You cannot google Lake Como without George Clooney’s name coming up. Clooney is undoubtable the most well-known international movie star to own property on the lake, outshining Donatella Versace, Sting, and Richard Branson. Can’t he do something about this weather? It has rained almost continuously since we arrived – heavy rain with lightning and thundershowers most evenings. Perhaps it is because Switzerland is just a few kilometers away.
In one of the brief breaks in the steady downpour, we took the public ferry from Varenna (mid-lake) to Como (on the south-western end). The ferry captain may not have read about the Clooney laws, because he cruised by Villa Oleandra – close enough for many of us to snap a picture of Clooney’s home away from home. Thankfully, Clooney didn’t launch any raw eggs at us. You see, he has managed to get the town of Laglio to pass a law saying that you cannot stop on the public road outside of George’s Villa, and you cannot swim or boat within 100 meters of his shoreline – on the public lake I should add. He’s also installed an egg-launcher – to scare away private tours of the public shoreline in front of his villa. According to the news articles I read, the paparazzi have gotten out of control, desperate to snatch a photo of Clooney, his latest lady friend, or one of his A-List Celebrity guests. And locals are offering private “Clooney” tours. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration. No one was stalking the villa as we cruised by on the ferry.
While Clooney’s Villa is nice enough (18th Century – formerly owned by the Heinz Family), it is only one of many huge Villas that ring Lake Como. Villa Balbianello (held in public trust) holds one of the most prestigious spots on the lake – on a promontory just south of the town of Lenno (mid-lake). This lovely 18th Century Villa was the setting for the movie “A Month of Lake Como.” It was also used in Star Wars (Episode 2) as Senator Padme’s hideaway (the kiss and wedding to Anakin Skywalker scenes were shot here), and James Bond Casino Royale (as the clinic where James recuperated on the lawns).
The mid-lake ferry also stops at Villa Carlotta (in the village of Tremezzo). This 17th Century Villa is known for its gardens (70,000 sq meters) and artwork.
Across the bay from Varenna in Bellagio is Villa Melzi. The main villa is off limits to the public, but the gardens sweeping down to the lake are a huge tourist attraction (when it isn’t pouring).
Varenna has Villa Monasero, built in the 16th Century, and also known for its gardens. Of course we haven’t seen any of these great gardens – because of the steady downpour.
While the Villas provide the lakeside bling, the real gems are the small towns set up from the lakeshore. In Varenna our town center has a lovely church (we met a young man from Norway who is getting married there as I write this) and a 12th Century Chapel – very similar to a Chapel we saw in Lake Garda. Most of the little towns we’ve walked through have medieval town centers, tumbling down the hillsides. There are all sorts of walks (including one on the west side of the lake that follows an old Roman road) that lead through these tiny town centers.
I wish I could write more about Lake Como – no – I wish I could see more of Lake Como – even if I feel like the scruffy hiker in a room full of socialites when we venture outside of our apartment. The ironic thing is that Lake Como is known as a great tourist destination because of the mild and pleasant – wait for it – weather.
Update: We finally had one great day of wonderful weather and took the ferry to the north of the lake. Like Lake Garga (to the east), the north of the lake is very different from mid-lake and the southern legs. Even though the north is ringed by high mountains, the shoreline is less rugged, and the towns seems to sprawl a little more. But there are still gems up there – including the lovely Piona Monastery.
The northern lake is also much more windy, and the lake is filled with wind-surfers, small sailboats, and parasailers.
The funny thing about Lake Como is when the sun starts shining, you can completely forget that it has rained continuously for the past week!