The visitor who descends for the first time on the shores of Lake Como (Lario is his second name in Italian) cannot avoid being seized by the same amazement that Stendhal witnessed as a young officer. Evocative, romantic, rich in both natural and cultural beauty, this corner of paradise enjoys a mild climate at the foot of the Alps. The road along the western bank (Strada Regina) follows the same transalpine route marked by the Romans. A flourishing region in the Middle Ages, it was in the 17th and 18th centuries that it acquired its international reputation as a holiday resort, with the construction of sumptuous villas. With its inverted "Y" shape, Lake Como is Italy's third largest lake on the surface, but it is also the deepest. It is a glacial lake, which receives the Adda river in the north at the exit of the Valtellina valley. The river emerges from the lake at Lecco, at the southeast end. The wooded mountains surrounding the lake on all sides fall steeply into the water, leaving little room for beaches. The road and the small villages thus clung to the banks in a sometimes acrobatic way. The essential local activity is not swimming, which is not recommended, but rather sailing and windsurfing, which exploit the impetuous morning and evening winds. Water skiing and speedboat racing are also popular. The western branch of the lake has winding banks with gulfs and creeks with beautiful villas, picturesque historic towns and larger villages. All these towns have in common steeply sloping alleyways and small harbours where it is not uncommon to see a lucia, a typical boat with a woven wooden roof. The eastern shore is more uniformly vertical; here rises the small peninsula of Piona, where the Cistercian abbey of Santa Maria remains. Between the two branches of the lake is the Bellagio peninsula, which is somewhat difficult to access because of the very narrow road along the coast. Nevertheless it is one of the most chic and certainly unmissable places on the lake, where you may have the opportunity to meet some Hollywood stars.

Transport

Car. Motorway A9 (Autostrada dei Laghi). For the city of Como, exit "Como Centro" or Monte Olimpino. To continue along the west bank, exit "Lago di Como" and follow the coast on the SS340. For Lecco and the towns on the east coast follow the SS36 which also connects Milan.

Train. Only Como, Lecco and the east bank are served by train. To get to Como San Giovanni station (north), take the Milan-Come-Chiasso line from Milan's central station (✆ 89 20 21 - www.trenitalia.it). From Milano Cadorna (www.trenord.it 800 500 005 - ✆), train every 30 min. that serves all stations between Como and Milan, arriving at Como Lago station (facing the lake), the closest to the city centre.

Boat. Navigazione Lago di Como (✆ 800 551 801 / +39 031 57 92 11 - www.navigazionelaghi.it). Connections between all the towns on the lake, more frequent in high season (April-October). Possibility to cross the lake by vehicle and two-wheelers between Menaggio and Varenna, Bellagio and Cadenabbia.

Bus. Regular bus lines to reach the towns on both sides of the river from Como, Piazza Matteotti. A few lines: C10 serves all the towns between Como and Colico; C30 Como-Bellagio; C12 Menaggio-Lugano. Tickets between €1.30 and €5.80 depending on distance, on sale at the Piazza Matteotti kiosk (✆ +39 031 247 311 - www.asfautolinee.it).

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