Thousands of visitors make their way from the United Kingdom to Lake Como every year, venturing across the English Channel, central Europe and the Alps to arrive at this northern Italian paradise and enjoy its food, sports, shopping and wine. Lake Como’s unique landscape is quite different from England’s own Lake District (home of one of our owners, Andrea Grisdale!) with its palm trees and summer sun. The mild, pleasant climate on Lake Como is particularly appealing to visitors from the UK (more about the weather on Lake Como here). We love having visitors from the UK at Palazzo del Vice Re – their love of history makes our centuries-old lakeside palace an ideal place to stay, and their love of Italian food & wine make this area a treasure trove of Epicurean delights.
Lake Como has been a popular destination for English travelers for centuries, particularly since so many embarked on the so-called Grand Tour of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, the Anglican Church of the Ascension in Cadenabbia was built with precisely these visitors from the British Isles in mind and has been conducting Sunday services in English since the 1880s. The popularity of this area in past centuries was probably due more to the flattering phrases of poets like William Wordsworth (“A treasure which the Earth keeps to itself”), Percy Bysshe Shelley (“This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty.”) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“Is there a land of such supreme and perfect beauty anywhere?”) than to anything or anyone else.
Needless to say, travel to and from Lake Como has become considerably more comfortable and quite a bit more economical than it was for the visitors in centuries past. There are 256 direct flights from London to Milan’s main airports per week and direct flights to Milan from 11 different UK airports. Flights vary in length from London to Milan in 1 hour 55 minutes to Glasgow to Milan in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Traveling with major carriers like Alitalia and British Airways tend to be more expensive, though they also offer the usual trappings like business class, flexible tickets and baggage included. The same goes for other major carriers like Lufthansa, KLM and Air France, which offer code-share flights with partner UK-based airlines or stop in their own hubs like Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris. Low-cost airlines like RyanAir, EasyJet and EuroWings serve smaller airports like Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Bristol (as well as London’s smaller airports) and fly to the Milan’s two main airports or the Bergamo airport northeast of Milan. Flights can cost as little as £ 15 when the low-cost airlines have their amazing sales and as much as £ 1000 for high season, business class travel. There are more details about getting to Bellagio and the Palazzo from Milan here.
For a more environmentally-friendly trip, ecowarriors from the UK might opt for train travel, which is surprisingly convenient with today’s express trains and modern sleeping cars. One possible route – the most direct with the fewest changes – is traveling from London on the EUROSTAR from Monday to Friday at 2.22 pm, which gets you to Paris Gare du Nord station in just over three hours. From there, you can take the RER subway to Gare de Lyon, slurp a French onion soup at a bistro and board the EuroNight train at 7.15 pm. The night train arrives in Milano Centrale station at 6.00 am – just in time for a perfectly brewed espresso. You could opt to store your luggage and stay in Milan for the day, or depart immediately for the 40-minute journey to Como San Giovanni station. Our partners at IC Bellagio offer Meet&Greet services at Milano Centrale station, which helps guests get their bags (and themselves!) to the next train. All in all, this route would take you at least 15 hours and can vary considerably in cost depending on the type of seat, sleeping car and extra services you opt for. But as the Buddhists say – sometimes the Path is the Goal!
And finally, there are some arguments for traveling with your own car from the UK to Lake Como. Not only will you have your own four wheels for exploring the environs, you are free to bring as much luggage with you as you want as well as any four-legged friends you’d rather not leave at home. The trunk of your car probably also has quite a bit of room to bring back a few cases of Italian wine, some aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or even a few outfits from Milan’s boutiques or the FoxTown outlets in Mendrisio, Switzerland. You should probably plan to stop over 2 nights on your way down and on your way back (maybe a third depending on where your home is in the UK), but you know best your endurance levels for driving and interest in the sights en route. There are several itineraries to consider from the UK to Lake Como, each with their own particular charms and conveniences and we have two options for your perusal.
Traveling from Dover on England’s south coast to Calais in France, there are 15 ferry crossings and as many as 55 Eurotunnel crossings. The ferry takes about 90 minutes, while the Eurotunnel crosses in just 35 minutes, but each journey takes quite a bit longer with all of the customs and passport checks and boarding procedures. Either way, it would make sense to arrive on French soil as early in the morning as possible. From Calais, the trip to Epernay in the Champagne region takes about 3 hours, where you might want to stop off for a tour of one of the area’s traditional champagne houses like Pol Roger or Moët & Chandon for a tour and tasting. Another 4 hours driving will bring you to charming Colmar in Alsace-Lorraine. After a dinner of local favorites like Tarte Flambee or sausages and sauerkraut, stroll along the Ill River past the half-timbered houses and stay the night in one of the sweet “chambres d’hote” or B&Bs in this cute town.
After checking out and exploring Colmar a bit more, you set off across the Swiss border for Lucerne. The scenery during today’s drive is spectacular and makes the trip really worthwhile! It only takes about 2 hours to get to Lucerne, leaving a lot of time to explore the old town, take a boat trip on Lake Lucerne or travel to the top of Mont Pilatus with the cable car. Lucerne’s “House mountain” offers nice restaurants, short hikes to amazing look-out points as well as activities like a ropes course, the cogwheel railway (the world’s steepest!) or summer tobogganing. There are several combination tickets on offer from the tourist office in Lucerne that combine the cable car with a boat trip or the cogwheel railway – the office staff will help you find out what suits you best. After a fun-filled day in Lucerne, it’s only another 3 hours to the Palazzo on Lake Como! Traveling from Lucerne to Lezzeno takes you over the Alps via the Gotthard tunnel – a route that travelers have been using since the 13th century. The A2 highway leading to the tunnel and to Lugano after the tunnel is one of Switzerland’s most scenic.
This alternative route travels through Belgium and Germany on the way to Lake Como, which will save some money by avoiding the highway tolls in France. Leaving from Calais, bypass Brussels and stop after about 2 and a half hours in the university town of Leuven. You can have lunch here and visit the gothic Town Hall on the main square and the city’s two UNESCO heritage sites: the Groot Begijnhof neighborhood and St. Peter’s Church. From Leuven, it is only about 4 hours to Mainz, one of the most charming and historic German cities on the Rhein. You can visit the 10th-century cathedral, meander through the medieval alleys, dine at one of the cute restaurants in the old town serving delicious Rhine Valley wines or take a Rhine cruise.
Getting an early start, leave Mainz and head south on the famous Autobahn highway. After about 3 hours, you will reach Freiburg in Breisgau. Spend some time exploring this historic university town and the gateway to the Black Forest, climbing to the top of the Cathedral’s 380-foot gothic tower, marveling at the old city gates and learning about the ubiquitous “Baechle” canals. From here it is another 5 hours of driving to reach the Palazzo in Lezzeno, but with summer evenings staying light until 10.00 pm, you will still be able to enjoy the scenery as you cross the Alps via the Gotthard tunnel (same route as in Option 1!). You might want to opt to overnight in one of the cute towns in the heart of the Black Forest (like Schluchsee or St. Blasien) and take your time the next day driving to Lezzeno.