The loveliest among the towns around Lake Como, Bellagio deserves more than just a day trip.
POSTED BY PINKY
Lago di Como, a wealthy resort area at the foot of the Alps in Italy’s Lombardy region – and made more famous in recent years as a hideaway for Hollywood celebrities – has been popular since the days of the Roman Empire.
The most spectacular among the Italian Lakes, the shoreline of Lake Como (also known as Lago Lario) is dotted with villages, the prettiest of which is, without a doubt, Bellagio.
Bellagio, the Pearl of Lake Como
But Bellagio isn’t just a pretty lakeside town. It enjoys a rich history as well. From once having been the Romans’ hunting and fishing grounds and the Empire’s last refuge in Northern Italy, to having changed several hands from centuries of war in the region and a subject of longtime rivalry with the town of Como, to being a military and strategic importance during the Napoleonic period.
But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Bellagio’s status as a favourite location among the aristocracy to build their lakeside homes in began, thanks in part to the advent of electricity.
Bellagio’s magnificent palazzos and villas have since played host to artists, musicians, politicians, royalty, intellectuals, and scientists. Among the most famous of whom was the musician Franz Liszt, who spent his honeymoon here with the great love of his life, Marie Catherine de Flavigny, Countess d’Agoult.
It is because of their love story that people say nothing brings more luck to a marriage than a honeymoon in Bellagio.
The Beauty that is Bellagio
More than getting through the list of things to do here – from visiting grand palazzos to shopping in its charming boutiques – the best way to enjoy Bellagio is to stand back and just let it be.
Going there in the late spring possibly had something to do with it, but we were not among the hordes of fellow tourists that I expected to encounter. On the contrary, there were just enough visitors to feel that the town was alive, but not too many that we could not take it all in and savour the moment.
Take a leisurely stroll along its steep cobbled streets, through graceful alleyways and elegant main piazza, passing historic villas and gardens, and onto the exhilarating lake promenade. Sit in one of the waterfront bars and with glass of prosseco in hand, just watch the world go by. Take me back there now!
Where to Stay
Far from the glitzy image of the Vegas establishment that has chosen to associate itself with Bellagio, the real Bellagio is genteel and serene, yet captivating, like a true lady of substance.
And what better way is there to appreciate this historic lakeside town than to stay in one of its oldest hotels, all overlooking Lake Como.
The Albergo Bellagio, opened in 1825 as the town’s first hotel and which eventually became Hotel Genazzini, is now the Hotel Metropole Bellagio.
The Hotel Firenze, which opened in 1870, is now more widely-referred to as Hotel Florence.
And finally, the Grand Hotel Bellagio, established in 1872 and is now the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.
Reportedly under restoration after decades of abandon and neglect is the Hotel Grande Bretagne, the first luxury hotel to open in Bellagio in 1861. It also shares pride of place with Hotel Genazzini and Grand Hotel Bellagio as among the first buildings to become electrified in 1888.
There may have been no sightings of George or Amal anywhere (there, I said it!), but surely, the return of this old grande dame is something to look forward to…
Bellagio is just an hour’s drive from Milan. You can take a train from central Milan to Como, then from there catch the hourly bus to Bellagio. Or take a train from central Milan to Varenna, then catch a ferry from there to Bellagio.
Main Photo: Svein-Magne Tunli
Shopping in Bellagio: Julia Maudlin