Lago di Como:Bellagio, the pearl

Lake Como has been a prestigious destination for centuries and its villas stand as testimony to that prestige.

Visitors to Bellagio can enjoy the verdant parks of Villa Serbelloni (piazza Chiesa
14) and Villa Melzi (via Lungolario Manzoni). The former stretches towards the water from the headland that splits the lake into its lower branches. It was the brainchild of Alessandro Serbelloni, a leading figure in one of Lombardy's noblest, richest families. Thanks to him the park is criss-crossed by an 18 km network of carriage tracks, avenues
and paths. The garden of Villa Melzi, instead, is characterised by sculptures and architecture. It was designed by Luigi Canonica and the botanist Luigi Villoresi,
a duo who'd previously designed the Parkof Monza. Terracing and small knolls give
the landscape an eye-catching dynamism.

Villa del Balbianello, located on the Lenno promontory (via Comoedia 5), has
long been a favourite with directors and actors and has provided the setting for
movies such as the James Bond film Casinò Royal and Episode II - Attack of the
Clones from George Lucas' Star Wars saga. In 1988 it was left to the Fondo Ambiente
Italiano (Italy's National Trust) by the last owner, Guido Monzino, its contents
reflecting the man's passions: the library and map room in the loggia, and even a small
museum illustrating his expeditions, offer a fascinating insight into his Alpine feats and polar explorations. Again on the western shore of the lake, and easily reached by ferry from Bellagio, lies Villa Carlotta, (via Provinciale Regina 2), beautifully set between mountain and water.
Its unrivalled charm is the work of the second owner, Gian Battista Sommariva, who embellished it with 19th century masterpieces (Canova, Hayez) and extended the garden which, every spring, shimmers with the colours of over 150 varieties
of azaleas and rhododendrons.

Set a course for history
Sun dials, astrolabes, marine chronometers: for those with a love of sea-faring history, the Museo degli strumenti per la navigazione, (Museum of Navigation Instruments) located in the antique tower-shaped house in San Giovanni di Bellagio (piazza Don Miotti) is a must. Over two hundred exhibits illustrate centuries of exploration,
navigation and the discovery of new worlds.

A cyclist's paradise
It's no chance occurrence that the Museo del Ciclismo (Cycling Museum) in Madonna del
Ghisallo (via Gino Bartali 4, Magreglio) stands on this hill with breath-taking views, a favourite with amateur cyclists of every age and sometimes included in top-class races such as the Giro d’Italia and Tour of Lombardy. The museum has a decidedly philosophical feel: it takes an all-round approach to cycling, telling us of its leading legends yet also its unsung heroes, from race organisers to bike builders and journalists.

Soar over the lake
From views of village rooftops to ever-expanding panoramas of the lake. All this, in just four minutes, on the cable car connecting Argegno to Pigra, a viewpoint that overlooks the southern section of the lake’s Como branch. It's also a place with a story to tell: Founded in 1877,
Al Cason was one of the first Società di Mutuo Soccorso (precursors of modern welfare institutes). Giuseppe Garibaldi was an honorary member.
The building was the heart of the town: on the ground floor there was a dairy, on the first floor a theatre and meeting room and, on the second, a kindergarten, schools and a records office.
At Argegno, the Santuario di Sant'Anna, built in the 18th century and featuring decorations and frescoes from the same period, is an absolute must-see

5 reasons for...

1. The missoltini. A fish dish dating back to Medieval times. The agoni, after being
skilfully salted for days, are sun-dried on special racks. Able to be conserved for long periods,they are generally grilled and flavoured with olive oil, vinegar and parsley.

2. Woodland spirit. In the Foresta dei Corni di Canzo, wood takes shape and appears
to spring into life. Suggestive settings, artistic installations and wooden sculptures
contribute to an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Parking is available in piazzale
Giovanni XXIII, Canzo.

3. Sacred Mount of Ossuccio. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso dominates the lake from the hills above Lenno. Fourteen small baroque temples - representing the 14 mysteries of the rosary - form the avenue of chapels. The fifteenth is the sanctuary itself.

4. Steamboat. From April to September, every Sunday (also Thursdays in July and August), you can travel in the style of yesteryear as you set sail on the historic steamboat Concordia.

5. The Orrido waterfall, Nesso. Crashing into a natural gorge called Orrido di Nesso,
this waterfall was cited by Leonardo da Vinci in his Atlantic Code. An inspiration to painters and writers, it has also supplied energy to flour, paper, spinning and oil mills. Its endless, mighty cascade can also be seen from the lake.