Italy: THE LAKE COUNTRY

Italy: THE LAKE COUNTRY

When Italy’s monuments and museums start blurring together, escape to the natural beauty of the northern Lake Country, where clear waters lap the encircling mountains. A young crowd descends upon Lake Garda for its watersports by day and thriving club scene at night; palatial hotels line Lake Maggiore’s sleepy beaches, while Lake Como’s urbane shore hosts three excellent hostels.

LAKE COMO (LAG0 DI COMO)

Although a heavenly magnificence lingers over the reaches of Europe’s deepest lake (410m), peaceful Lake Como is more than a figment of your imagination. Bougainvillea and lavish villas adorn the lake’s craggy backdrop, warmed by the sun and cooled by lakeside breezes. Como, the largest city on the lake, makes an ideal transportation hub. Menaggio, one of the three smaller Centro Lago towns, is an alternate base for exploring the lake, and makes for a more relaxing stay.

TRANSPORTATION. The only town on the lake accessible by train is Como. Trains roll into Stazione San Giovanni (a0147 88 80 88) from Milan (lhr. every 30min. 4:45am-l 1:35pm, ‚4.85) and Venice (4hr. every hr. 4:45am-7:55pm, ‚22). Bus C46 leave P. Matteotti for Bergamo (2hr. every hr. ‚4.30). From Como, take the CIO near Ferrovia Nord to Menaggio (lhr. every hr. 7:10am- 8:30pm, ‚2.50). Hourly C30 buses also serve Bellagio (lhr. 6:34am-8:14pm, ‚2.80). Spend the day zipping between stores, gardens, villas, and wineries of the remaining towns by ferry (day pass ‚7-17).

Situated on the southwest tip of the lake, at the end of the Milan rail line, Como is the lake’s token semi-industrial town. For excellent hiking and stunning views, head from the far end of Lungo Lario Trieste up to Brunate. To get from the train station to the tourist office, P. Cavour 16, walk down the steps, turn left on V. Fratelli Ricchi and turn right on V. Fratelli Rosselli, which leads to P. Cavour via Lungo Lario Trento. ( 031 26 97 12; www.lakecomo.org. Open M-Sa 9am-lpm and 2:30-6pm, Su 9:30-lpm.) Ostello Villa Olmo (HI) , V. Bellinzona 2, offers clean rooms, great food, and discounts on various sights in Como. From the train station, walk 20min. down V. Borgo Vico, which becomes V. Bellinzona. (mfax 031 57 38 00. hostellocomo@tin.it. Breakfast included. Reception 7-10am and 4-ll:30pm. Lockout 10am. Strict curfew 11:30pm. Open Mar-Nov. Reserve ahead. Dorms ‚15) In Riva al Lago , P. Matteotti 4, is centrally located with immaculate rooms, fa-031 30 23 33; www.inrivallago.com. Breakfast ‚2-4. Singles ‚30-40; doubles ‚50-60.) The G.S. supermarket is at V. Recchi and V. Fratelli Roselli. (Open M 9am-9:30pm, Tu-F 8am-8:30pm, Sa 8am-8pm.) Postal Code: 22100.

Menaggio is home to historic streets, stunning scenery, and a youth hostel that makes it a perfect northern getaway. From the top of Rifugio Menaggio, 1400m above the lake, hikers can make trips to Monte Grona and the Chiesa di S. Amate. A l-2hr. hike (each way) leads to the spectacular Sass Corbee Gorge; inquire at the tourist office, P. Garibaldi 4, for directions and maps. ( 034 43 29 24. infom- enaggio@tiscalinet.it. Open M-Sa 9am-noon and 3-6pm.) To get to the resort-like KOstello La Prinula (HI) , V. IV Novembre 86, walk along the shore to the main thoroughfare, go past the gas station, and walk up the less steep incline on the right. ( 0.34 43 23 56; www.menaggiohostel.com. Breakfast included. Lockout 10am-5pm. Curfew 11:30pm. Call ahead to reserve. Open Mar.-Nov. Dorms ‚13.50; family rooms of 4-6 beds and private bath ‚14.)

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