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The city of Como has two distinct faces: one historic, facing the lake, and one industrial, which extends into the Brianza. Como is best approached from the north, either across the lake or along one of the lakeside roads, when the town is at its most magical: green, grey and a soft ochre. Bathed in golden sunlight, the walls of the old town retain a sobriety that is distinctly Lombard.
The first craftsmen to make the town famous were the master architects and stonemasons from the region, known as Maestri Comacini; the town's industrial future was assured by the introduction of silk manufacturing in 1510 by Pietro Boldoni. Pura seta di Como (pure Como silk) is a phrase often heard, since Como is Italy's top producer of silk, though the raw fibre comes from East Asia.
Today the old town of Como - the citta murata - is largely closed to traffic, and its layout is almost identical to that of the original Roman castrum on the site. For some time now there has been a complete ban on new construction; restoration is the order of the day. Como's ancient walls and arcades are ideal for a stroll back into the centuries, and the gourmet specialities and exclusive fashions make shopping here a very memorable experience.
The best place to start a tour of the historic old quarter is the cathedral square, Piazza Duomo, in which the Duomo (Cathedral; open daily, 7am - noon and 3-7pm), the Broletto (former town hall, built in 1215) and the Torre del Comune (old city tower) form a harmonious and grandiose architectural ensemble. Both the Torre del Comune and the Broletto, with its Tuscan-style black and white patterned facade, date from the early 13th century; the cathedral was begun somewhat later, in 1396, and construction work continued - with the odd interruption - right into the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, the building as a whole is exceptionally harmonious and it is one of Italy's finest examples of Gothic-Renaissance style. The 75 metre high dome above the crossing was built in 1744 by the Turin architect Juvara.
Lorenzo degli Spagli's original design was Gothic; the facade, begun in 1457, is considered a masterpiece of early Lombard Renaissance architecture. Much of its statuary is by the Rodari brothers, such as the Adoration of the Magi relief in the lunette, and the two seated figures, Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, placed proudly on either side of the main portal. Tommaso and Jacopo Rodari also did the so-called Porta della Rana or 'Frog Portal' on he northern side of the cathedral, which owes its name to a rather sketchy relief of a frog.
The interior of the cathedral is rather dark, but it contains several artistic masterpieces including the enormous 16th century Tuscan and Flemish tapestries lining the nave, a fine Deposition by Tommaso Rodari in the left transept, and several altar paintings by the great Bernardino Luini (Adoration of the Magi) and Gaudenzio Ferrari (Flight from Egypt).
Just a few short steps away from the cathedral is the church of San Fedele (open daily 8am-noon and 3.30-7pm), a 10th-12th century Romanesque basilica, built by the Maestri Comacini, on the ruins of an earlier Carolingian structure - Como's original cathedral. The apse with its dwarf gallery, and the trefoil ground plan are both reminiscent of Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel in Aachen. The northern portal has some very fine sculpture work, and inside to the left of the northern apse there are several frescoes dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, thematically related to the ones in the baptistery of Riva San Vitale (Lake Lugano).
The Palazzo Giovio houses the Museo Archeologico Artistico (open Tue-Sat, 9.30am-12.30pm, 2-5pm, Sun 10am-1pm), one of Como's two municipal museums. The oldest finds here date from around 8000BC, and there are also several Roman, Romanesque and Gothic exhibits. The picture gallery documents Lombard art of the 16th and 18th centuries, and there is also a section displaying art from the various Mediterranean cultures.
The other museum, the Museo del Risorgimento G. Garibaldi (open Tues-sat, 9.30am-12.30pm and 2-5pm, Sun 10am - 1pm), inside the Palazzo Olginati next door to the Palazzo Giovio, has some interesting exhibits documenting the town's history, its 19th century liberation struggles and the two World Wars.
One of the most majestic gates still surviving from Como's medieval fortifications is the mighty Torre di Porta Vittoria, a full 40 metre high tower, with its oversized double windows.
From the Piazza Vittoria it's not far to the church of Sant' Abbondio (open daily 7am-6pm), another example of Maestri Comacini architecture, and one of the most important Early Lombard Romanesque structures in Italy, now lying between the railway station and an industrial site. The five aisled basillica, with its two bell towers, has several stylistic features in common with structures north of the Alps (e.g. Speyer Cathedral in Germany). The strikingly large choir contains Gothic frescoes dating from around 1350. The cloister to the north of the building, with its twin-storeyed arcade, was added in the 16th century.
Although silkworms are no longer raised here, Chinese silk thread is dyed and woven around Como, making it Italy's largest producer of silk. The Silk Museum (Museo Didattico della Seta), is south of the centre at Via Castelnuovo 9 (open Tues-Fri 9am-noon and 3-6pm where the Silk maker's School gives a fascinating insight into the craft.
There's an excellent view of the town and the lake from the Castello Baradello 3 kilometres south of Como, an enchanting ruined fort on the eastern slopes of the Monte della Croce (536 m). Out on the western side of the harbour is the neoclassical structure known as the Tempio Voltiano, dedicated to the famous physicist and discoverer Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), after whom the electrical unit volt is named; his personal effects and also the batteries he invented are on display here.
The western lake promenade leads from Piazza Cavour past several attractive neoclassical villas to the Villa dell'Olmo (open Mon-Sat 8am - 6pm), an estate laid out in 1782-87. Its first important visitors were Napoleon and Josephine, who arrived just after the building was completed. The Villa dell'Olmo is the most majestic of the neoclassical villas in this part of Como.
I am a great fan of the northern lakes in Italy - there is something glamorous about each and every one but I think the most glamorous has to be Lake Como. It is so Italian; voluptuous and romantic. Como being the most important city on the lake is not only filled with history and has some amazing buildings it also has a celebrity glitz to it. I think it is known as the 'Comowood' of the lakes and although I've never seen him strolling around I do believe George Clooney has a villa there. Mind you even if I did bump into him I would probably be indifferent as he's not my sort of guy but that's by the way.
I don't know what it is but there is a special aura about Como especially in the old quarter although I even like the industrial area. Since the Roman Empire this city has inspired writers, poets and musicians. Now it is awash with footballers, fashion designers and film stars. It has a similar feel to Monaco - hectic with an electrical buzz. I like it - it's up there on my list of top ten cities.
*Posted on other sites but has been updated for Dooyoo*
Although the main part of our holiday this year was in Switzerland, we decided since we would be so close to the border with Italy, that we would travel by train to Como, which is literally about 5- 10 minutes from the last Swiss train station Chiasso right at the border.
We had heard many terrific things about Lake Como and Lake Garda over the years from family and friends recommending it. Now, since we were travelling by train, we decided to stay in the town of Como itself, at the southern point of the lake for sheer handiness.
We had booked to spend four nights there, and planned to spend a couple of days around the lake, and then maybe take a few tours to some nearby cities such as Milanor Verona.
There are 2 train stations in Como, Como NOrd, and Como S Giovanni. We arrived at the latter, which is the bigger of the two. Our first realisation of how much cleaner Switzerland was, was when I went to the toilet at the train station when we arrived in Como. Three of the four dirty toilets in the ladies were simply holes in the ground. A bit of a shock after Swtizerland. Anyhow, we walked from the station to our hotel which was closeby. If you come to Como by train, and arrive at Como S Giovanni station, there is a slight disadvantage in that if you book a hotel near the station for obvious reasons when walkign with luggage, you are about a 10 -15 minute walk to the lakeshore of Como, where there is much more life about.
Como itself is a rather busy little town. There is old historic part of the town which is pretty in places and there are numerous squares to walk through full of cafes and restaurants to sit and watch the world go by. There is also plenty of shopping, with some tacky tourist shops, but more everyday clothes and shoe shops.
Along the lake front are the various boat terminals, and this where you can take either a one hour cruise around the southerly shores of Lake Como for around 6 euros, or buy a day pass that will take you to other towns on Lake Como. There are day types of day pass, depending on the area of the lake you want to go to. The further you go the more you pay for the pass. These day passes however are only for the slow boats (the cheaper option), but if you are just wanting to visit one particular place on the boat, or money isn't an issue, you can opt for the fast boats which will have you in most destination within the hour, but you pay for it. We paid for a day pass which would take us up to the Bellagio/ Menaggio area of the lake, and this cost us around 40 euros, which is pretty hefty, but in saying that, you are spending pretty much all day on the boat, as it takes quite a while to get anywhere. The boat terminus will give you timetables so you an plan your day, and it is highly advisable to do so, since some of the lesser known areas on the lake may only have a couple of stops made at them during the day, so you need to be shure you can get back.
The other main attraction in Como, apart from the boat tours is the funicular railway that takes you up to Brunate, where you have some nice views to admire (if you can find them - you need a shuttle bus to take you up to the main views) and you can walk around the streets and enjoy the slightly cooler and fresher air. There are also a few eateries at Brunate where you could take a spot of lunch.
There is no doubt that Como is a pretty little town, but we did feel that if you are wanting a real feel for the lake, you would be far better staying at the likes of Bellagio mid way up Lake Como. We were very disappointed that there wasn't a single tour to any of the nearby cities like Milan run from the town. We asked in the tourist office (when it was open) about tours, and there was absolutely none. We did, in the end, manage to get a map of Milan and make our way to the city by ourself by train (which probably saved us quite a bit of money). We felt this wasn't really very well equipped for tourists.
All in all, Como is a very italian town, with an enormous amount of restaurants and cafes, suitable for everyones taste, in fact you could probably eat in a different one every day for a month. There is plenty of shopping, if you are splash with the cash, and there are plenty of boat tours. What they are lacking however is the vibrancy of Bellagio and its charm. They are also not as well equipped for tourists as the likes of Bellagio would be. I don't think I would rush back to Como or Lake Como in fact, and to be truthful there is much more cleaner, more scenic places in Switzerland, right across the border to explore and enjoy.