Staff Review

The Italian Lakes - Como, Maggiore & Orta


31 Jul 2018

by The Kirker Team

Kirker Holidays

'A treasure whom the earth keeps to herself,' is how Wordsworth once described Lake Como. The secret is long since out, but it is still possible to find hidden treasures on Como, as well as her sister lakes Maggiore, which straddles to Swiss border, and Orta, the smallest but perhaps most beautiful.

"A treasure whom the earth keeps to herself"

Less than an hour from Malpensa airport and about the same from central Milan, Como is one of the most popular destinations for those in search of elegant hotels and spectacular views. Be it a short break from the UK to explore the villas and gardens sprinkled along the lakeside, Milan fashionistas who are escaping for a day or two, or enthusiasts on cycling and walking holidays, Como has something for everyone. One thing that all these visitors have in common, however, is that eventually they will end up in Bellagio... and with good reason too. Besides the geography making it convenient to visit - Bellagio is as close to the centre of the lake you can get by land, being at the central tip of an upside-down letter 'Y' - the attractive winding alleyways with local shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as the views over the rest of the lake also warrant the attention.

Despite its popularity, Bellagio does manage to contain a hideaway though from the crowds. Standing at the tip of Bellagio in various forms for hundreds of years, the grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni enable you to escape the bustle of the town even in peak summer, almost as if stepping behind a bookcase to enter a secret room. The Serbelloni's gardens will also let you find some solitude and space where you can plan for the next day's boat explorations to smaller, quieter towns such as Varenna or Menaggio, all accessible by the handy ferry network from Bellagio.

Although Como has the more dramatic scenery, Lake Maggiore is very pretty indeed, especially the snow-capped mountains to the north. The main area to stay is Stresa, where the traditional Grand Hotels that run along the lake just north of the town include the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees. From my favourite hiding place in the lobby and bar area of this 19th century hotel, it is easy to forget the hubbub of outside. Just across the lake from Stresa is Pallanza and the Grand Hotel Majestic: a real Kirker favourite, the gardens and grounds offer a peaceful retreat, while still being accessible, and the small town of Pallanza, a short walk from the Majestic, has several good local restaurants to explore.

The real gem of the Italian Lakes has to be Lake Orta. Being the most accessible side of the lake from Milan, most people head for Orta San Giulio. A small town with a series of tight cobbled backstreets, delightful to explore, you are most likely to encounter charming local shopkeepers, on hand with either samples of local cheeses or meats, or directions back to the main square. The pedestrianised main square has several local restaurants to sit out and take in the view across the lake. The immediate view is that of Isola San Guilio, a tiny island in the middle of the lake, reached by the hourly ferry and worth a visit. Only measuring 275 metres by 140 metres, it is small enough that a tasty gelato will survive a thorough exploration; the Benedictine monastery is the largest building, surrounded by several local residences.

Most people then head back to Orta San Guilio for a few nights, or from there return back to Milan. Those in the know, however, will continue on to the hideaway of Pella, another fifteen minutes or so by ferry from Isola San Guilio. A handful of local restaurants adorn Pella's lake front, just a minute or two from the jetty, with tables spilling out along the cobbled street overlooking the lake. Those really in the know, however, will have already experienced this with a stay at the Casa Fantini, Pella's new jewel. With just a handful of rooms, we have received fantastic feedback from clients that have returned from the property since it's opening in 2017. With the Fantini's family focus on Italian bathrooms, design is a key feature of the property with some modern features and lovely touches; material used for the interior of rooms is designed to reflect the view of the lake for example, for those few moments when guests aren't enjoying the direct view from the ample balconies. We highly recommend the rooms with a full view of Isola San Giulio from the large balconies, but even outside of summer you can enjoy the views from the windows of the spacious suites. With only eleven rooms, Casa Fantini is definitely one to book well in advance - book now, but please keep this treasure to yourself...!

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Our expert reservations team regularly travel to a wide range of destinations to explore new cities, visit hotels and to research museums, galleries and restaurants so that we can offer the most up-to-date advice and recommendations.


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