The town of Como, at the foot of the western leg of the lake, combines industrial suburbs with a walled old town and lakeside promenade. With a population of more than eighty thousand it is far bigger than any other place on the lake, with a distinctly urban character. For many visitors it is the gateway to the lake.
The heart of the old town is the Piazza San Fidele, where you can sit at a pavement cafe and enjoy a clear view of the clean, bright and attractively mixed up front of the cathedral. From there, the rest of the historic old town, including the opera house, is only a few steps away.
On the waterfront, the ‘Temple of Volta’ celebrates Count Volta, a son of Como who invented the battery – originally known as the Voltaic pile. It seems the invention depended on a cloth soaked in saline solution, which means the invention was a case of ‘a salt and battery’.
Ninety per cent of European silk is produced in Italy and just under eighty percent of that is made in Como. The two big names are Antonio Ratti (supplying Christian Dior, Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, among many others) and the Mantero family, who produce silk for the likes of Yves St Laurent, Ungaro and Nina Ricci. They also sell them in factory outlets in Como. If you want to know more about silk there is also a museum – the Museo Didattico della Setta.
The long lakeside promenade leads round to a funicular railway that climbs up over 700 metres to Brunate, giving panoramic views over the town and lake below.
A short walk in the other direction brings you to the beautiful Villa Olmo, now a conference centre, which can be admired from the typically Italian garden in front of it.
Como is the starting and finishing point for the ferry services that call in at many points between Como and Colico, and for the C10 and C20 buses that run along the western shore of the lake.
For more detailed local information when you’re there, the tourist information office is in Piazza Cavour, 17
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