What the stars say: Italy
"I go to Italy every year because I just think it's the best. Everything is better there. Better to drink. You can take two hours for lunch, which I like."
"It's one of the most romantic places I've ever had the chance to travel to. I love the food. I love the people. Love the history and the culture."
"Well first of all, there is so much there, and there is the countryside and then there's the cities. And everywhere you go you can get a good meal."
Natalie Gruzlewski knows that Italy truly deserves being one of the world's top destinations every year. Lake Como in Lombardy
is one of many places responsible for giving it such status.
Lago di Como, as it's known in Italy, of glacial origin, is Italy's third-largest lake. Roughly Y-shaped, it has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and the wealthy since Roman times.
It has breathtaking villas and palaces and many celebrities have, or once had, homes on the lake's shores. Madonna, George Clooney, the Versace family, Ronaldinho, Sir Elton John, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sting, Sylvester Stallone and Richard Branson have resided there.
The small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna are at the intersection of the Y with regular boat services connecting them.
Natalie's favourite is the quaint Bellagio on the tip of a headland separating the island's two branches. Known as the "Pearl of the Lake", it is a picture of palm trees, colourful cascading flowers and buildings of red, orange and gold.
Film buffs will recognise the beautiful scenery from many Hollywood blockbusters including Casino Royale and Ocean's Twelve.
The tourist town thrives on shopping and eating. Walking is the only way to get around and as you wander along its winding, cobblestoned streets and in arcaded buildings, there are many temptations.
Gold and silver, silk, leather, ceramics, blown glass, antiques and every fashion label imaginable. Be warned everything has a tourist price, and Natalie suggests heading off the main street to save money.
BellagioPoint is an internet, wine and taste shop. For around $7 you can enjoy food from areas such as Tuscany, Lombardy and Naples.
Sip Italian wine as you check your emails and maybe send a few home letting everyone know how wonderful it all is. Hand-painted bottles with scenes of the lake and Bellagio are very popular.
A boat ride will give you a good look at the stunning homes and restaurants. The Versace family's Villa Fontanelle was purchased by a Russian millionaire for a staggering $52 million.
Sir Richard Branson's Villa la Cassinella is exquisite. Built in the 1880s, it has undergone two years of restoration. Access is by private boat or helicopter.
Villa Oleandra, George Clooney's 18th-century mansion, is surrounded by topiary and red geraniums. Rumour has it that, thanks to paparazzi making life miserable, George has it on the market. The Beckhams and a Russian vodka and banking tycoon are very keen to move in.
Unless you happen to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, most villas are way off-limits to tourists. Villa del Balbianello, built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery, is an exception. You can stroll around the fabulous terraced gardens for a small cost. If you want to have a peep inside, you need to book in advance.
Pescallo is a tiny fishing village, a 10-minute walk from Bellagio. It the perfect place for a quiet lunch or even somewhere to stay.
Lake Como's annual festivals are loved by everyone. Sagra di San Giovanni is held over the last weekend in June. There are fireworks, boat races and folk arts. The Palio del Baradello in the first week of September is a re-enactment spectacle. Summer music performances are held around the lake, gastronomic festivals in autumn and drama productions from January to April.
Lake Como, 90 minutes north of Milan.
La Pergola Hotel rooms start at $137. Breakfast is included.
Intrepid Travel has 15-day Best of Italy tours every week between April and October. They are $2780 per person twin share. Hotel accommodation, ground transport and delightful activities are included. Airfares are not included.
Emirates has flights to Milan and 26 other European destinations via Dubai, departing Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. For an exclusive Getaway viewers' discount, check out www.emirates.com/getaway.
Prices correct at April 21, 2011.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Piazza del Porto
Lago di Como
Ph: +39 031 950 263
Fax: +39 031 950 253
Ph: 1300 364 512
Visa: Australians don't need a visa to enter Italy for stays of up to 90 days.
Electricity: 220V. Plugs are the European standard, with two or three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: 39.