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Thursday, May 1, 2008
Lake Como — Lago di Como — is a lake of glacial origin. It is 146 square kilometres in size, making it Italy's third largest after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. At more than 400 metres deep, its bottom is more than 200 metres below sea level.

The Y-shaped lake's northern branch begins in the town of Colico, and Como and Lecco sit at the ends of the south-western and south-eastern branches. The small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna are at the intersection of the three branches of the lake. Bellagio has been inhabited since pre-historic times, after the Gauls became the Romans.

Known as the Pearl of the Como, Bellagio is a quiet escape, taking visitors away from every-day life. People go there to enjoy its peace and beauty. They wander in and out of boutiques, bakeries and restaurants, lapping up the Mediterranean atmosphere of balmy weather, beautiful flowers and red, orange and gold buildings that cascade down the hills with steep stairways cutting into the hills to allow access.

Thanks to its position, you can easily visit Villa Serbelloni Park, the top of Monte San Primo with its beautiful views of the Alps from Monte Bianco to Ortles and the Madonnina of Milan Duomo.

It was one of the first Italian tourist resorts to become "international" but has never succumbed to becoming a tacky tourist town. It has a very refined feel.

Over the centuries, the environment of Bellagio has inspired poets, novelists, composers and many famous people choose to go there as their privacy is assured. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, Madonna and Elton John are visitors. Michael Crichton and George Lucas have found creative inspiration there.

Many of the streets are not meant for cars as they have lots of steps, many climbing at a 45 degree angle from the lake to the top of the town.

The best way to experience Bellagio, and Lake Como in general, is by foot or boat. Wandering up and down the stone steps and little cobblestone streets will lead you to shops selling gorgeous pottery, antiques, leather and silk. Silk is the region's hallmark and is second only to China for its production volume.

All kinds of water sports are enjoyed during summer and in winter, skiers head to San Primo Mountain. Public and private boat transportation is well provided and a fast hydrofoil goes to Varenna, Colico, Lecco and Como. Water taxis are plentiful.

As you would expect, there are some magnificent villas in town. The very grand Villa la Fontanello — also known as Versace Villa — was home to the late Gianni Versace and is now home to his niece, Allegra. George Clooney has a villa there and Sir Richard Branson has recently purchased one for $30.5 million. His property can be reached only by boat.

Unless you happen to know one of the rich and famous, villas are off-limits, but Villa del Balbianello is an exception. It has featured in several films, including Star Wars II and the most recent James Bond film, Casino Royale. The Vanessa Redgrave and Uma Thurman film A Month on the Lake was made at the villa and it was used during the Second World War by allied Generals.

Located on the tip of a small, wooded peninsula it has elaborate, terraced gardens. It was built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery for the Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini. Its two towers are the campanili (bell towers) of the convent church.

Guiseppe Arconati Visconti purchased Balbianello in 1796 and made many improvements to its gardens and the loggia. It the 19th century, it belonged to the Porro-Lambertenghi family but by the early 20th century, had fallen into disrepair.

American military officer, Butler Ames, purchased and renovated the villa and gardens and in 1974, it was purchased by Mount Everest explorer Guido Monzino. He filled it with rich collections from his travels to Nepal, Tibet and West Africa. Elaborate French and English paintings line the villa's walls and antique French furniture graces its rooms. When he died in 1988, Monzino left the magnificent property to the National Trust of Italy. Its grounds form part of the Grand Gardens of Italy.


Bellagio, Italy


Intrepid Travel has 21-day Essence of Italy tours from Rome. They include a visit to Lake Como, all accommodation and transfers. They start at $2925 per person twin share, plus local taxes.

Villa del Balbianello interior tours must be booked in advance. This can be done at the villa's entrance. Strolls around the gardens cost around $8.

Emirates has flights to Rome.

Fares from:

  • Perth $2253
  • Melbourne $2275
  • Brisbane $2285
  • Sydney $2293
  • Adelaide $2859
  • Darwin $3545

Valid for sale until May 12, 2008 and travel until March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.

Prices correct at May 5, 2008.

For further information

360 Bourke Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000

84 Oxford Street
Paddington, NSW 2021
Ph: 1300 360 887
Fax: (03) 9419 4426

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