villages. Most of the little available parking space understandably is reserved for residents, tourists have to find a spot, which in general never is easy but also not a real problem as long as you bring your walking shoes. But please note, this is only a tiny obstacle and for sure won't reduce your almost guaranteed great experience around this great lake.

Tradtional ancient boats called “Lucia” or “Batell” still cross the quiet lake
Coming from Milan, the beautiful city Cernobbio was my first stop. The town is known since 1975 for its annual international economic conference, the "Ambrosetti Forum". Here I got the first glimpse at the great Lake Como and also a pretty good idea of what still lies ahead. A stroll through the city taught me how traditional the people at Lake Como are and I learned about "Lucia", the traditional Lake Como boat. Even though the one in Cernobbio is on display on dry land, the lake is still full of them. These unique wooden boats, also called “Batell”, are small rowing boats and became a symbol of the lake. The name "Lucia" was given from the protagonist of Manzoni’s novel “I Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed), where, in one chapter, it is used as a means of escape. Later on my journey around the lake, in Bellagio, I would find another "Lucia" on dry land, "abused" as advertisement for a restaurant at "La Punta". Even though I did find many of them on dry land they still cross the quiet lake in high numbers.
Traveling Lake Como outside of season
Driving along the shore of Lake Como outside the busy season feels like a huge privilege, given the fact that the road through that spectacular scenery, the villages and hamlets and the available space on the car ferry don't have to be shared with a thousand others. Traveling through this paradise on earth of course is only of advantage for photographers and nature lovers at this time of the year, not so much for shopaholics, food, nightlife or society tourists. Many hotels are closed during the colder month and so are many restaurants and shops. They open when the tourist masses roll on and close when the money is gone. Kind of understandable. But nevertheless for those who do come when Lake Como and its shoreline seems perfectly in peace, their reward is stress free traveling through this jewel, unlimited intake of eye candies and enjoyable cold, crisp and fresh air.

It's a bit costly to stay with the rich and famous
Every village at Lake Como impresses with its great villas and century-old buildings. So much history everywhere. Something you especially can enjoy in the out of season month. There is no haste but enough time to look closer. No honking cars but enough parking. Some of the old buildings are actually highly regarded hotels, welcoming the rich and famous in the summer month at the lake. In the colder month without the tourists and with literally no movements around the buildings it's like watching them sleep in all their beauty. Some of the buildings really show their age, but not necessarily in a bad way, they kind of aged with grace. The best example is to find in Tremezzo, the home of the famous "Grand Hotel Tremezzo", a 5-star hotel with marina and private beach. How cool would it be to spend a week in this beautiful place? Well, the truth is, these high-quality, "pricier" hotel resorts, aren't really for "Joe Schmo". A quick online check with one of the hotel booking sites confirms that it's better to sign off from that dream fast. I would need to own a bank to be able to pay for a stay in this wonderful place during the high season. A double for a week in the beginning of August including early booking bonus and breakfast for about 6.000 Euros. A week, not all summer. Obviously there are enough banker out there willing to spend this kind of money since these hotels are sold out faster than websites can offer them. And with good reason because after all places like the "Grand Hotel" in Tremezzo seem to be a little paradise within the paradise.

Konrad Adenauer was here and so was Sir Winston Churchill
When driving through Cadenabbia, another village along the Lake Como shore, known for its car ferry station, I noticed a bronze sculpture in a little park, showing a man with suit and tie and with a bocce ball in his hand. The man is supposed to be nobody lesser than the former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor from 1949 to 1963), who, so the story goes, had visited Cadenabbia from 1957 on about 18 times and finally bought the "Villa La Collina" at the hill of the village. He was named honorary citizen of Cadenabbia di Griante at Lake Como and the sculpture is a tribute to his presence and a cute reminder that the famous resident just loved to play bocce. Speaking of famous people visiting Lake Como, many prominent foreign politicians were guests at the lake in the past. Also Great Britain's Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (from 1940 to 1945 and 1951 to 1955) was one of them. Churchill supposedly found his much needed tranquility in the "Villa Le Rose" in Moltrasio at the "Lago di Como" after having lost the election in 1945. It is told that Churchill was fighting his anger about the lost election by painting at the lakeside. Lake Como was for him in these days "...a landscape which exudes absolute tranquility. Neither the region than its inhabitants note the terrible things that happen to the world...". Churchill painted several art pieces at the lake, two of them were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, signed with Churchill's synonym "Mr. Winter".

Hollywood comes and goes – Famous celebrities live at Lake Como
The great shores of Lake Como became worldwide known when Hollywood's film maker started to incorporate the gorgeous landscape surrounding the lake into their work. Who doesn't know Lake Como as a backdrop in "James Bond" or in "Ocean's Twelve". But there are so many famous movies in which Lake Como or one of the villages or hamlets played an important role. For example: A Month by the Lake (1995, Vanessa Redgrave), George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002, Ewan Mc Gregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson), Casino Royale (2006, Daniel Craig’s debut as Bond), Julia and Julia (2009, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams), Ocean’s Twelve (2004, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts), The Complete Churchill Series (1991, Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson) or Man on Fire (1987, Denzel Washington).

And I guess it was not out of the ordinary that after Hollywood had discovered the breathtaking beauty of the Lake Como area some of the big movie stars came back and stayed. Over the years more and more famous musicians, great artists, business people and many celebrities of various other fields followed. Some stayed for vacations, some became residents. George Clooney with wife Amal are currently the most famous home owners at the lake, at least the ones we talk about. They own a 18th century villa in Laglio, a tiny little hamlet with barely 1000 inhabitants. Some of the other famous people who have or have had homes at Lake Como are Richard Branson (Entrepreneur/Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, "Villa La Cassinella" at the "Punta di Lavedo" peninsula), Madonna (Singer, used Gianny Versace's "Villa Fontanelle" in Moltrasio), John Kerry (Former US Secretary of State, sold his and his wife's Teresa Heinz house to George Clooney) and Matthew Bellamy (English musician, condominium in Moltrasio). This is just a snapshot and public knowledge, there are many more frequenting the lake area on an annual basis but more discretely.

Bellagio – "The Pearl of Lake Como"
Lake Como obviously is much more than water, so much more than just a pretty lake in front of the Alps. Lake Como benefits immensely from its lakeside villages and hamlets. Each single one is unique in its character and charm. All of them are worth seeing, but only one particular one pulls you in like only the strongest magnet could: Bellagio.

I have lived in Las Vegas/Nevada for many years and always wondered why the Strip Hotel-Resort "Bellagio", famous for its lake and fountains, would carry this particular name. In fact it was casino resort developer and hotel owner Steve Wynn who gave the new development on the Vegas Strip its name after he had vacationed with singer Paul Anka in the Lake Como town Bellagio. Wynn brought "The Pearl of Lake Como" to Sin City.

The most attractive way to arrive in Bellagio is by using the car ferry at Lake Como from Cadenabbia. Outside of season a true pleasure and very enjoyable, which by the way also applies to the very picturesque Bellagio, where also Stendhal, Toscanini and Liszt resided. For the French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his pen name Stendhal, the view at the lake out of his villa in Bellagio was "...the most beautiful in the world after the Bay of Naples." The town's location is its biggest asset, situated where the "Y" shaped Lake Como divides into two "legs". The mild climate favors everything growing which Bellagio knows to use beautifully to its advantage. With its botanical garden, the gorgeous villas, the well maintained ancient streets and alleys, the many shops, bistros and restaurants down by the harbor, Bellagio knows how to shine and this since the 19th century. The harbor area invites new incoming guests right off the ferry quite charming to take a seat in one of the many cafés or bistros. But I advise you to walk up the stairs to the actual city, even though they appear steep and long at first. From there I suggest to pass by the church "San Giacomo" and take a short stroll on "Via Eugenio Vitali" to "La Punta", one of Bellagio's magnificent viewpoints. Right there meet the two "legs" of the Lake Como, the view indeed is incredible. A must see is also the beautiful botanical garden of "Villa Melzi", open only in season between the end of March to the end of October.   

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