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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Is Bellagio the Best Looking Resort at Lake Como, Italy?

Panorama of Bellagio promontory, Lake Como, It...Panorama of Bellagio promontory, Lake Como, Italy, from the mountains above Varenna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Villa Melzi (Bellagio), on Lake Como, Italy.Villa Melzi (Bellagio), on Lake Como, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By Larry O

Seen from the water, Bellagio is undoubtedly the best-looking resort on the Lake. This is partly to do with its unique location - neither on the eastern nor the western side but on a promontory in the middle, where the Lake divides into two 'legs'. You might say that Bellagio nestles in the crotch of the Lake. On the other hand, you might not.
Because it's located a little way down the western side of the promontory, Bellagio faces you 'square on' as you approach it on a ferry boat from Menaggio or Cadenabbia. And because the hills on the promontory are (relatively) small, the town's handsome arrangement of red roofs and yellow, pink and white walls sits rather grandly in front of gently rounded, green slopes. It's one of the best examples of that harmony of nature and architecture that gives Lake Como its special appeal - striking enough to earn Bellagio the title of 'the pearl of the Lake'. But just to ward off any potential challenger for the title, the high mountains of the eastern branch contribute a spectacular, distant background to complete the perfect view.

Its location also provides Bellagio itself with spectacular views, towards the northern end of the lake and across and down both branches. These can be enjoyed from a small shingle beach at the end of the promontory - the Punta Spartivento. However, we've usually not found many other visitors there. They may prefer the 'riverside' bathing centre, with a beach bar, where you can hire sunbeds.
Bellagio has enchanted some of the greatest musicians and writers, including Longfellow, Shelley, Stendhal, Flaubert, Faure, Giordano, Liszt and Toscanini. Even Mark Twain, who preferred Lake Tahoe, described an evening in Bellagio as a 'paradise of tranquil repose'. And it remains the favourite spot on the Lake for many American visitors, its popularity reflected in the creation of a 'tribute' Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas
But Bellagio is smart as well as good looking. For example, its tourist office is right there alongside the ferry point. Trip up as you disembark from the boat and you're in danger of landing on a pile of brochures. Of course, that's an exaggeration. But if it weren't I could predict which brochure you'd land on - Bellagio Dove, the official Guide; because everything you need to know about the place is crammed into that comprehensive document.
The information includes details of hotels and other accommodation; restaurants; addresses for sporting activities, and many other services. So complete is it that it even includes the location of the public toilet in its list of 'useful addresses'. But don't worry if you're desperate and haven't got time to leaf through the booklet. The location of the toilet is right there, with the ferry terminal and the tourist information office. That's how smart Bellagio is.
The list of sporting activities is particularly impressive, including information on these land based activities:

  • Rock climbing in the area around Bellagio
  • Horseriding; paragliding and hang gliding, and mountain biking, with the Cavalcalario Outdoor Club
  • Gym and squash at Club Francesco Conti
  • Tennis, including lessons, at Bellagio Sporting Club
  • Parachuting - tandem launches above Bellagio
  • Skiing in winter
  • Snooker table at the Bar Sport
  • Cinema

and details of these water-sports :

  • Waterskiing , at the Liquid Park Water Ski Club
  • Kayaking, wakeboard, wakesurf and acqua tube at the Jolly Racing Club, Lezzeno
  • Jetski school and rentals at Moregallo Sporting Club Nautico
  • Motor boats for hire, with and without driver / licence; from Cantieri Nautici in Lezzeno
  • Rowing courses at 'Canottieri di Bellagio'
  • Windsurfing , in front of Pescallo
  • Swimming pool at Bellagio Sporting Club
  • Fishing, and underwater fishing
When you arrive at Bellagio by ferry, you step out onto a relatively traffic free lakeside with arcaded restaurants in front of the walls of large, old buildings. Behind them, the town rises quickly in imposing blocks to a historic centre dominated by the Basilica of San Giacomo - a Romanesque church prized highly enough to have been declared a national monument. The lakefront and historic centre are connected by a series of steep, narrow, cobbled alleyways.
Like many of the lakeside towns Bellagio has its fair share of churches dating from the Romanesque and later periods - in addition to S. Giacomo, there are the Romanesque churches of S. Giorgio, Santa Maria di Loppia and S. Martino, as well as the baroque S. Giovanni Battista.
But what really distinguishes Bellagio from other lakeside villages is the large number of boutiques selling locally crafted items made of wood or Como silk and luxury clothing and accessories - luggage, watches, jewellery, and so on. These small shops are scattered around the perimeters of the old town and lakefront and in many of the alleyways between them. It's as if all the outlets from a large airport departure lounge have been sprinkled over the town.
That's not a criticism - we like what they sell in departure lounges. And in Bellagio I was particularly taken with a grey and black chequered bow tie. Unfortunately, when quizzed about when I had last worn such a garment I had to admit that it was many years ago. And my explanation that I'm still planning to go up in the world fell on deaf ears. I couldn't have it.
Bellagio is flanked by two grand villas. The Villa Serbelloni, between the town centre and the end of the promontory, is one of three five star hotels around Lake Como. It's not the most beautiful villa on the outside but apparently delivers a powerful mix of old fashioned luxury and modern facilities. Access to the hotel is only available to those staying there, but there are guided tours of the gardens twice a day. The Villa Melzi, on the other side of Bellagio, is privately owned. But you can visit its gardens too, as well as the chapel and 'museum'.
The hamlet of San Giovanni di Bellagio, about twenty five minutes' walk from the centre of town, houses a unique museum of navigational instruments. That may not sound very exciting but the exhibits are incredibly beautiful, like works of art. It's as if they had to be magnificent, to enable them to throw the net of longtitude and latitude around the globe and bring explorers safely home again. Everyone should see this collection, which opens between 10 am and 1 pm every day, and in the afternoon by appointment.
Bellagio is rightly considered one of the most romantic spots on a Lake noted for its romantic atmosphere. Liszt, while staying at the Villa Melzi, wrote: 'Whenever you may write the story of two happy lovers, place them on the shores of Lake Como'. Not surprisingly, it's a venue favoured by wedding planners, offering the possibility of holding the wedding, reception and honeymoon in the same general location. There's even a special events team to help you get it right.
For those not contemplating such a drastic course of action, alternative popular nearby attractions include Menaggio and Varenna (linked by a dedicated ferry service, including car ferries); Villa Carlotta and Villa del Balbianello down the western branch; Colico, Bellano and the Abbey of Piona on the eastern lakeside, and Como, at the southern end of the Lake.
Larry O writes for This Visitor's guide to Lake Como contains information about Lake Como airports; airport transfers, different options of getting around Lake Como; sightseeing and other activities; excursions to nearby attractions, Lake Como Villas, hotels and other holiday accommodation and more

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