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Lake Como's water-edge wonders

From Cernobbio to Bellagio, where even the roads have been given the name of royals

Lake Como's water-edge wonders

Dramatically beautiful scenery and a seemingly interminable series of sumptuous villas: this is Lake Como. To visit the lake, we take the old "Strada Regina" road. We make our first stop at Cernobbio, at Villa Erba, a magnificent residence with extensive park overlooking the lake. This is where the director Luchino Visconti spent his childhood. Cernobbio, a town of medieval origins, is the preferred destination of Italian and International celebrities who, when not hidden behind the well-guarded perimeter walls of the glamorous villas which surround the lake, are frequently spotted in the town's fashionable Piazza Rinascimento.

Montrasio, with its maze of little narrow lanes, is an enchanting place. Not to be missed, the Church of Sant'Agata, built in the 11th century in Romanesque style using the grey-coloured local stone. Next to the church there is the 18th century Villa Passalacqua, surrounded by a marvellous, terraced garden. Known for Villa Oleandra and Villa Margherita, the residences of the actor George Clooney, Laglio boasts a stunning view of the lake.

Brienno is a little town of medieval origin, located at the feet of the San Bernardo and Briante mountains. Whilst here, visitors should not fail to take a look at the 11th century Church of San Vittore with its characteristic bell tower, (the "comacino"), and the Church of Saints Nazaro and Celso. In the oratory of this lovely house of worship, there is an invaluable 16th century polyptic by Andrea de Passeris.
Argegno is another medieval village, home to a surprising number of craftsmen's studios. Via the Pigra funicular railway, visitors are transported to an altitude of some 900 meters, from where to enjoy a breathtaking view and visit the 16th century Oratory of San Rocco.

Returning to the Strada Regina, we travel for just a few kilometers so as to reach Sala Comacina, with its 15th century Church of San Bartolomeo. From here we cross the waters to the island of Comacina where to admire the ruins of the triple apsed Church of Sant'Eufemia.

Our journey continues towards Ossuccio, home to the Church of Saints Giacomo and Filippo, built in the 11th century and with foundations sunk into the lake bed. Another attractive church is that of Santa Maria Maddalena which, like that of Saints Giacomo and Filippo, also has a beautiful bell tower. From here, we head uphill towards the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso, constructed in the 16th century so as to venerate the 14th century statue of the Madonna and Child, considered to have miraculous powers. The site was later enlarged so as to allow for the building of the Sacro Monte: a monumental complex with some 14 chapels.

The first town of the Tremezzina is Lenno, where to visit the 18th century Villa del Balbianello, owned by the FAI (Italian Environment Foundation), and the paleochristian area, where two interesting examples of sacred architecture, the Church of Santo Stefano and the Baptistery, are located. From here we travel onwards, approaching Tremezzo, a lively town situated on the shores of the lake and home to Villa Carlotta, built in the 18th century in honour of Carlotta of Prussia and later embellished with sculptures by the great Antonio Canova.

Menaggio, with its narrow little streets, baroque Church of San Carlo, and Romanesque Church of Santo Stefano is, in itself, a delightful town to visit, as well as being the place from where to take the ferry to Bellagio. Bellagio is a town known for its five star hotels and elegant boutiques, but also for the splendid Lombard-Romanesque Church of San Giacomo and the Rockefeller Foundation, this latter housed within the supremely elegant Villa Serbelloni. Like Villa Serbelloni, Villa Melzi also boasts a splendid park. In Varenna, there is the sumptuous Villa Monastero, the gardens of which are also open to the public.

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