Lake Lugano has a different look and atmosphere from Lake Como. Its waters are serene, there is less boat traffic, and apart from the city of Lugano, the shores are less developed. The city of Lugano has a modern vibe. Don’t expect the Liberty era villas of Lake Como – Lugano is more about smart modern blocks. But it has its own special Swiss charm – like Italy, only everything works. A trip to Lugano is an easy option, either by car or bus, even though you are crossing the border into Switzerland. Take your passport with you, but you probably won’t need it. You probably won’t need any Swiss currency either. In Lugano euros are accepted just about everywhere, although you will get change in Swiss francs. Be prepared for things to be more expensive than on Lake Como – quite a bit more. Just brace yourself and then enjoy the elegance and style of this most Italian of Swiss towns.
The bus no C12 goes from Menaggio to Lugano. The terminus isn’t terribly convenient for the centre – it’s next to the Piazza Marzio car park (recommended), and about a ten-minute walk to the centre. If you go down by the side of the lido towards the lake and over the river, it’s a very pleasant walk through the park. Taxis, by the way, are expensive.
Wander round the streets and squares and enjoy window-shopping. Then, if you fancy buying something, pop into the Manor department store for affordable goodies. The kitchenware department is a must for anybody who loves ‘kitchen porn’! Manor is also a great option for a meal. The cafe-cum-restaurant has all you could dream of for a great lunch, whether it’s just a small plate of salad you are after, or a three-course treat. Everything is self-service and you can watch the hot food being prepared to order before your eyes.
If you are a churchgoer, you may like to combine a day-trip to Switzerland with a friendly Anglican service at the church of St Edward the Confessor in Lugano, www.stedwards.ch
Chiavenna and Madesimo
North of Lake Como are the ski resorts of Chiavenna and Madesimo, about two hours’ drive from Como and an hour and a half from Menaggio. Madesimo is the higher of the two and offers good skiing and snow-boarding at reasonable prices. In the summer, it’s a great place to go hiking and horseriding. Chiavenna is lower down in the valley at the confluence of two rivers, and is a good place to stop for a break in the journey into the mountains. Local sights include the Acquafraggia waterfalls and the Palazzo Vertemate, a high Renaissance masterpiece (entrance €6, concessions €4, closed Wednesdays, except in August).
Day trip to St Moritz via Bernina Express
It is possible to make this journey by yourself, setting off by train from Varenna early in the morning. However, there are several options for organised trips, which, while possibly costing a few euros more, will take all the hassle out of the day for you. Happy Holiday Homes, based in Menaggio, organise a day trip every Monday www.happyholidayentertainment.com/weekly.php, as do Tivano Tours in Varenna. http://www.tivanotours.com/en/index.php At time of writing we haven’t yet confirmed that these are one and the same tour!
If at the end of your holiday you are leaving Italy from Orio al Serio airport at Bergamo, do consider spending your last night in the city of Bergamo. There is really nowhere else quite like it. It is also fairly easy to visit from the Lake Como area, especially if you are staying on the eastern shore of the lake. This is because the railway line that runs down to Milan provides a convenient connection for Bergamo at Lecco, Bergamo is a city of two towns, the medieval and Renaissance town high on the hill, and the modern city below. The two are connected by a funicular railway, or a frequent bus service that operates from the square outside the railway station. If you take the funicular, do pop into the cafe at the top for a quick coffee. The view from the terrace, with the plain of Lombardy laid out beneath you, is just breathtaking. On a particularly clear day, after rain, you can see all the way to the Ligurian Alps.
Day trip to Milan
Some people might say, if you are in holiday heaven on Lake Como, why would you want to leave it and visit a hot, dirty metropolis? But if this is likely to be your only visit to Italy, well, yes, you might want to visit the fascinating conundrum that is Milan. If you are near Como on the western shore, or staying on the eastern shore, it is certainly feasible to visit Milan in a day by train, but do make sure that you give yourself time to get back on public transport. It really isn’t worth driving there, unless you are a particular lover of motorways and traffic jams. After years of living in Milan we worked out a pretty foolproof itinerary around the centre. Wherever you arrive, take a metro to Piazza Duomo. There is not much to beat the buzz you get as you emerge from underground to sight the gothic marvel that is the Duomo. Take a walk round inside, making sure your shoulders are covered before you go in, and make sure to take in the ghoulish statue of San Bartolomeo, carrying his own skin nonchalantly over his shoulder, like a male model draping an overcoat.
From the Duomo, explore the extraordinary Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and for a blast of 21st century Italian style (if you have time) go into the department store La Rinascente. From the roof terrace cafe there is an unsurpassed view of the roof of the Duomo, which gives you a close look at the incredible architecture and engineering that went into its construction. Walk up Corso V Emanuele, past the round church of San Carlo, to Piazza San Babila, from where a left turn will lead you into Via Montenapoleone, and the ‘golden triangle’ of the Milan high fashion quarter. Emerging at the far end, you will see the Armani department store, which is worth a visit for its minimalist calm. Then turn down Via Manzoni, back towards the Galleria, to take in Piazza Scala, with its statue of Leonardo da Vinci, and La Scala theatre. Keep straight on and you will arrive at Piazza Cairoli,with its flower stalls. Turn right up Via Dante and head up to the Castello Sforzesco, the great fortress and palace built by the dukes of Milan at the start of the Renaissance. For an alternative downloadable walking itinerary for people arriving at Stazione Centrale, click here.