There’s a reason honeymooners have always waxed poetic about Lake Como, Italy — with its adorable hillside towns, stunning mountain geography, crystal-clear waters and historic grande dame hotels. Upon visiting this hallmark area of the northern Lake District, expect to fall in love with its beauty and charms as soon as you catch sight of that glistening water. Celebs like George Clooney and Richard Branson certainly have — both have owned villas on Como for more than 10 years (which you can easily spot on a boat tour). If you travel during the summer months, which is high season, the lake will be abuzz with tourists, locals and the lucky few who own or rent villas for the season. Plan to sit by your hotel pool all day and be thoroughly entertained watching boats crisscross the blue waters. If you’d rather avoid crowds (and save on hotel rates), opt for shoulder season (early fall or late spring), when warm daytime temperatures and cool nights provide the perfect ambiance for exploring the sites and cuddling over dinner at a hole-in-the-wall café with the hubs. But no matter when you go, be sure to consider the following tips when planning your perfect Lake Como itinerary:
Traveling to Lake Como is beyond simple: Book a flight that lands at Milan Malpensa Airport and rent a car to make the easy, one-hour drive to the lake. Alternatively, you can transfer to Milan's city center and take a 90-minute train from Milan Central Station to Como or Bellagio, two of the area’s main towns. Many people will tell you that having a car is an unnecessary hassle, but getting around the lake can be rather limiting if you don’t have one, since you’ll be beholden to the ferry schedule or get stuck paying for expensive taxis. If you do rent a car, notify your hotel in advance so they can arrange valet parking.
Day 1, check-in
Lake Como is renowned for its historic hotels — chockfull of antique furniture, Michelin-starred chefs and classic European grandeur — but the new kid on the block, Il Sereno, Lago di Como, is the ultimate honeymooner’s dream. The sister property to St. Barth standout Le Sereno lives up to the hype set by travel insiders in anticipation of its opening last summer. Designed by acclaimed Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola, this 30-suite stunner toes the line between masculine and feminine, classic and modern, making it perfectly suited for any couple. Rooms are outfitted with high-tech motion-activated lights, plush duvet-covered beds, giant soaking tubs, rain showers and private patios with oversize daybeds and picture-perfect lake views. Settle in because, lucky for you, you get to stay a while.
Day 1, afternoon
Make your way downstairs to Il Sereno’s living-room-slash-bar, where you can relax with a book on a comfy Urquiola-designed couch or hang out on the spacious outdoor patio over lunch or a snack (the burrata is otherworldly). From the patio you’ll notice a living wall on the hotel’s lake-facing façade — just one of many beautifully landscaped vignettes found throughout the property. (The lobby, for instance, features a glass-enclosed garden with thick climbing vines and another greenery-filled wall that reaches some 30 feet.)
Day 1, evening
Il Sereno is located in the quiet town of Torno, just 15 minutes from Como proper. If you feel like making the trip to Como for dinner, call down to the front desk so your car is ready when you are. If you’d rather avoid traversing windy roads at night, pick one of Torno’s quaint waterfront restaurants, which are just a few minutes’ walking distance from the hotel. Albergo Ristorante Vaporo, for example, serves freshly caught lake fish, simple pasta dishes and a delicious house red. Or, if you want to tuck yourselves in early for the day of exploration ahead, book a table at Il Sereno’s Ristorante Berton Al Lago, where Michelin-star chef Andrea Berton has masterminded modern Italian cuisine (think deconstructed versions of classics like spaghetti carbonara).
Day 2, morning
Breakfast is included at Il Sereno, so make your way to the lower level restaurant for a là carte omelets and a buffet of fruit, yogurt, juice and pastries (the mini chocolate-chip muffins are to die for). After you’ve had your fill, make the drive to Como, but plan accordingly — you’ll need at least 40 minutes to navigate the town’s many traffic circles, find metered parking and purchase ferry tickets. The high-speed ferry will get you to popular towns like Lezzeno, Lenno, Tremezzo, Bellagio and Menaggio in an hour or less. But expect to pay up: A one-way transfer to Bellagio costs upwards of 20 euro. If you prefer to drive, pick two towns on the same side of the lake to maximize your time.
Day 2, afternoon
If you opt for the ferry, disembark in Tremezzo, home to the famed Villa Carlotta, the former residence of marquis Giorgio Clerici (and a bunch of other rich royals) that now operates as a museum. Peruse the galleries and salons before taking a turn through the estate’s 20-acre garden, which will transport you back in time. Once your self-guided tour is complete, head down the street to Grand Hotel Tremezzo, a 91-suite grande dame that’s been a Como staple since 1910. Request a table for lunch at the terrace restaurant, which serves a variety of Italian and American classics. Or, if you’re in need of some pampering, book a treatment in advance at the recently expanded spa, housed in a centuries-old villa overlooking the lake. Afterward, hop on the ferry again for a quick trip to Bellagio. Meander the waterfront promenade, pop into shops that line the hillside and take a tour of the historic I Giardini di Villa Melzi D’Eril nearby before your return to Como.
Day 2, evening
You may assume that as the gateway to a popular tourist destination the town of Como would be filled with mediocre cafes and souvenir shops, but you’ll be surprised to learn it’s a rather chic town. By the time you disembark the ferry, most stores will be closed, but fear not — a daytime visit is on the agenda for tomorrow. (Important to note: most stores in Italy are closed on Sundays, so if your trip falls over a weekend, plan accordingly). After wandering the cozy streets, stop for Numeronove, in Piazza Mazzini. Request a table in the outdoor patio, which is outfitted with romantic tea lights, American tunes playing in the background and a menu filled with delicious, no-frills pizza and pasta dishes.
Day 3, morning
After breakfast, head back to Como for some shopping. Start on the less-trafficked pedestrian streets, home to chic boutiques like Falconeri (Italian-made cashmere) and Breeze (designer clothing and accessories). Next, make your way to Pronobis — a hole-in-the-wall wine bar and shop on Via Lambertenghi — where the proprietor will happily walk you through his extensive collection of local wines to guarantee that you bring home the perfect vintage. (Be sure to also pick up a jar or two of traditional Genoese pesto!) Afterward, head to Dep Design Store, on Via Carcano, where you’ll find minimalist kitchenware, super-soft cotton bed linens, high-design office supplies and funky glassware from Icendorf Milano.
Day 3, afternoon
Make sure you’re back at Il Sereno in time for afternoon sunbathing (the pool is heated) and a boat tour of the lake. Request a stop at Villa Pliniana, Il Sereno’s 16th-century estate that’s used solely for events and private rentals. Upon entry you can't help but notice a serpent etched into the wall, which is the Lombardi family crest (the former owners of Villa Pliniana). The villa's main living-slash-dining area is filled with more Patricia Urquiola furniture, gilded accents on the ceiling and intricately patterned marble floors. A visit here (or perhaps a wedding?!) will instantly make you feel like Italian royalty.
Day 3, evening
Time for one last Como classic: dinner at Villa d’Este. The 152-room hotel is home to 25 acres of gardens, a pool that stretches out onto the lake and dining options with a distinct Old World flair. Men are expected to wear jacket and tie, but not to worry, there’s ties on loan if your hubby forgets one. Expect dishes like foie gras, lake fish and creamy risotto, with white-glove service to match. After your meal, head to the D’Este Club's piano bar or lakefront terrace for a champagne cocktail — the perfect nightcap, and cap, in general, to any Lake Como honeymoon.