A postcard from Lake Como

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Almost in the middle of northern Italy, carved deep into a range of mountains by a glacier, sits Lake Como with its unmistakable shape. Its steep sides, covered in thick woods, look rather wild and definitely not welcoming from afar; and yet the shores, dotted with majestic villas and lush gardens, make it one of the most wonderful places on earth. Milanese aristocrats, people of wealth and taste, used to spend their summer vacations on Lake Como as early as the 16th Century, starting a rush for the biggest house or the largest garden that resulted in unmatched pinnacles of elegance like Villa Melzi, Villa Balbiano or Villa Olmo.

These days, the charm of Lake Como has made it one of the best destinations for tourists hoping to enjoy the “Dolce Vita”, and with good reasons. Stunning Riva powerboats roaring on the water, top-class hospitality, and wonderful architecture, framed by natural landscapes, conjure up a magical atmosphere that’s quintessentially Italian.

For us at Gents Cafe, the lake is a go-to place for a weekend escape, or even to spend just one day together with friends, enjoying mutual passions and discovering the countless hidden gems that Como and its surroundings have to offer; and there’s no better season than early summer to do it. For our latest trip to the lake we were a team of four – Alessandro, Alvise, Matteo, and Luke (the guy behind the camera) – and here’s a little report.

Starting from Como is probably the most obvious thing to do – but that’s not a wrong choice at all. Sitting at the very end of the lake, on its southwestern branch, the city looks suspended somewhere between the Middle Ages and the 18th century, like the villas on the lake, and even though not as majestic it is just as charming. Being a small town, life there flows at a very different pace than in Milano; there’s no buzz, no rush, and everyone seems to be just enjoying his time, especially downtown.

Linen was a mandatory choice in the summer heat: Alvise was wearing Lirecento trousers and a Formula Iozzi shirt.

We kickstarted the day sitting at Posta Bistrot and enjoyed a good espresso, the best way to sync with this different rhythm: talking casually with friends while running your eyes around the main square of a town is an activity everyone should indulge in on a regular basis. When your mind runs free, you catch minor and unexpected details that would usually and otherwise escape your focus, and you get to know the place at a deeper level.

Matteo offered to carry all the towels and swimming trunks, but we suspect it was just an excuse to rock his new Lundi weekender (and the matching card holder).

Alvise is rarely seen without his sunglasses, so he obviously wears shirts with a built-in hanger.

The whole center of Como is a no-car zone, so roaming its alleys is a very leisureful pastime: the countless little stores range from menswear to bookstores and antiques, and chances are you’ll end up getting a new coffee table book at Libreria Plinio or stopping at Hemingway for a drink, if it’s aperitivo time; but also a lakeside stroll, a little further away from the historic center, is a good way to discover the town.

By noon, we were starving and couldn’t wait to gather around a table: there were many good restaurants, but we knew we couldn’t go wrong with Osteria del Gallo. Owned and run by Giuseppe De Toma and his wife Rosanna since the early Eighties, it’s exactly the kind of place you should look for if you want to have a good time in Italy. A hand-painted roadsign, walls covered in wine bottles and old liquor posters, and checkered towels are all tell-tales of a great traditional restaurant. If you feel lucky, then, you can also ask the owner if he’s willing to show you his collection of newspaper cutouts, with some even dating to the 1970s.

As we said, Como is the ideal first stop for a day on the Lake; however, it would be unfair to just explore the city and forget its surroundings: so after lunch we packed up and got going towards Laglio, along the “Vecchia Regina” – the narrow road stretching across many villages on the shores.

The road is very entertaining, winding through tall hedges, impressive villas, and small historic houses; every now and then, a viewpoint on the lake suddenly appears, and the water goes out of sight just as quickly leaving you eager to catch another glimpse at the next corner.

There’s nothing better than driving up and down the road, better if in a classic car to match the vibes of the villages you’re crossing; we’ve been lucky enough that Matteo came over in his Alfa Romeo Duetto, and sure enough, we all took a turn behind the wheel. Drive a 1970s Italian spider on Lake Como with the wind on your hair, and you’ll probably understand why clichés are so appealing!

Matteo’s Alfa Romeo Spider “Duetto”, a second series 1.3 from 1973.

If you saw the guy on the street, in his Italian attitude and Foulon leather jacket, you’d know he drives a classic Alfa.

No detail was overlooked, as he was even wearing driving gloves (made by Foulon, in case you’re wondering)

The Alfa Duetto is in fact a four seater. We’re just not sure where the rear ones are…

“Ok Teo, it’s my turn now!” said Alessandro moments before this picture.

Alessandro opted for the full cowboy look with his Formula Iozzi Texan shirt.

Luke seemed somehow more Italian than us.

The Lirecento trousers certainly helped!

The end of the day was quickly approaching, but we felt like our day wouldn’t be complete without an aperitivo. Since we were heading back to Como, we took a quick detour to Cernobbio and its magic houses suspended in time, parked the Alfa, and sat down in the shaded garden at La Piazzetta. Even if you’ve already been to the Lake, you probably can’t know the place, since it opened up not later than two months ago. But the team is the same behind the Krone, a Michelin-starred restaurant in St. Moritz we know.

Mixology is a new thing for them, but they are certainly very good at it: we tasted their twists on timeless classics like the Negroni, Americano, and Gin & Tonic, matched with a selection of tasteful finger food, and it all proved the place is just as good as the Krone. At La Piazzetta, we also discovered Cashmere Gin, a spirit created in the Italian town of Biella and infused – as the name suggests – with cashmere wool, one of Biella’s most renowned products.

The cozy interior of La Piazzetta

The same cashmere from your favourite knits goes inside these bottles!

It’s not aperitivo if there’s no food, and at La Piazzetta they definitely know it.

Cheers to a great day!

Cernobbio, anyway, deserves a stop not only for La Piazzetta, but for its beauty: the “lungolago” offers wonderful views of the lake and of Villa d’Este, possibly the most famous hotel on Lake Como, towering on the water with its white facade and the floating pool surrounded by classic boats. If you happen to go there on a hot day, just like we did, don’t forget to slip your swimming trunks in the bag: dipping in the lake cools you down like nothing else, and you’ll definitely feel like a local, blending in with young kids and old people bathing in front of the Rowing Club.

The iconic sight of Villa d’Este, one of the most charming hotels on Lake Como.

A lifetime is not enough to know Lake Como in full, but a day is enough to catch a good glimpse of its splendor, and most importantly to fall in love with a place that will make you want to come back as soon as you’ve left. Tuning in with the slow-paced life around the lake, trying to blend in with locals, and living the “Dolce Vita” is the best escape from the rush of modern life: and don’t forget to send home some postcards!

Photo credits: @luke_renard

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