Considered the Beverly Hills of Italy’s Lombardy region, Lake Como has long been the destination of choice for the jet set. From the great Italian composers to Hollywood actor George Clooney, the list of glitterati who’ve set up home in the beautiful villas that surround Lake Como is almost as impressive as the spectacular scenery. The good news is you don’t need to be a high-roller to appreciate the gorgeous surroundings. Fly to Bergamo, rent a car or book a boat trip on the lake, when the sun is shining, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful setting for photos.
Once a Cistercian monastery, the heavenly Villa Monastero and its stunning botanical gardens are the stuff of Instagram dreams. Extending for over 1km, the manicured gardens are filled with sculptures, waterfalls and porticoes – the perfect backdrop for selfies and candids. The pièce de résistance is the stunning House Museum, with its perfectly preserved marble staircase, elegant drawing rooms and decadent 19th century bathroom, complete with Roman bath.
If Villa del Balbianello looks familiar, it should – the sprawling villa and its gardens has provided the backdrop for numerous films including Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Now owned by the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI), Italy’s National Trust, the grounds form part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.
Villa del Balbianello has a fascinating history, but it’s the house’s most recent past that’s worthy of a film in itself. In 1974, wealthy explorer Count Guido Monzino took ownership the villa, completely remodelling and redecorating the interior to his own taste. The house remains exactly as he left it, his last packet of cigarettes still resting on his work desk and his collection of ancient artefacts standing to attention in their display cabinets. Known for being a somewhat difficult character with a paranoid nature and borderline OCD, at the height of Italy’s kidnapping scandals, he installed a series of secret passageways within the house as an extra security measure – take a guided tour and all will be revealed.
Bellagio’s jewel, Villa Serbelloni was built in the 15th century for Marchesino Stanga, passing into the hands of various noble families including the Serbelloni Dukes who extended its grounds in the 18th century.
The garden is a lush 18km oasis, filled with rare and exotic plants that appear to tumble towards the lake. For the prettiest back-drops, head to the XVIII garden where you can appreciate incredible views of Como and the Pre-Alps.
Note - the park can only be visited on guided tours with a minimum of 6 people and a maximum of 30. Tours last around 1 hour 30 mins, departing from the Promobellagio Office in the upper part of the town.
This 16th century building is steeped in history and its unique location, pristine gardens and overall wow factor has made it the go-to venue for high profile events and parties on Lake Como. Most famously, US power couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen tied the knot here in September 2013.
Rumoured to be owned by Richard Branson, Villa la Cassinella is a secluded private estate located on the western shore of Lake Como. The estate is available to rent (for a hefty fee albeit) and offers accommodation for 17 guests, manicured gardens, a pool house, cinema, gym and separate Terrace House.
Possibly the most talked about and photographed villa in Como, Villa Oleandra is owned by Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney. Legend has it that the Oceans Eleven star fell in love with the house when his motorbike broke down outside during a biking holiday in the Lombardy region. For obvious privacy reasons, the public are prohibited from visiting the villa, but the mustard-coloured house can still be admired from afar if you take a boat trip on Lake Como.
Giardini di Villa Melzi park is famous for its spectacular display of azaleas in the summer months, not to mention beautiful views of the lake. The villa is open to the public for tours from end March to end of October and features a chapel and small museum.
Located just a few kilometres from Varenna, Bellano is famous for its thundering Pioverna torrent and gorge. After facing your fears with a trek to the waterfall, treat yourself to something sweet at Pasticceria Lorla where delicious specialities include light-as-a-cloud Veneziana cake.
Boomerang at the ready for this beautiful, stone humpbacked bridge with its spectacular gorge and gushing waterfall. Most definitely a sight to behold as you arrive by boat into Como.
Another one for stargazers, this four storey building was constructed in the early 1800s by English eccentric Lord Charles Currie who fell in love with Lake Como and decided to build a house for himself when he couldn’t find a villa for sale. It was later owned by Antonio Besana who was a close friend of composer Giuseppe Verdi. After falling into a state of disrepair, Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace bought the property in the 1970s, restoring it to its former glory. These days the house is owned by Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov.
Known as the ‘Pearl of Lake Como’, Bellagio is arguably the most photogenic town on the lake. Filled with quaint artisan boutiques as well as beautiful stepped terraces, you can easily while away an afternoon snapping the sights. For an insta-friendly caffeine fix, don’t miss Bar Caffé Rossi. This Belle Epoque coffee house has retained its lavish original décor – think pretty light fittings, ornate tiled floors and antique display cabinets. Oh, and the coffee’s not half bad either.