Myself and a friend needed a little break, so we opted for a few relaxing days in Lake Como, Italy.
Tickets were fairly cheap from the UK to Milan so I booked the tickets to Milan Malpensa.
Lake Como is situated at the foothills of the Alps not far from the Swiss border so private transfers are pretty expensive.
I booked Hotel Britannia excelsior to stay at as it was a cheaper no frills option and it was situated nicely opposite a ferry port directly facing Bellagio. Hotel Britannia Excelsior is situated in the Cadenabbia/Griante area of Lake Como.
Options of transfers to the hotel were:
The cheapest taxi transfer company I found were Personal transport http://www.personal-transport.com/ they charge 125euros one way which was around £88 when we were due to go.
There are many car hire comparison sites that offer great deals and we managed to find a great deal (or what we thought was a great deal) with Goldcar. We hired an Alfa Romeo Guilietta for 3 days at a cost of around £70 and after we had added their ‘no warranty excess plus’ (recommend highly to get this cover! The cost came to just under £100. We were quite happy with this considering the cost of a one way transfer.
Arriving at Milan Malpensa Airport
Milan Malpensa has 2 terminals which have a shuttle bus running between them, we landed at Terminal 2 however if you require a train for your transfer you would need to travel to terminal 1, We had to do the same for our car hire collection as all the companies appear to be situated in terminal 1.
Just outside the airport there are clearly signposted bus stops and we waited a few minutes before a bus turned up.
Car Hire – Gold Car
the bus stop for the shuttle bus
After a short bus ride we arrived at terminal 1 and proceeded to our car hire destination. In the airport the car hire depots are separated in 2 sections (area A or area B) so its important to know which one you need after you have checked in, as we found ourselves heading in the wrong direction!
We arrived at the Goldcar check in desk and were surprised to see most of the other companies with sparse customers..however, Gold car appeared to be inundated with customers (even if they did appear to be red faced and fuming!).
We waited in a queue for some time whilst staff and customers appeared to argue, finally it was our turn.
The assistant proceeded to use scare tactics to entice us to buy their addition insurance cover, we advised w were already covered and he went on to advise that it was not sufficient cover and would only cover us in the event of a collision. If the car was scratched etc we would be liable to pay. He then showed us a list of horrific charges some totalling thousands for scratches, dents etc. we were quite alarmed and worried at seeing the amounts, but we stood our ground and said no.
He proceeded to tell us that the company make a majority of their money on damages and damages like this are quite common especially in Italy etc. we still said No.
He then went on to say that if we decided not to purchase their insurance they would need to authorise 2000Euros on our credit card which would remain debited for 30 days!!! ..however if we purchased their insurance cover this need not be the case. We insisted for the last time, this time showing clear frustration that we did NOT want the cover as we had already paid for it even if he believed that it would not cover us or be valid!
In hindsight this put a HUGE downer on the start of my trip as the remainder was spent worrying about scratching the car and being too close to walls when driving through narrow Italian roads. If there is one this I could change about my trip to Lake Como..i would be going via Gold car…don’t do it..save yourself the aggravation and pay a little extra and go via another company… their prices are rock bottom for a reason. They aim to charge you extra at the desk. As we found out when we were ordered to pay a full tank of petrol at an extortionate 130 Euros, we were only there for a weekend and barely used a quarter..and guess what. No reimbursements for unused fuel.
So the start of our trip wasn’t so great. Thanks for that Goldcar, the journey to Cadenabbia was slightly marred for this reason and the initial excitement had worn off as the whole journey consisted of us trying to be ever so careful trying to scratch the vehicle on the narrow roads. As we made it to Lake Como th viws took our breath away and we relaxed a little and enjoyed the exceptional views on the way to our hotel.
Once we arrived at the hotel I nipped in to reception to ask regarding parking I was advised prior that parking was minimal and on a first come first served basis and reception confirmed the car park was full at the time. I was advised there was free parking outside nearby Villa Carlotta which was free all the time. We dumped our baggage and parked the car.
The hotel itself is a bit shabby and has definitely seen better days. The breakfast is kind of awful and probably best avoided but basically you get what you paid for with the added bonus of being situated ON the lake but as we were not planning on staying at the hotel for long lengths of time we weren’t too bothered. I must add though there is a hefty difference in price for rooms with a lake view…and this is well worth the money, as the view detracts from the shabbiness of the hotel!
On our first evening there we turned right out of the hotel and went for a meal in a pretty little quaint restaurant called Belle Isole we sat outside facing the lake on a beautifully mild evening, I ordered a salmon ceviche dish and spaghetti with tomato and basil the portions were huge and the bill came to around 60euros including my friends dishes (we did not have alcoholic drinks).
belle Isole restaurant
The next morning we made our way to Vila Carlotta and for the bargain price of 9Euros each we were able to wander the beautiful gardens and villa, this was worth every penny and once inside it was like a tardis..in the sense that the gardens just went on and on. It was full of surprises and beautifully landscaped. We spent much time at the gardens and even managed a little snack at their café of watermelon and an espresso.
A visit to Villa Carlotta is highly recommended!
As our car was parked at Villa Carlotta we were able to jump in and head to the Pigra Cable cars based in Agregno. Unfortunately when we arrived there some people seemed to be leaving ad advised us they had checked the office and it was not open. Despondantly we headed back to the car when I noticed a boat hire company diagonally opposite. We had decided we wanted to hire a boat before arriving and this seemed very convenient. We made an appointment for the next day.
Seeing as we had hoped to spend some time on the cable cars we then decided to head back to Cadenabbia and take a ferry trip across the lake to Bellagio instead. Once there we were able to book a return ferry for both of us for just under 20 Euros, we were advised the last ferry back to Cadenabbia would be at 23:45.
We arrived in Bellagio early evening and I was expecting it to be more bustling for some reason, instead it was very quiet and most shops had closed. Obviously restaurants and other food places were still open. We came across an ice cream/dessert place and I was excited to see they had Casatta in the fridge! So I ate that as we wondered around Bellagio. Bellagio is very beautiful and has interesting little side streets with lots of winding stairs, its very beautiful and there are hidden gardens to be found also. We enjoyed venturing around the place, taking in the atmosphere and the architecture of the beautiful old buildings. Also to the right of the port there is a lovley walkway scattered with benches including an area with steps going down to the lake…you can get one of the best views if the lake from here! Eventually ambled over to a lake front restaurant and had dinner, prices were higher and portions were smaller. The food was ok, though I cant recall much about it so it cant have been that memorable…I can’t help but feel the food may have been more memorable further in to Bellagio up the winding stairs where most people seemed to be eating. As we walked to the port after dinner many of the restaurants seemed to have live singers and it made for a lovley night.
Turati Boat hire – day 3
We awoke early and headed down for the unappetising breakfast, we had booked a boat for 11:00 – 13:00, the guy at Turati boathire company had said if the weather was bad we would not need to turn up. The weather was not particularly sunny that day which was a shame, but it was not majorly windy or rainy. We were due to go home the next day and this was something that both of us were keen to do so we headed towards our car for the drive to Agregno. We made a bit of a booboo…as once we reached Agregno I remembered we hadn’t bought our passport as requested! So we made a mad dash back, this was ok as we had arrived far too early anyway but for those of you wanting to hire a boat whilst at Lake Como..dont do what we did and arrive with all your documentation! We parked outside the Pigra cable car company and headed to the boat place.
The company Turati appears to be family run, the guy we spoke to was very personable indeed and we noticed an abundance of trophies littered around the place! It transpired that he used to sail professionally! Amongst these trophies were also tripadvisor certificates of excellence…lots of tripadvisor certificates…so we immediately felt at ease and knew there would be no problems. He was very laid back indeed. He simply took a photocopy of our passport, lowered the amazing NEW boat in to the water, gave us a briefing and once we were happy and comfortable we knew what we were doing he sent us on our way! He had shown us an official leaflet the day before with his rates.
They were 60 Euros for an hour and 90 Euros for 2 hours so we decided to opt for 2 hrs..which felt to be just enough. He advised that petrol would be on top of this price as it depended how we drove the boat (more power more fuel etc), the fuel is worked out by litres and there is a counter on the boat which is initially set to 0 and goes up as you drive around, at the end you know how many litres you have used. He did not ask for a credit card deposit or any kind of deposit at all. We had an AMAZING 2 hours on the lake which could only have been made better by the weather being slightly sunnier. We were given a book of the landmarks around the lake and their histories so we knew where we were and what we were looking at. The boat was very easy to manoeuvre..and quite frankly was a beautiful boat. It was brand new and well taken care of. We were so glad we went with this company. We returned the boat safely and had used barely a quarter of a tank on medium usage, the total price of the boat hire came to 115 Euros. We tipped the owner to thank him for his wonderful stress free service, I cannot stress enough how lovely this company was and how easy it was to hire a boat from them…especially after our horrendous car hire experience I was not looking forward to hiring anything ever again!
We headed over to the Pigra cable cars hoping it would be open…sadly it was not. It seems they open as and when the want as there didn’t seem to be any sign in the window..so to save time if you do happen to go to Lake Como, it maybe best to avoid this place unless you hope to hire a boat!
To make the most of the rest of the day my friend had noticed ‘Lago di Piano nature reserve’ on a map so we thought we would head that way as it would make a nice drive especially seeing as the weather wasn’t particularly nice at that point. We headed in that directions and took in the beautiful sights despite the gloomy weather along the way. Unfortunately when we arrived in the vicinity of the nature reserve, the weather was particularly bad so we didn’t actually stop or get out of the car!
Although..having driven past it I can actually confirm that it was very beautiful and if the weather had been better I would have insisted we stop!!
Anyhow, we decided to keep driving a little further and take in the sites, after all we did have a whole tank of petrol to use up! Anyhow..we drove a little further and somehow ended up in Switzerland! This may be a good time to mention that the signposts in Italy..could be a lot better and perhaps advise you of where you’re headed BEFORE you actually get there.
So..somehow we ended up on the other side of Lake Lugano, this part of Switzerand was obviously very similar to Italy…except the extortionate prices. We parked up and as if by magic somehow found ourselves at the foothill of Monte Bre.
Monte Brè (925 m) is a small mountain east of Lugano on the flank of Monte Boglia (1,516 m) with a view of the bay of Lugano and the Pennine Alps and the Bernese Alps. It is considered one of the sunniest points in Switzerland….Although not on the day that we visited.
Still…when in Rome…or Lugano…we decided to pay the extortionate fee of 25 swiss francs each to board the funicular for a return journey to the top (in hindsight…if we had known..it would have been much more fun to drive up) the journey ascent was pretty uninspiring. You go up in a little cable car train, there are small compartments built inside so the views in front and behind are obscured which leaves only views either side with not a great deal to see. The cable car makes a few stops on the way to the summit to let off residents that live in those parts. Once you get to the top of the mountain however the views are spectacularly breath-taking and as far as the eye can see.
This is the type of place where there is much to see and do. There are eating places and trails for both walkers and cyclists and also a playground for children. It’s a good place to spend a day and we would have loved to have walked the trails to the bottom. Unfortunately for us the rain put a stop to our exploring as we had also arrived poorly equipped unaware of the colder temperature once at the top of the mountain ( not that we knew we would end up at the top of a mountain in the first place!)
The return Journey – Day 4
In the morning we checked out of our hotel and loaded up the car, our flight wasn’t due to leave until 16:35 so we had plenty of time for the journey back to Milan Malpensa. However, we decided that we wanted to add a bit of excitement to the return journey and travel down from the otherside of the lake! So we caught a car ferry from Menaggio to Varenna (bargain price of 15 Euro one way) and headed towards Milan Malpensa. We drove around the picturesque town of Varenna and joined the main road.
I have to say this journey was pretty cool. On the otherside of the lake we had endured tiny winding roads barely big enough for 2 teeny fiat 500’s yet found ourselves narrowly missing HGV’s trundling towards us. This side of the road was a straight run of a motorway incorporating huge tunnels running through mountains. There was something amazing and awe-inspiring about knowing we were driving through ACTUAL mountains and couldnt help marvel at how remarkable the human race was to have accomplished such a feat.
On the return journey we stopped off at Lecco to stretch our legs and have a wander. It was very picturesque was great for a spot of shopping, lunch and for an authentic Italian experience. We sampled icecream and wandered along the banks of the lake looking at the local market stalls.
Overall the trip had been a success and action packed, yes the weather had been disappointing at times but it’s such a beautiful location that we couldn’t really let it mar the experience of our break away.