Bellagio

Lake Como, From the Water

The tour bus crept along in front of us. Lurching forward and screeching to an abrupt halt, it navigated the narrow walled streets. Streets that clearly weren’t built with tour buses in mind.

We cursed silently, willing our long drive to finally end, willing the bus to turn off the damn road already, willing ourselves to see the Roman-era walled cities as artifacts of beauty not bumpers in a sadistic race course.

Without an end to the traffic torture in sight, our plans of exploring Lake Como by car for the next few days, village-hopping up and down the coast, were squashed.

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como is massive. In my imagination, Lake Como was petite, easily circumnavigated, a few small villages, a handful of villas and regular interactions with George Clooney, the lake’s most famous resident. In reality, the lake is seriously huge, nearly 30 miles long. The drive from the southernmost point to our village in the central region of the lake took over an hour.

No thanks to that tour bus.

After we gave the car exploration idea the ole’ heave ho, we realized that we were probably better off. I mean, we were at a lake for goodness sake. Seeing it from the comfort of the air con and streaming Spotify playlists is a little lazy, even for us. A little research gave us a few ideas about how to get our fill of Lake Como down at sea level.*

Lake Como
Lake Como

The lake is home to a reliable ferry system, shuttling people to from village to village. Water taxis are also always available, though the logistics of how to flag one down remained elusive to us. On the manual powered side of things, kayak and canoe rental agencies set-up shop along the water for hourly rentals.

But the best option of all, the one that had us itching to get to the water, is a selection of several private companies who offer eager customers a private Lake Como boat rental by the hour. Without the need for a boat license.

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Handing over a small watercraft to two inexperienced seamen for a few hours? That seems downright dangerous. And fun.

Our rental came from AC Boat Rentals, located in our village of Menaggio. We arrived at the dock promptly at 10am, ready for extensive lessons about marine right of way, buoy colors, and how to dock the boat upon our return without inflicting an major damage.

Instead, we were taken straight to our boat. One of the dockhands came on board with us, showed us how to turn on and off the boat, how to go forward and backward, and where to stow our shoes. The rest, he promised, was in the manual. And then he gave us a little push and we were off.

Lake Como

Lake Como

The manual, it turns out, did have an emergency phone number, but more important, the location of famous villas up and down the lake.

Within five minutes, we decided that a Lake Como boat rental was one of the best things we’ve ever done. The next three hours reaffirmed our thoughts. From the peacefulness of the empty lake, no tour buses in sight, we were able to completely relax, and to see the lake like it is really meant to be experienced, from the water.

Small village after small village sat snuggly along the shore, the terra-cotta roofs and multi-colored facades easing by in a steady stream of picture perfection. High in the hills, single homes peeked out, their views unobstructed by pesky things like buildings or roads. At the village edge usually lay a sprawling villa or two, gardens extending well beyond a normal sized property.

The villa below, for example, was featured in Star Wars (Episode 2: Attack of the Clones) and also one of the Bond movies (Casino Royale). The house below that was in Ocean’s Twelve.

Lenno villa

Ocean's Twelve villa

We needn’t have worried about safety or how two novices would handle a real live boat. Our boat (see how swiftly it became ours?) was about 20 feet long, and was easy to handle. While we both know the basics of waterway rules, like the bigger boat always gets right of way, there were few boats on the water at all, leaving most of our knowledge untapped.

We took turns driving and consulting our manual to point out the famous villas as we passed. While I desperately tried to take photos with a straight horizon, Drew did his best to avoid windy areas or the wake of stray boats. We even pulled over for a bit, in a secluded little glen, to sunbathe on the padded bow.

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Our three hours were up before we knew it. We crept up to the dock, engine idling long before it was actually necessary, as a young dockhand waited patiently for his precious cargo. The parking went off without a hitch, and we eased back onto dry land, high on adrenaline and life. Blissed out from the perfect morning, we actually decided that the rest of the day should be spent doing absolutely nothing, lest we start comparing any inferior activity to our morning on the boat.

We made a short video of our time on the lake, which I keep watching over and over. It’s a good reminder for me that some places are best explored from the water. Just like nature intended.

 

*Technically, the bottom of Lake Como lies below sea level. It’s one of the deepest lakes in Europe, nearly 1,300 feet (400 meters), and at the bottom, it is 660 feet (200 meters) below sea level.

Many thanks to AC Boat Rentals for providing a boat to us free of charge. It’s not very frequent that a top-activity-ever-experienced-in-life gets handed to us, and we are grateful for the opportunity.

The Best Way to See Lake Como

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  • September 14, 2016

    This sounds incredible! My ultimate happy place is on a body of water on a boat, and I can’t think of a cooler place to do it than Lake Como. Thanks for sharing this experience!
    Kacy Kish recently posted…Weekly B.S. Report 9.12.16My Profile

    • September 15, 2016
      Julie

      amazingly, it’s even more beautiful and grand than the pictures portray. Really exceeded our expectations!

  • September 17, 2016

    Definitely the right choice of seeing Lake Como from Lake Como. Its funny I also have also thought of it as smaller than what you showed. How stunning and gorgeous it is.
    Sara | Belly Rumbles recently posted…Dr Fish Foot Spa, Jiaoxi Taiwan – Pedicure via Garra RufaMy Profile

    • September 18, 2016

      Took us almost 45 minutes by boat to get to Como from Menaggio, which doesn’t look that far on the map!

  • September 17, 2016

    Lake Como boat rental sounds like an amazing way to see the area. I had no idea they rented boats without licenses – amazing!!! I want to give this a whirl :D!
    Megan Jerrard recently posted…A Guide to the Picturesque Towns of Georgia, USAMy Profile

    • September 18, 2016

      No license or experience needed, apparently! Actually, it was super easy and the lake was particularly empty!

  • September 17, 2016

    This lake is sooo huge! Is it possible to visit “Bond’s” villa. I feel so excited when I visit the places where certain movies were filmed. It’s cool to imagine yourself as part of the movie scene. Gorgeous pics and experience! thank you for sharing.
    Natalia recently posted…Estonia is an authentic experience: what to know before visiting this countryMy Profile

    • September 18, 2016

      You can visit one of them. We didn’t have time, but cruising by it on the boat was super fun!

  • September 17, 2016

    That is so funny … “The rest, he promised, was in the manual. And then he gave us a little push and we were off.” But seriously, I would love to rent a boat and cruise on Lake Como and I am without boating experience as well. Definitely looks like you both had a great time. BTW, you got some good photos.
    Travelwith2ofus recently posted…The beautiful and diverse landscape of Chile in photosMy Profile

  • September 17, 2016

    So, did you run into George Clooney? What a fabulous experience. Nothing better than just hanging out in a boat and in such a beautiful place. Amazing pictures!! Truly fantastic.
    Rosemary recently posted…Authentic Food Quest En Route To Eat Their Way Through Southeast Asia!My Profile

    • September 18, 2016

      Unfortunately no Clooney…but plenty of beautiful views!

  • September 18, 2016

    I love the Italian lakes and definitely think a boat is a good idea. I also highly recommend Lake Isola which no one ever seems to talk about but it is really stunning
    Anne Slater-Brooks recently posted…Why Now Is The Best Time To Visit London For AmericansMy Profile

    • September 18, 2016

      Thanks for the rec!

  • September 18, 2016

    Beautiful pictures! I did a boat tour on Lake Como few months ago but on a press trip and it was beautiful – but it only lasted for 1 hour so lucky you (3hours!!! :)))

  • September 18, 2016

    Wow! I wouldn’t even think about operating a boat on our own, but it doesn’t seem too difficult. I’ll have to consider it for the next time we go to Italy, as we didn’t go to Lake Como at all!
    Lauren recently posted…Photo Essay: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Zodiac Boat TourMy Profile

  • September 18, 2016

    What an experience you had! I recently stayed in a phinisi boat in Indonesia and can say, nothing better than hanging out in a boat. Preferably for a few days. 🙂 Gorgeous photos.
    Nisha recently posted…Lukla to Monjo, EBC TrekMy Profile

  • September 19, 2016

    You definitely chose the better option! I can’t imagine choosing a car over a boat to appreciate a lake as beautiful as lake como. No more traffic worries!

  • September 28, 2016

    Great photos, Lake Como looks beautiful. No wonder all the movie stars flockthere.

    • October 1, 2016

      Thanks…I wouldn’t mind snatching up a villa myself. Just need to play the lottery!