A Smart way to get around Lake Como

Smart1.jpgHaving hired a Smart two-seater at Bergamo airport, we used it on a daily basis for getting around Lake Como. We found that there were advantages and disadvantages to driving around Lake Como.

Advantages of driving around Lake Como

  • With a hire car, you can stay in quieter locations ‘behind’ the lakefront, which are otherwise too far from the nearest bus stops and ferry points. We stayed in Santa Anna, a couple of kilometres ‘inland’ from Argegno. It wouldn’t have been feasible without a car.
  • The car was very convenient for slightly longer journeys, for example to the towns of Dongo, Gravedona and Domaso at the northern end of the Lake, where traffic is lighter.
  • It was also useful for places not easily reached by public transport, such as the remote Abbey at Piona, high up on the eastern side of the Lake. Crossing to that side of the Lake is easy because car ferries sail regularly between Cadenabbia, Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna.
  • A car enables you to go out, or stay out, after the last bus or ferry has gone.
  • If you are self-catering,  a car is extremely helpful for shopping (supermarkets are few and far between).
  • You can also be more flexible and spontaneous with a car.
  • Confident drivers will probably enjoy the experience.

Disadvantages of driving around the Lake Como

  • It can be hard to find somewhere to park. We drove round Menaggio three times one day before finding a spot and couldn’t find any in Varenna, either in town or outside the castle.
  • On Sundays and public holidays the roads can be clogged with cars from Milan (Lake Como was Milan’s ‘getaway’ long before it was ours). We drove from Argegno to Como on a ‘bank holiday’ evening and found ourselves part of a stately procession of vehicles using only first and second gears.
  • We had one ‘breakdown’, when the car just wouldn’t start. The rescue service called out a mechanic, who arrived within an hour and started the car by turning the ignition key.
  • Some roads are just about wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. They include roads that twist and turn up and down mountain sides like giant  slaloms. But, to give a balanced view, professional drivers are very good at manouvering their coaches or lorries through any tight spaces .
  • Italians drive quickly and will overtake where we might not.
  • If you go everywhere by car, the driver has less opportunity to enjoy the views.
  • Nervous drivers will not enjoy driving around Lake Como.

The pace of a holiday at Lake Como is largely determined by transportation. Ferry boats and hourly buses, combined with walking, slow things down so that you can relax and soak up the atmosphere. Going out in the car every time can mean missing out on what makes Lake Como unique. On the other hand, not having a car can be quite inconvenient for independent travellers. A possible solution could be to rent a car for your transfer to and from the airport and for some journeys around the Lake. But also to take public transport when it’s convenient and enjoyable. The best use of a hire car is not necessarily the same as the fullest use.

For example, on our last visit to the Lake we tried a different approach, driving to Menaggio and parking there before taking ‘passenger only’ ferries to Bellagio and Varenna. Walking out of their town centres to explore nearby attractions was much more enjoyable than taking the car ferry and driving around at the other end.