Europe > Italy

Lake Como: One of the Most Beautiful Lakes in Europe

lakeLake Como
countryItaly
surface area146 km2
maximum depth425 m
average depth103 m
lake typeNatural, dammed
length46 km
width5 km
catchment area4,605 km2
altitude198 m
volume15 km3
inflowsAdda River, Mera River
outflowsAdda River
islandsIsola Comacina
shore length186 km
settlementsComo, Lecco
residence time1,082 days
trophic stateOligotrophic to eutrophic
average discharge160 m3 / sec.

Lake Como Information and Facts

Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy by surface area, and widely considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. Its depth of 425 meters (1,394 feet), makes it the deepest lake in Italy and the fifth deepest lake in Europe.

Lake Como (Italian: Lago di Como) is glacial in origin, and is located in the Italian region of Lombardy. It has a surface area of 146 square kilometers (56 square miles), and only Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore are bigger in Italy. The bottom of the lake plunges 200 meters (or 660 feet) below sea level.

The lake has been a well known retreat for wealthy people even since Roman times. Boasting an impressive number of artistic and cultural hallmarks, it’s really no wonder that the lake is such a popular tourist attraction. The beautiful Italian landscape around the lake has been praised by 800 major Romantic artists, from Alessandro Manzoni to Stendhal, and from George Gordon Byron to Franz Liszt.

Some of the most famous palaces and villas include Villa Serbelloni, Villa Olmo, and Villa Carlotta. The lake shores have been home to many celebrity homes, including those of Madonna, Matthew Bellamy, George Clooney, Ronaldinho, Gianni Versace, Julian Lennon, Sylvester Stallone, and many more.

Geography and Hydrography

The lake’s surface area of 146 km² makes it the third largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. Lake Como’s perimeter of 170 kilometers is the longest of any Italian lake. The lake reaches a maximum length of 46 kilometers (Gera Lario - Como), and its width varies from 650 meters to 4.3 kilometers. The lake has a very unique  "Y" shape, or as a popular local saying goes, it is shaped like a man with a leg in Lecco, the other leg in Como, the nose in Damaso, and the butt in Bellagio.

The landscape around the lake ranges from grassy and rounded slopes to the serrated rocks and the peaks of the Dolomites. The alluvial deposits, carried by rivers and streams, were the main cause of separation of the smaller lakes (the Lake Mezzola in the North and Garlate and Olginate lakes in the South).

The main tributary of Lake Como is Adda River, which flows into the lake near Colico, and also flows out of it, at Lecco. This makes the southwestern branch of the lake a dead end, and this is the main reason why Como is often flooded, unlike Lecco.

Lake Basin

Lake Como’s basin consists of three different parts: Como is the southwestern branch, Lecco is the southeastern branch, and Colico (or the "upper lake") is the northern branch. The southern branches enclose the mountainous Larian Triangle, which is the source of Lambro river. The town of Canzo, the seat of the Comunità montana del Triangolo Lariano, is located at the center of the triangle. The division of the three branches is clearly visible from the Sasso di San Martino, above Griante.

The east coast of the Como branch is very typical, being very rugged and wooded. The countryside is still made up of ancient houses perched between lake and mountains, featuring steep stairs. The entire region around the lake is characterized by rugged landscape that forms a delicate balance with the houses and with the great historic villas, which are clearly visible from one shore to the other due to the smaller width of the lake, which doesn’t exceed a kilometer in the two southern branches.

Also due to the lake’s unique shape, tourism did not know the "mass" phenomenon typical of Lake Garda, visited only by exclusive aristocratic salons and artists who were often hosted here.  A meditative-type of life can still be found in vintage villas, but also the old simplicity of more humble villages (Careno, Nesso, Pognana, Brienno, Colonno, Corenno Plinio etc.).

One of Lake Como’s bays is the so-called Lake of Piona, near the municipalities of Colico and Dorio, bounded by the peninsula of Olgiasca and Montecchio to the South. The Merla River empties in the bay, but its waters are only abundant during the rainy season.

Climate

The weather around Lake Como is mild. Due to its climate which is very similar to the Mediterranean climate, sub-tropical plants grow here all year round. Water also maintains higher temperatures here during the winter. Average temperatures are the lowest in January, 2°C (36 °F) and highest in July, 30 °C (86 °F). During July, lake water temperatures can reach averages of  24 °C (75 °F). Most rainfall occurs in May, and precipitation is at its lowest during winter months.

Tourism and Recreation

Lake Como is a very popular tourist destination, and the beauty of the landscape surrounding it plays a big role. It is also rich in wildlife and spas. The most popular activities on the lake are windsurfing, sailing, and kitesurfing.

Villas

There are many beautiful villas around the lake, some of them built in Roman times, like the Comedia and Tragedia resorts which were built by Pliny the Younger. Many of the villas boast impressive gardens which benefit from the mild climate.

Villa Carlotta

Villa Carlotta was built in 1690 for Marquis Giorgio Clerici and sits on 17 acres of land at Tremezzo, facing the Bellagio peninsula. It features an Italian garden with sculptures, fountains, and steps. Giovanni Battista Sommariva, a powerful banker, bought the villa later on, and received Stendhal as a guest in 1818. Villa Carlotta was then bought by Princess Marianne of Nassau in 1843, as a present for her daughter Carlotta. Nowadays, the villa features an agricultural museum and works of sculpture by Antonio Canova and Luigi Acquisti.

Villa d’Este

Villa d’Este is located in Cernobbio and it was built in 1568 by a town native, Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of the Prince of Wales lived here between 1816 and 1817. The English-style gardens are a result of those years. In the late 19th century, the villa became a luxury hotel. Nowadays, it attracts many celebrities.

Villa del Balbianello

This villa was built in 1878 and it boasts elaborate terraced gardens. It is located on Lake Como’s western shore, near Isola Comacina. Villa del Balbianello was the final home for the explorer Guido Monzino, and today it features a museum in his honor.

Villa Melzi d'Eril

Built by architect Giocondo Albertolli between 1808 and 1810 in Bellagio, the neo-classic villa was the summer residence of Duke Francesco Melzi d'Eril. A private chapel, beautiful statues, an orangery, a Japanese garden and rhododendrons are all part of the villa’s park. Some of the notable guests include Stendhal and Franz Liszt.

Villa Serbelloni

Villa Serbelloni, like Villa Melzi d'Eril, is located in Bellagio, and is the home of the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. The international conference center spreads over 20 hectares and was set up by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1959. The famous park around the bulla was created by Alessandro Serbelloni at the end of the 18th century.

Transportation on the Lake

The small towns around the lake are linked by the Lake Como ferry service. Lario, a steamship with sails, was the first ship launched on the lake, in 1826. Nowadays, there are 3 important services: motorship services, fast services, and ferries.

Motorship services run on the western branch and at the northern section of the lake, between Colico and Como. There are also additional shuttles that service the mid-lake section. Fast services run mostly along the same routes, but use faster hydrofoils and stop less along the routes. The also cost more. Finally, ferries only service the mid-lake area, and run between the villages of Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna, and Cadenabbia. Some ferries can carry both passengers and vehicles.

Fish

The lake is inhabited by at least 26 species of fish including chub, perch, pike, burbot, lake trout, eel, whitefish, and catfish .

Lake Como Fish Species

Shad