Menaggio has always been popular with visitors, especially the British, but in the last three years or so, it has become more attractive as a tourist base. The reasons? One, the new road tunnels above and behind the town that have taken through traffic away from the main street, Two, the Lido, owned by the council, has had a major facelift. Menaggio also boasts the best tourist information in the midlake area. You’ll find it (currently behind scaffolding) on the main square.
Starting at Piazza Garibaldi and ending at the Lido, the promenade, or lungolago, of Menaggio town has lots to delight the visitor; from cafés and bars, through monumental sculpture and gardens, to crazy golf. It gives the town wonderful lake vistas, and a welcoming holiday ambience.
On busy days in the summer season, it can be hard to find a parking space in the middle of town. Parking in the centre is pay and display, €1 per hour. If you can bear to walk a little way, leave the car in the car park next to the cemetery at the northern end of town, and walk back, either straight down Via Lusardi, or turn left to detour round the lake front. In the summer months, the football field, over the road from the Lido, is turned into a car park. If you are visiting the Lido, this is definitely the best place to park.
Menaggio boasts a good range of shops. If you are early you can even buy an English paper. Don’t be put off by the overpriced posh designer shops on Via Calvi going up from the main square. For campers and self-catering tourists, Ortelli’s hardware store in Via Mylius can meet almost every need. If you are looking for gifts or souvenirs, cross the main road and walk up past the church of San Stefano on your right and take a turn left into Via Castellino di Castello. Here you will find the Aladdin’s cave that is the china shop, with everything you can imagine for the home and kitchen. Food shops in Menaggio are excellent quality, and the supermarket ‘Il Pellicano’ is like the Tardis inside. It is just amazing how much stock the owners have managed to pack in. Another surprise is the supermarket on the corner by the car ferry terminal. This looks like a tiny corner shop, but it goes back for miles. A good place to buy foodie souvenirs.
The obvious place to stop for a coffee or an aperitivo is one of the bars with tables on the square. Here people sit out all year round. These places aren’t cheap, because you are paying for the view and the privilege of being seen in very stylish surroundings. If you would like an ice cream in an idyllic setting, take a stroll along the promenade to the Gelateria Il Gabbiano, which has tables next to the lake under a pergola. There is waiter service, but if you don’t see anybody, just go in and place your order and say that you will be ‘fuori’. The Bar’Chic Freak’ at the top of Via Lusardi, opposite the Bank, is a little-known gem. Again, it looks like nothing from the street, but at the back there is a lovely covered terrace right above the water. You could sit there all morning, in peace and comfort, enjoying the comings and goings of the boats.
Menaggio has many restaurants, from a burger bar to high-class French cuisine at the Grand Hotel Victoria. A favourite with tourists is Il Pozzo, on the square. Worth a try if you are on a budget is the Pizzeria Lugano, located at the junction of Via Como and the main road. Prices are lower than in the restaurants on the square, but quality is very good and the staff are friendly. For something a little different, try La Grolla, in Piazza V Emanuele, down at the end of the promenade by the crazy golf. This is the only restaurant in Menaggio with a terrace right on the lake, and the food and service are excellent.
If you have teenagers in your party, we would definitely recommend Menaggio as a place to stay, compared with, say, Bellagio or Varenna. The Lido offers an attractive place to while away the days with an ipod, with evening parties and events. There is a large campsite right on the edge of town, which guarantees a good supply of young people in the summer season.