Thanks to Lake Como’s ideal location at the heart of Europe and Northern Italy, we are very fortunate to have a variety of international airports within easy reach. This makes it convenient for our guests to arrive at the Palazzo door from any of these airports in roughly 90 minutes. Our partners at IC Bellagio have a collection of charming drivers standing by to bring you quickly – and safely! – to the Palazzo, with a wealth of information about your destination to share on the way. Whether you are availing of our convenient car service or opting to self-drive, we like to break up the trip with a stop at an interesting destination, which is a great way to clear away the cobwebs after a long-haul flight, stretch your legs and see some sights that might not be on the agenda for your vacation. Of course, there are also public transport options to Lake Como, which may take longer than the 90-minute drive, and you can read more about them in our previous post on How to get to Bellagio.
The main airports close to Lake Como are Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate and Bergamo Orio al Serio on the Italian side and the small but convenient Lugano Airport across the Swiss border. The only airport with direct flights to the US is Milan Malpensa, while the other airports offer good connections through various other European and American hubs or with daily non-stop flights from countless European airports. Keep reading for a brief introduction to all four airports, what you can expect when you arrive and where you can stop on your way to Lake Como.
As Milan’s only intercontinental airport, Milan Malpensa is the main air travel hub for northern Italy. And with upwards of 20 million passengers each year, it is also Italy’s second-largest airport after Rome Fiumicino. There are two terminals at Malpensa, the smaller Terminal 2 servicing low-budget carriers and the larger, newer Terminal 1 with the so-called Piazza del Lusso (“square of luxury”) at its heart. This 86,000-square-foot shopper’s paradise is inspired by Milan’s famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade and features fashion brands from Armani to Zegna, while the Piazza del Gusto (“square of taste”) offers a Ferrari Spazio Bollicine sparkling wine bar from the renowned Trento-based winery, a chocolate boutique from Venchi, and the Emozioni gourmet shop with loads of Italian goodies to take back home with you.
There are several direct flights to Milan Malpensa from North America every day, whether it is from Atlanta, Miami, Toronto or New York, with additional flights planned in 2019 from the new carrier Air Italy from Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Visitors can also connect through Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Frankfurt and other hubs.
After you land in Malpensa, our driver will be waiting at baggage claim for you (or alternatively, head for the rental car counter!). Once you are settled in the luxury sedan, you can start your trip to the Palazzo through the plains of Lombardy. On your way to Lake Como, you have loads of possible stops, from a visit to Milan’s museums or boutiques to lunch on the shores of lovely Lake Orta. One of our favorite stops – particularly for the “Alfisti” (as Alfa Romeo aficionados are called!) in your group – is the Museo Alfa Romeo in Arese, which reopened in 2015 after a multi-million-euro, four-year renovation. This 53,000-square-foot, six-story museum takes visitors through the traditional Milanese carmaker’s 100+ year history. The vehicles on display are divided into three groups: Timeline, with historic cars like the 24 HP, the first car to be produced at the historic Portello factory; Bellezza, where you can see the iconic Alfa Romeo designs as well as some cool concept cars; and Speed, with champion racecars like the Alfetta that took the Formula 1 title in 1951. There is also a nice café and bookshop in the museum for a pick-me-up and some souvenirs, before you embark on the roughly 35-mile journey to the Palazzo.
Milan Linate, the smallest of Milan’s airports, offers short to medium-range flights throughout Europe and welcomes 9.5 million passengers per year. There is only one Terminal at Milan Linate and a much smaller shopping area, although you will still find brands like Burberry and Moleskine as well as 2 restaurants and a Ferrari Spazio Bollicine wine bar for a bit of local bubbly on your way home.
Though this airport does not offer direct flights from the US, flights from all over the world connect to Milan Linate through hubs like London Gatwick, Amsterdam, Dublin or Rome. Check in and baggage claim are less stressful and a lot breezier at a small airport like Milan Linate, although there can at times be delays at the rental car desk when several flights arrive at the same time. NB: Milan Linate is due to close for renovations from late July to late October 2019 for runway repairs and airport restyling. Passengers are expected to be diverted to Milan Malpensa airport during the closure, with hopes that it doesn’t cause too much chaos for travelers to Milan!
As Milan Linate is just over 4 miles from the heart of the city, visitors might want to see some of the city sights on their way to the Palazzo (like the massive museum complex housed in the 15th-century Castello Sforzesco or the chic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade on the cathedral square) or head south of Milan to visit the stunning Certosa di Pavia, one of the jewels of the Italian Renaissance. A fantastic recommendation for fans of good food, delicious wine and natural beauty is to head instead to the Collina di Montevecchia, a hilly green paradise between Milan and Lecco on Lake Como that is renowned for its Terre Lariane IGT wines. The Terrazze di Montevecchia winery is one of our favorites in the area, and an ideal spot to spend a few hours enjoying a cellar tour, a wine tasting and an opportunity to take in the scenery. The winery has its own farmhouse restaurant that serves local specialties like stone ground polenta with steak or risotto made with their red wine, Cepp, either in the rustic stone dining room or on the panoramic terrace overlooking the hills. After lunch, you can sit back in our driver’s luxury sedan and enjoy the roughly 30-mile trip to Lezzeno, which takes you past Lecco along the lake and through Bellagio (where you might want to stop for a gelato or a coffee!).
Bergamo Orio al Serio
Although it is not technically within the Milan city limits, Bergamo counts as Milan’s third official airport. It started off in the 1980s as an airport for charter flights, cargo planes and the air force and later made a strategic – and ultimately very successful – decision to welcome low-cost airlines after the turn of the millennium. RyanAir was one of the earliest airlines to make Bergamo its hub and it did so in a typically bombastic fashion, inviting 80 young engaged couples to fly from Frankfurt Hahn to Bergamo on Valentine’s Day 2002. Since that time Bergamo has surpassed Linate to become Milan’s second-busiest airport and welcomes roughly 10 million passengers each year.
There are no direct flights to the US from Bergamo Orio al Serio, and the airport services mostly low-budget airlines. That could come in handy for some of our Palazzo visitors coming from European cities. One of the big bonuses of Bergamo Orio al Serio is the massive shopping center across the street known as Oriocenter. Not only does it have a lot of great shops (and regular sales!), it is also home to a huge supermarket, where you can stock up on Italian staples like parmesan cheese before your flight. Inside the airport you will also find some quality shops, restaurants and gourmet food stores to browse while you wait.
Flying in and out of Bergamo Orio al Serio puts visitors within striking distance of the quaint hilltop center of Bergamo Alta, the newly renovated and masterpiece-filled Accademia Carrara in the lower city and the spa town of San Pellegrino (find out more about these in this blog post). Families might want to make a stop at Le Cornelle outside Bergamo, a lovely little wildlife park with exotic animals and fun playgrounds. But one of the best stops after landing in Bergamo has got to be Lago d’Iseo, one of the smaller of the Italian lakes and a real gem only 30 minutes from the airport (albeit in the “wrong” direction). This is Franciacorta country, home to Italy’s “other” sparkling wine, and we can arrange a tour and tasting at a local winery like Ca’ del Bosco. A quick ferry from the lakeside town of Sulzano takes you to Monte Isola – Europe’s largest lake island and a lovely, car-free town you can explore on foot. There are restaurants near Lago d’Iseo to suit all tastes, from the swanky Relais & Chateau LeoneFelice to quaint lakeside trattorias and cafés like La Foresta on Monte Isola. The trip to the Palazzo from Lago d’Iseo is about 2 hours, with some lovely scenery along the way and an opportunity to learn more about local history and culture along the way.
This is the smallest of the four airports near Lake Como, and when we say small, we mean REALLY small. There is a café located outside the airport if you would like a meal, inside the airport check-in is completed in a matter of minutes and a small counter by the gate serves coffee and pastries. As this airport is located outside one of Switzerland’s key banking and finance centers, it services a lot of private jets, but thanks to four daily flights between Zurich and Lugano, it can be a convenient connection for fans of Swiss airlines and Star Alliance. The “puddle jump” from Zurich to Lugano is also one of the most scenic flights you will ever take. When the aircraft begins its descent over Lake Lugano and you see the lavish lakeside villas, it is truly a sight to behold. Of course, the charming medieval town center, the leafy lakeside promenades and the dizzying array of luxury watches on offer may persuade you to stop off in downtown Lugano before continuing on to the Palazzo.
There are two options for trip from Lugano airport to Lake Como. The first is to take the A2 highway out of Lugano, cross the border at Chiasso near Como town and follow the lake road to Lezzeno. This is the fastest route – about 80 minutes in total – and would take you right past Mendrisio, where the legendary FoxTown outlet mall is located. This shopper’s paradise offers 150 shops and some good dining options, like the Chalet Suisse offering Swiss specialties like cheese fondue and rösti potato pancakes. What we would recommend most highly, however is the route leading east along the northern shore of Lake Lugano. This branch of the lake is a breath of fresh air after the densely populated Lugano town, with steep forested slopes rising up from the lake and a less touristy, more authentic vibe than other areas.
Our driver would be happy to recommend a quaint village along the shore for a meal or a walk. Gandria, just before the Italian border and only 20 minutes from Lugano, has a jumble of medieval buildings crowding the shore that are connected by stone stairs and covered walkways as well as a pleasant lakeside walk called “Sentiero di Gandria” and a few different restaurants to choose from. Further east, at the very tip of the lake, lies the town of Porlezza, where you can stop for a coffee and an excellent gelato. From here, the drive takes you through the foothills of the mountain range separating Lake Lugano from Lake Como, before you descend along some switchbacks to Menaggio. Car ferries for Bellagio depart from both Cadenabbia and Menaggio, depending on what time you arrive, and from Bellagio it’s only a short 10-minute drive to the Palazzo.