Lake Como, where the stars enjoy the “Dolce Vita”

Two more jumps and the Cessna’s floats lift out of the water. A wave shakes the seaplane for the last time before taking height over Lake Como, in northern Italy.

A breeze blows into the cabin through the side window, drying the worried sweat on your forehead. Probably more than one passenger boards the fragile vintage plane “Bird Dog” with a certain feeling of discomfort.

“There is no need to worry,” reassures Cesare Baj. The white-haired pilot has almost as many flying hours under his belt as this seaplane built in 1946, which saw service for the US Air Force in the Korean War. “We must not lack flight experience,” he jokes.

Baj is vice president of the Aeroclub of Como. The entity founded in 1930 is the oldest seaplane club in the world.

Countless pilots trained there and an even greater number of passengers passed through for tourist flights.

From the air, like an inverted Y

After takeoff, Cesare Baj flies in a wide arc over the city of Como. The view of the labyrinth of alleys and the dome of the cathedral is magnificent. The city is framed by forested mountains.

From the air, and coming from the south, Italy’s third largest lake looks like an inverted “Y”. In the middle of its extension, where the city of Bellagio is, Lake Como branches off, which has a total length of 51 kilometers. The eastern arm culminates in Lecco; the western, in Como.

Baj heads north. Along the roads that border the lake, villages make their way up the steep slopes, others squeeze into narrow bays. Building land is scarce and expensive.

After the clergymen, the aristocrats and the industrialists of rich Lombardy, today it is the footballers of Milan and Inter Milan, as well as celebrities from all over the world, who drive prices up. Some villas here are simply priceless.

The town that gave him world fame

Notable buildings include the 18th-century Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, now a museum with an imposing park, and the even older Villa d’Este in Cernobbio.

The cornerstone of what would later become a Renaissance residence was laid in 1442. It housed cardinals, kings and tsars before being converted into a luxury hotel in 1873.

For Cesare Baj, the Grand Hotel with the swimming pool floating on the lake is the highlight of his tourist flights, while for Danilo Zucchetti, it represents the highlight of his career.

The Milanese is the director of the Villa d’Este, which has made Lake Como known throughout the world as a vacation spot with grandezza.

Zucchetti’s main task is to maintain the myth of the town, without letting it get lost in time. Therefore, his motto is “continually developing, but without changing anything.”

And it seems to be successful. At the time Gary Cooper, Liz Taylor and Frank Sinatra stayed there, today Robert de Niro, Lady Gaga or Bruce Springsteen, a regular visitor, do so.

The charisma of the Villa d’Este and its illustrious guests from the film and music industries have made Lake Como in the United States the symbol of the summer “Dolce Vita”.

Here you can sunbathe, cruise the lake on the elegant Riva de Como Classic Boats or play golf at Menaggio and at Club Villa d’Este.

Clooney and Lake Como

In some European countries, Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore (Greater) are better known than Lake Como. And this despite the fact that actor George Clooney, owner since 2003 of Villa Oleandra in Laglio, not far from Como, It always appears in the photos of Lake Como in magazines, which brings publicity to the lake.

“The poor guy hardly has any privacy,” says Baj, as he flies over Clooney’s villa in the Cessna.

The wealthier have plenty of luxury residences to choose from on Lake Como, while those with average incomes tend to opt for vacation rentals.

Camping spaces are scarce. There is one at Menaggio, which looks especially attractive when viewed from the Cessna. While other spots on the rugged western shore are already in shadow by early morning, the campsite’s plaza, with its ice cream bar and restaurants, is still bathed in sunlight. The cut of the mountain chain behind the city makes it possible.

Bellagio is the stage

Varenna, on the eastern shore, and Bellagio, on the promontory jutting out into the lake, are bathed in warm light until sunset. Behind them rise the peaks of the Alps of the Valtellina region, often covered in snow.

Bellagio is the stage, Varenna the grandstand. Especially from the Royal Gourmet restaurant in Varenna, which slopes down to the terraced lake, you can enjoy a wonderful view of Bellagio, which lies opposite and is considered the “pearl of the lake”.

Cesare Baj prefers to fly in a great arc from Varenna, over Bellagio, to get the most beautiful view of the Villa Serbelloni, which towers over the city.

Americans, who tend to spend a lot, are the ones who have contributed the most to enrich the people. The Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas, named after the Italian town, also helped fuel the furore.

Where Robbie Williams paid too much

Carlo Tettamanzi waits for passengers on his sailboat moored in the small port of Pescallo, near Bellagio.

The lawyer has already sailed regattas as a professional skipper and has crossed the Atlantic before returning to his native country to offer nautical excursions on Lake Como under the name Bellagio Sailing.

Tettamanzi is a charming storyteller. “Clooney was interested in that villa over there because he could offer her more privacy,” he says.

And he also knows where singer Robbie Williams has stayed. “The 40 million euros he paid for his villa were too much,” he says. Tettamanzi smiles and then sets sail on the 13-meter classic sailing ship “Dama di Bellagio”.

The navigator, who like many on the lake speaks perfect English, provides countless restaurant tips.

Among the best is the Kitchen of Cernobbio, where the young Sicilian Andrea Casali stands out with a cuisine full of fantasy that, however, focuses on the quality of the ingredients. Its creamy prawns with fermented almonds or the pasta stuffed with Parmesan and foie gras are worthy of a Michelin star.

The summer residence of the first German chancellor

Cesare Baj flies over the Kitchen, after passing through Cadenabbia, where the first German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer spent many summer holidays at Villa La Collina.

“The villa is now a Konrad Adenauer Foundation facility,” says Baj. Underneath the plane, traffic is back on the west coast road, the Strada Regina.

“When the lake gets crowded, the locals flee inland for the weekend.” There are numerous agritourism places in the middle of the countryside.

But Cesare Baj today avoids the additional loop towards the interior of the region and undertakes his approach to splash down. With a view of Como’s old town, his “Bird Dog” slowly descends and gently lands on the lake.

You can travel to Lake Como by car and there are also good connections by train. The closest airports are Milan, Bergamo and Lugano.

Lake Como is a classic summer tourist destination, with maximum temperatures hovering between 25 and 27 degrees, on average. Active tourists also enjoy this region in spring and autumn.


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