Milan/Lake Como

I will be traveling in August 2013 to Milan and spending 2 nights at the Hotel Spadari Al Duomo, then taking the train to Lake Como. Would you recomend renting a car ? We will be staying in Lake Como for 7 nights and we are not quite sure which hotel to stay at. Where and what hotel would you recomend to stay at and is 7 nights too much to stay in 1 place ? ? We are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and want to make this very special and memorable. Any input you can give me will be greatly appreciated regarding tours, restaurants, ferries, etc. Also do you recomend to purchase a Chip and Pin card ? Thank you for your help.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

First, you don't "purchase" a PIN & Chip card, unless you're talking about some sort of prepaid card, which would be a complete waste of money. You may be able to get a PIN & Chip credit card from Andrews Federal Credit Union (I'm still waiting for mine), but it really isn't necessary in Italy. Your regular credit card will work fine unless you plan on buying gas at unattended stations. So if you rent a car, just keep it topped off during normal business hours. You should not burn much tooling arround lake Como, easily and cheaply reached by frequent train service from Milan. With all the ferry boats on the lake, you can get just about anywhere using these or trains. A car in Milan is a hindrance. I'd just rent a car for a day of touring in the mountains once you are on the lake. A better investment in your time would be to get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (Captal One or a credit union) and an ATM card from a bank or credit union with no foreign currency transaction fees. On a ten day trip that will save you about $100.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Manny, First of all, congratulations on your 30th Anniversary! I have a few comments and questions..... > Is this your first trip to Europe? If that's the case, I'd highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. It provides a lot of good information on "how" to travel in Europe. > It will likely be hot and crowded in August, so pre-booking accommodations will be essential. > NO, I would not recommend renting a car, as the places you're visiting are all easily accessible by train. Driving in Italy comes with a few potentially expensive "caveats". > Before choosing a Hotel, it will be necessary to choose which town you want to stay in. Lago di Como is a large lake, shaped somewhat like an upside down "Y". The lake is ringed with towns and Hotels, so there's a huge number of options to choose from. The big favourite of many here is the small town of Varenna, which is easily accessible from Milan (about 1 hour). It makes a convenient base for exploring other parts of the lake as there's good boat and Ferry access. The luxury resort of Bellagio is only about 20 minutes by boat. Varenna is very picturesque and depending on your price criteria, you could have a look at Albergo Milano, Hotel Royal Victoria or Villa Cipressi. Varenna makes a great home base for that area, but there's not much to do in the evenings except relax and enjoy the ambience. Seven nights may be too long, but that depends on what you want. It's often referred to as a great location for Luna di miele, so would be appropriate for your anniversary. continued.....

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Manny - continued..... Another option would be to stay in Bellagio, but again there likely wouldn't be a lot to do in the evenings. If you can afford VERY posh accommodations, you could consider Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. It's not cheap, but I'm sure you'd have a VERY comfortable stay! IMHO, Varenna would be better, as it offers a nice blend of reasonably affordable Hotels and easier transportation. I don't recall a lot of "tours" being offered in that area. You might check the Italy Guidebook, as that provides some information on sightseeing activities on Lake Como. As a previous reply mentioned, you likely won't need a "Chip & PIN" credit card. Although I have "C & P" cards, I've found that magnetic stripe cards work fine for both ATM access and credit card transactions. Prepaid credit cards typically have terrible rates, so that's not something I'd recommend. I'd highly recommend taking at least two ATM cards and at least one credit card (Visa or MasterCard are more widely accepted that AmEx). Note that your travel funds accessed from an ATM usually must be in a chequing account with a four-number PIN. You didn't specify the total duration of your trip. Have you allowed for the fact that you'll arrive in Europe the day after you depart, and the last day will be spent on the flight home? Rather than stay seven nights on Lago di Como, another option you might consider would be to stay in Milan a day or two longer, and take a few day trips. One place that's reasonably accessible is Verona, which of course is the home of the fictitious Romeo & Juliette balcony (very touristy, but kind of fun to see once). Staying overnight may be challenging, as Operas are held in the large Amphitheatre in the summer. Cheers!

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
680 posts

We enjoy travel at a relaxed pace, but for us three nights were perfect for Lake Como. We stayed near Varenna and loved the little village. We hung out in Varenna, took a day in Bellagio, and then we took a wonderful cooking class for the third day. There are many different villages you could go and explore, but for us three days was a perfect amount of time. The villages are very small so it is easy to see them, hang out, not feel rushed, yet still be done in just a few days.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2506 posts

Congratulations! If you are in Milano near the Duomo, take the elevator to the roof for some nice views. I agree that an extra night or two in Milano will give you great opportunities to daytrip. In Milano itself, there's also the Castello Sforzesco, with a beautiful park and great art gallery. In the Lake Como area, you can travel to the different towns by bus or ferry or car, but if you take the bus/ferry you can combine the two methods of transportation for different perspectives. I've stayed at Hotel Metropole Suisse in Como (everyone on this board will probably recommend Varenna or Bellagio), it's right on the lake near the ferry docks. Bellagio and Varenna both have beautiful options as well, but I've not stayed there. If you post your question in "To the Boot", you'll get more precise information on Italy.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

This is a difficult question to answer. We are explorers; knowing what we know from previous trips, probably couldn't handle 7 days in one location, but envy your problem. I personally would choose Varenna, would make reservations now at Albergo Milano for one of their rooms with large patio facing the Lake. If it were my first trip would not hassle with car. I would break up my Anniversary trip this way: 3 nights in Varenna, get on ferry, visit Bellagio and other near by villages, on day 4 do a day trip to Milan and see sites previously mentioned ( climb the Duomo, visit the indoor Mall, see the Last Supper, get tickets as soon as available). If, and it may be a big if, you've seen enough Lake Como, take a trip down to Cinque Terre. Visit all 5 villages and decide which one is your favorite. I didn't read your post as well as I should have, you'll be in Milan prior to Lake Como. I think you get the picture, you have all sorts of options. All previous posters have given some good advise.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
915 posts

I agree with Susan and Monte. We just did the exact same thing: 3 nights in Varenna, with one day for Bellagio, and one day for the very enjoyable Il Caminetto cooking class. We stayed at Albergo Milano, in their Casa Rossa building. Pretty view, but lots of steps. I'd recommend booking the hotel and cooking class as soon as you are sure of your dates. I'd spend the other 4 nights somewhere else ... have you been to Venice? Or maybe Verona?

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4875 posts

I have to agree with Susan and Charlene. We spent 3 nights in Varenna, so we had 2 full days. On the first day we took the ferry to Villa Carlotta, then to Bellagio. After dinner we took the ferry back to Varenna. On day two we took the really fun cooking class at Il Caminetto, which took most of the day. The class was one of the highlights of our 3 weeks in Italy. We then spent the rest of the day and evening exploring Varenna. If we had stayed another night I'm sure we would have found something to do, but we were ready to head to Venice. We stayed 2 nights there (it's an expensive city and we were on a 4 week trip) and 2 nights in Verona. I like Venice and Verona equally for different reasons.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Lake Como is absolutely beautiful, but I don't like staying 7 days in one place. Renting a car to travel through the Alps for two days would be desirable. Milan is just another modern city, but with an incredible Opera. I prefer staying elsewhere, as I'm not into shopping. Have you considered taking a train over to Venice and another train down to Florence? They are simply special places.
I see no reason for a Chip and PIN card, as your regular credit card is taken most everywhere. Your bank's ATM card is used to withdraw traveling cash.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2506 posts

If you do decide to stay fewer days in the Lake Como area, you might spend some time in Venice or in Ravenna. The cooking class sounds like a great suggestion.

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
680 posts

I can't remember how long of a drive it was for us from Lake Como to Gimmelwald, Switzerland, but you could always go to the alps for something very different and very, very beautiful!