Lake Como Italy

Lake Como – A Stunning Corner Of Italy

Lake Como has been the playground of the rich and famous since Roman times and it’s hard not to feel like one of them as the train pulls into the station at Varenna.

With an area of 146 km², Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful. It is shaped like an inverted Y and the small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna sit at the intersection of the three branches of the lake, where is where most people travel to from Milan. Each of these towns has its own particular charm, and is worth visiting.

Day trip

If you just want to do a day trip from Milan, the best thing to do is to take the train from Milano Centrale to Varenna, which only takes about an hour. It’s an easy 10 minute walk into the village. Head for the town square first, then walk down the steep stairs and alleyways to the lake. (It’s much better than walking up). Varenna is a stunning place, with less than 300 residents and it’s unique because the road runs above the town, so it feels less spoiled than other towns.

Varenna from ferry on Lake Como

Varenna Chapel Lake Como Italy

Varenna Town skyline Lake Como Italy

When you’re done, catch a ferry to Bellagio. Just buy a ticket at the dock and hop on. It’s only a 15 minute trip across the lake with the Swiss Alps in the background. Bellagio is the busiest town on the lake and has been set up very much for tourists, but it is worth visiting because it is beautiful. Although we didn’t get to Menaggio, a couple of Varenna locals said they prefer it to Bellagio because it is far less touristy. So if you have time it’s worth catching the ferry across there too.

To go back to Milan, catch the ferry back to the Varenna and head to the train station. If you don’t have a return ticket you may need to buy one from the travel agent on the way to the station.

Longer Stay

If you can, I highly recommend staying a couple of nights on Lake Como. We picked Varenna because it is a small, picturesque town that is in the middle of the lake, easy to reach from Milan and has a good ferry schedule to other towns.

We caught the train from Milan to Varenna in the afternoon, and being autumn it was pretty cold. To make it worse we were given the wrong directions to our hotel and had to walk up lots of ridiculously steep stairs. So we were pretty pleased to reach our charming boutique hotel Albergo Milano and be shown to our room that had a large deck with the most incredible view over the lake. It was everything we’d hoped for.

Lake Como winter Beautiful view

Lake Como view with champagne and snow

Lake Como Italy winter view

Having made it in time for sunset, we ordered a bottle of bubbly and sat on the deck as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We had a violent storm during the night, but the next morning, the village and all the mountains were blanketed in snow. Varenna is only five stops from St Moritz, at the end of the railway line, so there was plenty of snow.

Luckily we had made it to Lake Como just in time, because Varenna and Bellagio basically shut down for winter from mid-November to March as the tourists stay away or head to the towns closer to St Moritz for skiing.

Small town opposite Varenna on Lake Como

Restaurant in Varenna Lake Como

When we tried to walk around to do a bit of sightseeing we ended up hopping from bar to restaurant to bar trying to stay warm, which truth be told, wasn’t too bad because we discovered a great hole in the wall. At the Borgovino restaurant a table of retired locals was having a long, lazy lunch. They took up four of the seven tables and with the wine flowing it was a cosy, festive afternoon. I recommend a stop in here for a meal and a bottle of wine. The owners know what they’re doing with food, wine and service.

The next day was much warmer and we managed to catch the ferry to Bellagio where we walked through the town and did some shopping. It is a beautiful town and is the quintessential ‘Italian village on a lake’ that you dream about, but I’m pleased we stayed in Varenna, because somehow it just feels a touch more authentic and homely, without the overpriced designer stores.

Lanes on Bellagio Lake Como Italy

Having said that, most people would be very happy to stay in Bellagio, especially if it’s at the elegant 5 star deluxe Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Owned by the Bucher family for 3 generations, it stands at the end of the Bellagio promontory, with spectacular views of Lake Como and the Alps.

Stunning building Las Ramblas Barcelona

Rambling down Las Ramblas

Barcelona is rightly famous for Gaudi’s amazing architecture, and you absolutely must see his incredible architectural feats, but if it’s the beating heart of Barcelona you want, the 1.2 kilometer long tree-lined pedestrian mall, known as Las Ramblas and its surrounding districts is where you need to spend time.

This iconic street (actually a series of five shorter streets) bisects the three most important neighborhoods in the old city—the newly gentrified El Raval to the west and El Born and Barri Gòtic to the east. The promenade is crowded from until late at night, with people flocking around restaurants, street performers and kiosks that sell flowers, gelato, souvenirs and even birds.

Las Ramblas Barcelona Spain

Classic building Las Ramblas Barcelona

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Start your journey at the Placa de Catalunya, just down from Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Battlo and head down the gently sloping street to soak up the atmosphere. Most of the really interesting stops you should make are at least half way down.

The first should be The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, (usually referred to as La Boqueria market) is the city’s most iconic street market, jam-packed with huge colourful and exotic food stalls of every kind. It has a permanent roof over it that seems to help add a buzz to the market and makes it weatherproof. There are several places to sit and eat or have a coffee if you already want to take a break.

La Boquiera Market Las Ramblas Barcelona

Butcher in Las Boquieras Market Las Ramblas Barcelona

La Boqueria Market stall Las Ramblas Barcelona

When you walk back out the market, turn right, and you’ll pass a charming corner shop Escriba. It is one of the oldest patisseries in Barcelona, and although it isn’t quite as impressive as say, Laduree in Paris, it is quaint and charming and you can buy small cakes or macaroons to take away.

Escriba Las Ramblas Barcelona

Then cross back onto the pedestrian walkway, and while you’re munching your macaroons, look down for the Miró Mosaic. It’s a stunning piece of art that many people seem to walk straight over without realising its significance.

Miro Mosaic Las Ramblas Barcelona

A few more steps and you’ll come across the Gran Teatre sel Liceau (or simply, Liceau) Barcelona’s renowned opera house. It has hosted many greats including the likes of Placido Domngo, Jose Carreras and Montserrat Caballe, who debuted here in 1962 in Richard Strauss’s Arabella.

Barcelona's Las Ramblas Buildings Barcelona

The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca apparently once said that Las Ramblas is “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” But end it does, at the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. Which is where you can either head on to look at the port, or turn around, walk up a little and right into the Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter, where Barcelona began its life as a walled city 2,000 years ago. Its easy to get lost in its delightful side streets and alleyways and there are a number of interesting architectural sites, including the famed cathedral, La Seu, one of the finest Gothic buildings in Barcelona.

Gothic Qaurater Las Ramblas Barcelona

Keep walking and you’ll reach the equally charming and fashionable (but slightly calmer) area, El Born. At its heart is the Passeig del Born square where medieval jousting once took place and which is now a popular evening hangout for the hip young local crowd.

If you’re hungry, try the ever-popular Cal Pep restaurant (Plaça de les Olles 8), considered one of the city’s best tapas bars. You can’t make a reservation unless you have a party of at least four, so you may have to hustle your way in. But it’s worth the effort because their menu has more than 70 tapas for you to try.

After lunch, join the inevitable queue at the nearby Picasso Museum (Montcada 15 – 23), which occupies five large town houses or palaces on a narrow medieval street. It can be quite difficult to find down the winding alleys, so make sure you have a good map. The museum focuses on the early years of the Spanish genius’s life and has more than 3,800 works in its permanent exhibition.

Placa Reial Las Ramblas Barcelona

As the afternoon winds down, head back to Las Ramblas and cross over into Barri del Raval, once the red-light district of the city, now filled with dozens of small restaurants and bars where you settle in for a while. Or else try Placa Reial, off Las Ramblas, a plaza with palm trees and porticoed buildings filled with pubs and restaurants, where you can rest your feet and people watch as the sun sets.

Munich Germany historic building

Munich Is One Of The World’s Most Liveable Cities

There’s far more to Munich than the Oktoberfest. It is often featured on lists of the world’s most liveable cities, and it’s not hard to see why. Unlike Berlin, this city has money and it shows. It was carefully rebuilt after the war and the architecture is beautiful. It is a great city to walk and cycle around and has a stunning river, parks, city squares and an open air market. Throw in plenty of arts, culture two of the top universities and a couple of famous beer houses and it’s a formidable place.

So to see it all for yourself, here’s a quick itinerary you could do in a morning…. Get a taxi to drop you at Odeonsplatz and you’ll be perfectly placed to stroll through the city’s historical centre. Head south past the Munich Residenz, the largest residential palace in Germany that was the seat of Bavarian rulers for more than 400 years. It houses a large art collection and the Bavarian State Opera is right next door. Then head to Marienplatz, the centre and heart of the city where you’ll also find the city hall.

Munich Germany Central garden entrance

Munich Germany central buildings

Munich Germany City Hall

Munich Germmany historic buildings and turrets

Munich Germany historic building

Do some window-shopping along Kaufinger and Neuhauser streets, which are closed to traffic. Then make your way back to Viktualienmarkt, a bustling open-air market just off Marienplatz full of gourmet food and a lively beer garden in the middle. It’s great for people watching.

Munich Germany pedestrian shopping street

Munich Germany beautiful building

Munich Germany sophisticated Street Busker

Munich Germany central food market

When you’ve rested, head back to Odeonsplatz and take a quiet walk in the Hofgarten. If you’re a real park lover, you could keep walking to the English Gardens – Munich’s showpiece park and the river, where people actually surf. If not, sit at the restaurant outside and have another drink or head down Maximillian Street for all your designer shopping.

Munich Germany beautiful gardens

Munich beautiful city river

Munich Germany dog sculpture