Lake Como is not round. It’s a 50 kilometre long, thin ‘ribbon’, forming an upside down y shape, surrounded along its entire length by huge mountain ranges. For tourists, the lake can best be described in three or four different parts.
The northern end, known as the Alto Lario, runs from Menaggio to the northern tip of the lake. The lake is at its widest here and the surrounding brown, grey and white ‘pre-Alpine’ mountain peaks are set further back from the water than those in other parts, giving this area a more open appearance.
These physical conditions, together with the constant strong winds, make this end of the lake perfect for serious hiking and water sports, including sailing, water-skiing, surfboarding and canoeing.
The central and southern areas of the lake include two interconnected sections. The first is the mid-lake area , defined by imaginary lines drawn between Menaggio, Varenna and Bellagio. The second is that part of the western leg that runs south from Menaggio, through Tremezzo and Lenno to Argegno. These two sections are usually considered among the most beautiful parts of the lake, with the small towns, grand hotels and magnificent villas squeezed into the small spaces at the water’s edge. The surrounding mountains, covered in green Mediterranean vegetation and scattered houses, are smaller than those in the north but closer to the lake and steeper. They descend into (or emerge out of) the lake, creating frequent twists and bends. This gives ferry passengers a succession of stunning views from the decks of the ferries that plough up and down and across the lake, connecting one town to the next. For passengers, it’s like nature’s slideshow.
The narrowness of the lake at this point means that there are also wonderful views of the water and mountains from the lakeside. These views can be enjoyed from a room with a view, or by gently walking in the foothills. They can also be experienced by braving the narrow roads that twist and turn along the mountain side or, if you really must, by letting yourself be hauled vertically up to the mountain-top by funicular.
At the foot of the western branch sits Como, a modern town with a small, historic centre. Attractions for visitors include more night life than other parts of the lake and a museum dedicated to Count Volta, inventor of the battery. For City sightseeing, Como is close to Milan. It’s also the centre of the Italian silk industry. The less well known town of Lecco occupies the same spot on the eastern leg, which is not a tourist location.