Traveling to Italy September 2020, first stop Lake Como. Any info on car vs train from Milan Airport, which town to stay in, and accommodations.
Bus from Milan airport to Milan train station. Then train to Varenna, well situated charming town mid-lake with easy ferry access to Bellagio and Menaggio if you want a daytrip or two.
See Rick Steves guidebook for lodging recommendations.
Have you consulted Steves' guidebook for Italy? It will answer most of your question and more. For us we general view a car in majors a pain in the butt so I would stick to the train.
PS There is also train service to the Milan Central station.
I would recommend travelling via train as it's a very easy trip to Lago di Como from the airport. Using rental cars in Italy comes with a few potentially expensive caveats (need for each driver to have an IDP, ZTL areas, parking, etc.).
To begin with, which town to stay in. Many on the forum (myself included) really like the small town of Varenna which is on the east shore in the mid-lake area. It makes a good home base to explore other parts of the mid-lake area by Ferry, such as Bellagio or Menaggio. Varenna is well covered in the RS Italy guidebook.
As you'll be travelling from MXP, I'd suggest using the Malpensa Express from the airport to Milano Centrale. The trip takes about 52 minutes, and you can buy tickets right at the airport station. DON'T forget to validate (time & date stamp) the ticket prior to boarding or you may face hefty fines which will be collected on the spot. If you're going to stay in Varenna, you can also buy your ticket at the airport (I normally use the self-service Kiosks). Don't validate that ticket until you're ready to board your train to Varenna (NOTE: the station is listed as "Varenna-Esino").
When you arrive at Milano Centrale, your train will arrive on one of the peripheral tracks (1 or 2?). Make your way into the main hall and locate the track number (Binario) for your next train on one of the electronic sign boards. The destination may be shown as Tirano or whatever (Varenna is an intermediate stop). You can double-check using the large paper "Partenza" charts which you'll find in the station.
When you board the train to Varenna, I'd suggest sitting on the left when facing forward as that provides the best views. The trip is 1H:03M and you'll go through a tunnel just prior to arrival. Be ready to disembark promptly, as the train doesn't stop for long. You should be able to walk to your hotel from the station.
There should be a Kiosk in the Varenna station to buy your return ticket. If not go to the helpful Tivano Tours office, which I believe is located in the station, and they can sell you a ticket.
Thank you for that detailed information. I am going to Bellagio in April, and I'll be following this same path (plus a ferry ride).
If you decide that Como (the town) is where to stay, then look at the train via Sarrono.
If you decide that Bellagio will be your base, then consider the train/bus.