In a country with more than its fair share of spectacular landscapes, Italy’s Lake Como is one of the most breathtaking. Even better, it’s a fabulous destination to explore with kids, with tons to do and outstanding family-friendly accommodations. We asked Andrea Grisdale, the CEO of Lake Como-based Italy vacation specialists IC Bellagio, to share insider tips on the best of the Italian Lakes for families.
I think it is much more historical, much more quaint. If you go back to the 1500s, it was basically the first lake the Milanese nobility came to to construct villas. We still have the narrow roads, we still have the beautiful cobblestone stairways, we have a lot of the history and tradition.
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What we would call the central lake area is probably the best place — between Argegno toward Tremezzo and Bellagio. People describe Bellagio as the jewel of Lake Como. It’s very attractive, on a peninsula, and it’s maintained a lot of its history … you’ve got beautiful boutique stores, lanes to discover, cobblestones, villas with wrought-iron balconies and flower boxes.
I also think going into the small villages and actually staying in accommodations there can be hugely rewarding for families, because you really get an opportunity to live with the locals, and the locals go above and beyond with children to make them feel welcome.
For families, there are a lot of water-related activities, whether you’re out on a boat with a driver discovering the lake, water skiing, kayaking, or water surfing. There are water trampolines for kids. You can easily rent boats of various sizes whether you have a license or don’t.
It’s also a big area for hiking and biking, both mountain biking and road biking on San Primo, a mountain behind the central lake area. They have a bike park — it’s basically a ski area in the winter, but in the summer they modify the ski lift to attach to bikes. And there’s an adventure park called Jungle Raider with ziplining and activity pursuits. So if you’re looking for a Lake Como playground, this is it.
We have activities such as pizza making for kids and adults at local pizzerias, and gelato making and tasting in Bellagio. We have a wine region just north of the lake, and if people are doing wine tasting, they can include the kids in that by having them taste different grapes. They get to learn something about the different grapes and why the flavors are different.
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If you’re staying in the [major] towns, you can definitely use the public boats. Here on the lake they have hydrofoils, passenger boats and car ferries that also take just passengers. If you want to stay in one of the towns or villages that’s not on the main tourist trail, like Lezzeno, I recommend having a small car. I specify a small car because our roads are narrow, and the last thing you need is a big fat car that’s going to get you in trouble at every bend.
There’s never a time when they would not feel comfortable, but I think mid-March and April, and then the end of October and beginning of November, are great times to come. It’s not too hot, and there aren’t too many people around — you’re not waiting in line at one of the local trattorias — but we still have all of the services.
One thing in Italy you never have to worry about: The children are loved by everybody. A lot of trattorias and restaurants serve throughout the day or will start serving for families at 7 p.m. There’s a great place in Lezzeno, called Hotel Restaurant Aurora, that is literally lakeside — you can arrive with your boat and driver, or you can drive there. It’s very easy to get to. They have trampolines, kayaks, a sunbathing terrace and a good variety of foods.
In the past, we’ve had kids who’ve had a long trip with their parents, and all they want is to sit down and have a hamburger or a pizza. We’ve taken the kids off the parents’ hands and got them involved in a soccer tournament locally, or taken them to a local sporting club — or even just suggested to the parents to go there. There’s a lot of those kinds of things, especially in the summer when the Italian schools are off.
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