Spring: views and villages
Spring arguably affords the best views of Lake Como. Alpine peaks frame the view to the north — their white accents contrasting to stunning effect with the green slopes in the middle distance — while wisteria, camellias and rhododendrons paint the waterfront villas in a riot of colour. Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, open from April to November, is home to some of the lake’s most spectacular botanical gardens, with paths weaving past cedars, sequoias and plane trees.
The season’s mild, sunny days are perfect for enjoying panoramic lakefront strolls. After operating a reduced timetable for the winter months, local ferries resume their full schedule, making it easier to reach sleepy villages lining the banks. Popular options include Cernobbio, Bellagio and Varenna, but lesser-known, smaller hamlets such as Torno and Menaggio are just as picturesque.
Summer: water-based fun
Summer may be the busiest time to visit, but it’s also the best season to take part in watersports. Try your hand at everything from water skiing and standup paddleboarding to kayaking and diving at various outlets along the shores — although it’s rowing that locals take most pride in. For those who’d rather sit back and relax, stylish rides on Riva boats whisk visitors past stately facades and landscaped gardens, while skippers tell tales of the lake’s most notable residents.
The warm weather means culture isn’t only to be had at museums and theatres — head to the shores for a busy calendar of waterside events. The historic Festival of San Giovanni, which takes place every June, sees a regatta of traditional Lucia rowing boats and a firework display light up Comacina Island, the only one on the lake, re-enacting the fire that left it uninhabited in 1169. Music lovers will find much to appreciate, too, with annual events as the Como City of Music Festival and LacMus Festival hosting concerts and performances in villas and other locations around the lake.
Autumn: hike and recharge
In mid-September, quiet once again returns to the lake, with children back at school following the long three-month school break. It’s also a period of mild weather when autumnal colours dress the surrounding landscape in golden hues. Scores of trails meander along the hillsides, taking in this calm. Head up the steep trail opposite Varenna’s Villa Monastero to reach Castello di Vezio, where you’ll be rewarded with magnificent vistas. For a gentler hike, follow the Lake Como Greenway, a signposted, six-mile trail through greenery connecting eight hamlets. You can walk the entire length, from Colonno to Griante, in around three hours, or opt for any of seven shorter stretches.
Autumn is also a great time to sample the hearty culinary offerings of Lombardy, the wider region surrounding the lake. Food in and around the city of Como — the lake’s main hub — makes the most of local produce, with traditional regional dishes including braised wild boar, mushroom polenta and perch risotto. From terraces and elegant restaurants to trattorie and sagre (food festivals dedicated to local delicacies), there’s something for everyone.
Winter: from the slopes to Christmas markets
Winter sport enthusiasts might be surprised to hear there are quiet ski resorts just a half-hour’s drive from the lake, such as Piani di Bobbio and Monte Sighignola, while popular winter destinations such as Livigno and Bormio, in the heart of the Alps, can also be reached in a couple of hours.
Back in the town centre, Como’s Città dei Balocchi festivities offer plenty for little ones and adults alike, including a Christmas market, ice rink and Ferris wheel with which to soak up views of the city from above. The Magic Light Festival, meanwhile, sees colourful illuminations light up the piazze of the historic centre. Lake Como has long been a silk manufacturing hub, and this walled part of town is also a great place to see to your Christmas shopping, with numerous shops selling scarfs and ties. Alternatively, the city’s location — under an hour by train from Milan — means you can easily nip off to Italy’s capital of fashion and design.
Plan your trip
If you're looking for a unique stay, consider the Hilton Hilton Lake Como, conveniently located only a few minutes from centre of the lake’s main hub. Formerly a silk factory, the building is steeped in history and is now home to 170 guest rooms, with a variety of suites to choose from, a spa and a popular rooftop cocktail bar and restaurant.
Rooms are spacious with ample natural light pouring through large sliding windows, offering guests scenic views of the hotel's internal courtyard, the neighbouring city or Italy's iconic lake. Highlights include the 1,689 sq ft Presidential Suite, complete with a rooftop terrace, and the Loft Suite, with a glass roof allowing guests to gaze at the stars from their bed.
Tuck into grilled lobster or freshly made pasta and sip al fresco cocktails at the rooftop bar. During the colder months of the year, slip into the heated infinity outdoor pool. And no matter the season, unwind at the spa with the signature Silk Touch Massage to relax aching muscles following a long hike or a day’s skiing.
Follow National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media