Owing to its delightful setting, Bellagio, an oasis of peace on the shores of the lake, has been a holiday destination for centuries. Bellagio is situated upon the cape of the land mass that divides Lake Como in two. The city centre occupies the tip of the promontory, while other districts are scattered along the lake shores and up the slopes of the hills.
Italy has so many beautiful towns it's hard to pick among them and rank the best. But very often, Bellagio sits on top of that list. Located in the Lake District in the north of Italy on Lake Como, it is one of the world's most beautiful destinations that you would enjoy visiting. The poet Shelley called it "the loveliest town in the world." Mark Twain described it as a "beauty out of heaven itself."
It is a picturesque wonderland, most famous for its staircase streets, which lead up to an upper-level shopping street. So you can go up, across, back down again, wander at will. It's a bit of effort, but the steps are pretty shallow, quite easy to climb these steps.
You'll find many scenic places for those all-important selfies. It's a small village just 200 meters from one end to the other. But within that area, there are many little lanes to wander on. Bellagio is considered one of the most picturesque places in Italy, often referred to as the "Pearl of Lake Como" due to its stunning natural beauty and charming atmosphere.
The old town is characterized by narrow streets and picturesque, winding alleys, most of them staircases lined with charming shops, cafes and restaurants. It's a great place to wander and explore. The town's layout is reminiscent of a typical medieval village with steep and irregularly shaped streets that climb up the hillside, with the rounded cobblestone paving that is relatively easy to walk on.
The Bellagio waterfront promenade offers stunning views of Lake Como and is lined with more charming shops, hotels and restaurants. In addition, there are these lovely cafes along the arcades the Bellagio. You want to sit down and have a snack, maybe have lunch right here. Here's a great place to take a break. Adding to the allure of town is this scenic location along the shores of Lake Como, surrounded by mountains.
You can get here by boat, which can also take you to other villages around the lake. But certainly, you want to spend a lot of time here in Bellagio. The lakefront promenade through these porticos is one of the most important streets, with many shops and restaurants. If Bellagio were only another typical Italian town with a pedestrian zone, with pretty pastel-colored buildings, and a flat terrain, it would be just another picturesque village.
However, the staircase lanes going up the hill make it something special magical, unique. You do have to put in a little effort to climb those steps, but it's easy. If you cannot climb, some streets will take you gradually around to the top.
The porticos along the waterfront, and the upper lane, Garibaldi, the main street of town, are connected by nine pedestrian lanes that are mostly staircases. Salita Serbelloni is the busiest and most picturesque, so if you only have time or energy for one staircase, make it this one.
The two other main staircase streets, Salita Mella and Monastero, are both quite lovely to walk on. So that's five main lanes altogether. So if you don't have enough time in your visit to see everything, focus on those main streets. However, you'll find that all of those lanes are a lot of fun to walk on.
If you cannot handle staircases, take via Roma for a more gentle route that will bring you up the hill. And then you could easily walk down one of those scenic staircases. These winding hillside lanes are so beautiful you would probably enjoy walking every bit of them, with a complete route covering about two kilometers. And the hill is not very steep.
However, to take full advantage of your visit, you should walk each of those major lanes round-trip. Yes. Back and forth, uphill and downhill. That way you'll have twice as much fun. And after all, the sights you'll find along a street always look a little different when you return to the opposite direction, making it a round-trip.
If you walk back and forth on each staircase, it doubles your distance to four kilometers or two and a half miles, which means you could see all of the town in about 2 hours in this wonderfully complete route. In that way, you get the most out of this opportunity to explore such a magical place. Of course, you'll want to add in some more time for popping into the shops and having snacks and then maybe having lunch, so you can look forward to a wonderful half-day at least to discover Bellagio.
We are now walking along that upper lane, via Garibaldi, with those staircases coming up to it from down by the lakeshore. And this street is the longest and most important commercial street in town. It has the most shops and restaurants, and it's pretty level, easy to walk. From here, you can plunge down any of those little side lanes back to the lakefront.
Let's stroll down Selita Mella, one of those three main staircase streets pointed out earlier. And here we see the upper level; rather than a staircase, it's a gentle ramp. You've got cobbles on the sides and nice flagstones in the middle for very secure footing, with outdoor cafes offering food and wine. And just ahead, a little shopping alcove showcasing the boutique, Pierangelo Masciadri, featuring scarves, ties, and accessories with fashion as a vehicle to transmit cultural messages.
There are a few more shops scattered along Selita Mella, and some private homes and apartments, some of which are available for rent on a short-term basis. And now, towards the bottom of Selita Mella, we've got steps. It's become that staircase street, and it's still easy to walk on with excellent cobblestone paving. If we follow my advice, we can turn around and walk back up Selita Mella, gaining that reverse perspective, which we'll do later. But first, we're heading back down to the promenade along the lake and then up the main staircase street. I imagine some timid visitors only stay down here at the lake level along the porticos. They'll take a look up at the staircases and go, "Oh, no, I'm not climbing that." But one of the main reasons to come here is to enjoy these wonderful staircases.
When you arrive in Bellagio, the first staircase street you're going to see is the biggest and best of all of them, Salita Serbelloni. If you're only going to walk one staircase, let this be the one. The town's layout is reminiscent of a typical medieval village with steep and irregularly shaped streets that climb up the hillside. But here, it's unique with that lakefront setting and a large number of staircase streets, which makes a great place to wander and explore.
Salita Serbelloni is just 125 meters long, so you'll soon arrive at the top -- a good place for pictures and a nice view looking back down the steps. Here we have a typical scene, with a wine bar on the left and a restaurant across the street from it, Trattoria San Giacomo, perched right at the top of the staircase, with a nice view looking out. The restaurant gets good ratings on social media, and it's very popular. Still, they don't take reservations, so you might have to wait a while, maybe over at that wine bar, or go in a non-peak time, or just pick one of the many other restaurants available.
As we walked down that same Salita Serbelloni in the opposite direction, we can test my proposal that streets look different when you're returning along that same route. As you walk along, the passing parade of people is always filled with variety. For the devoted shoppers, you might want to walk up and down the same street several times to make sure you didn't miss anything. The cobblestone lanes are so well made, you'll have great traction even after the rain, with smooth round surfaces, very comfortable underfoot.
The Lake Como area is famous for silk. Silk production has a long and storied history in the city of Como, located on the other side of the lake. It has been a center of silk production since the early Middle Ages when silk was introduced to Europe via the Silk Road from China.
The legend says that silkworms were smuggled out of China and brought to the eastern Mediterranean by two merchants who were disguised as priests. However, it was not until the 16th century that silk production in Como began to flourish. The Duke of Milan had planted vast amounts of mulberry trees to feed those hungry worms, and there was abundant lake water to help in the processing, making Como the silk capital of Italy and one of the world's major producers.
You can get to Bellagio on your own by driving, or from the city of nearby Como, you could take a boat or a bus. They each take about 45 minutes with a price under 10 euro. Or you could take a one-hour train ride from Milan to Varrena on the shores of Lake Como, and then a 15-minute ferry ride to Bellagio, as we'll show you in our other video about Varrena, another beautiful Lake Como village, but much smaller than Bellagio. In our case, we came with my group on a private tour, coming here on a day trip from Milan with our guide, Giovanni Menna, taking us for an orientation walk. His Como Lake Holiday company provides transfers and tours from all the towns in the area.
"What we do now is to make a tour in Bellagio. So follow me and we make the circle. We are right in front of the town now. And now I am in the lake. Oh, no. Sorry. I'm no more in the lake. But until a couple of centuries ago, here we had the lake. Because we are right in front of the portico. You see this long tunnel here? This is the famous portico of Bellagio. A portico was the center of the life of the town. In the portico, the fishermen were collecting their boats here, the fishing boats, they were selling the fish to the people, and they were repairing the nets, the boats and everything. So they would spend the whole day here. So the portico is always the center part of every town, not just of Bellagio. Every single town, every single village we have on our lakes had the portico. In many towns now, it's disappeared. In Bellagio, it's still there, but as you can see now is full with shops. But originally, they had the small rooms where they were living, or they had their tools for fishing, and so on. Maybe they had the animals. Donkeys were very popular here, and they still had cows until about one century ago."
We walked along with our guide from the boat and bus station area into the town. Ssome of the first sights you'll see upon arriving in Bellagio, rows of shops, with a few hotels and restaurants along the waterfront promenade.
"So as you can see, we have steps, many steps, step steps. The people here live on steps from the cradle to the grave, we say. That could be one of the reasons why the people have got this longevity here. People live longer, or maybe because we drink a lot of extra virgin olive oil. We put it everywhere you know."
We came across one of the smaller staircase streets, Salita Grandi, only a few shops on this one. Still, there's the Hotel Bellagio, a boutique property with 30 rooms, no connection with the giant Hotel Bellagio in Vegas with 3500 rooms. And that Vegas property has no resemblance to the town of Bellagio whatsoever.
At the end of the promenade, you'll reach the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, one of the most prestigious, historic hotels in the area and the only five-star luxury hotel in Bellagio, now celebrating 150 years in business, first constructed as a private villa in 1850 and converted to a hotel in 1873.
Just next to it, you'll find Via Roma, that easier, more gentle way to walk up the hill mentioned earlier, bypassing the staircases, and leading up to one of the main piazzas of town, the Piazza della Chiesa, with the main church of Bellagio, Basilica di San Giacomo.
"So in the main square we have the fountain that was originally the wall of the town, and now it's the fountain. You see that it's a church from the 11th century following this architectural style that's called Romanesque or Romanico in Italian, or Spanish. And it's an architectural style that developed and spread everywhere in Europe. Of course, this one has been modified many times during the centuries. So now you may see inside some baroque elements. You will see some side altars. This is a huge church. Why? Because we are in Bellagio. Bellagio in the 11th century was already the most important economic and fishing center on the lake, the most important town on the lake. So that's why they needed a big church."
Because of the importance of the church and large size of the open area, this is generally considered the most important piazza in town, with a medieval tower ("Torre delle Arti Bellagio") on the other side that was once part of Bellagio's now-disappeared defenses and at the base of the tower is a very popular restaurant. People line up to get in here. The piazza also has a casual cafe, and there are a few shops around it, and some vacation rental apartments are also available right here on the piazza.
The town's busiest commercial street extends out from here, the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, extending for 300 meters, with shops, cafes and restaurants along both sides of it, on a path with beautiful cobblestone paving and a level terrain to enjoy a casual stroll. Notice up in front of us, just ahead of that dog, there is a little restaurant called "Dai Viga fresh pasta and," a delightful place to have lunch -- homemade noodles with friendly service and an efficient system where you go to the counter and choose from the different types of pasta and sauces, all made fresh this day right in that little kitchen. Place your order, then sit down, and they will quickly bring it to you. Mmm. I had the Rigatoni Bolognese, still steaming with express service from the kitchen counter. It's a casual, friendly place, and they also serve wine, beer or a spritz. You can eat in or take the food away. Open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Another food option right across the street is this deli-type, traditional Salumeria. There you'll find all sorts of cheeses, cold cuts, beverages to go, hams, mushrooms, truffles, all in this traditional food store that's been here for over 50 years. Continuing along via Garibaldi, also called Il Borgo as the main street of downtown, with numerous stores and boutiques selling local merchandise, with apparel and perfumes, food and leather goods.
Beware of the tiny cars coming at you on this narrow street, and sometimes you'll notice a little side alley leading into a courtyard with more shops. This same street name, Via Garibaldi is found in nearly every town in Italy because Giuseppe Garibaldi was the great military leader who unified the country during the Second Italian War of Independence. And in 1859, Garibaldi's troops arrived in Bellagio, and at that point it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
We've reached the effective end of this street, having arrived back at the staircase called Salita Serbelloni, which we've already walked up and down. Turn around and walk back along the same via Garibaldi in the opposite direction, following those suggestions that I had earlier that the street will look different when you walk back the same way.
And it's so lovely, you don't want to just come through here once and that's the end of it. By this time we have seen most of the town and you might be getting a little bit tired after all this walking, like this dog wants to just take a break. But it's an easy glide along this smooth paving and we find ourselves back towards the Piazza della Chiesa.
If you wanted the easy route going back down the hill without dealing with a staircase, just keep going through the piazza around that via Roma where we came up earlier. Or maybe you're still tired. Do you want another break like this dog? Since we're now on the upper side of town, it should be quite effortless to pick a lane and walk downhill.
We're going down Selita Monastero, which has that lovely, smooth cobblestone and flagstone paving typical of the town. You'll see it's sometimes a staircase and other times a gentle ramp, depending on the terrain. About halfway down Monastero, there is a cross street called via Centrale, and this has a few more restaurants, and it connects over to the adjacent staircase lanes on both sides, called Centrale because it's right in the middle of the town.
At one end of this little lane, you'll find Hotel Centrale, which dates back to 1922 and was completely restored in 2005 by the same family that founded it. It has 18 elegantly furnished guestrooms and a breakfast room and a small garden. Via Centrale does make a few zigzags as it cuts across town, and it actually connects seven of those staircase streets that run perpendicular to it.
These have to be some of the nicest outdoor staircases you've ever seen. They are so well-made and easy to walk on. There are no elevators in town and no escalators, so it's all muscle power. You walk up and down. It's the challenge and the fun. It's a good feeling when you see the bottom of the staircase is not far away. You're almost back down to ground level. Some people look up wondering if they should make the climb -- go for it.
Connecting through the porticos to get to our final staircase, climb up Selita Mella, which we saw briefly earlier. Now we'll climb it to the top, as we walk along. I'm going to share with you a brief summary of the history of the area to put everything in context. It's such a beautiful place that it's believed that humans have lived here from as far back as the Paleolithic 30,000 years ago.
But the first known human settlement was about 500 B.C., a Celtic tribe, perhaps living in huts, held up on stilts over the lake, as was common in this northern Italy Lake district. Next came the Gauls, and by 200 B.C., the territory was occupied by the Romans and then fully absorbed as a Roman province in the year 80 B.C. They brought thousands of fellow Romans to colonize the area, which became a mixture of races and cultures.
They introduced many Mediterranean food crops, including the olive and chestnut and planted cypress tree forests. After the Romans, the Barbarians invaded, and after that the Lombards came in, settling in what is now Lombardy. Following them, the Franks arrived in the year 773.
Because of Lake Como's strategic location in the north of Italy, near France, Germany and Austria, it was a place of contention that was fought over for many centuries, including invasion and domination from the nearby city of Como. Then Milan took over in the 13th century, and during the 16th century, the Spanish took control and dominated for more than 100 years.
Then came the brief rule of Napoleon and years later, the arrival of Garibaldi to unite Bellagio with the Kingdom of Italy in 1859. Throughout the centuries, Bellagio's culture and economy thrived, with its ideal location giving it military and strategic importance, and various industries flourished, notably candle-making and silk weaving.
The romantic discovery of landscape was changing how the Italian lakes were seen. Stendhal wrote, "The sky is pure, the air mild, a land beloved of the gods. I lift my gaze to the most beautiful view in the world."
In the early 19th century, the noble families of Milan began constructing elegant villas and gardens. Luxury shops opened in the village and tourists began arriving. The golden age of tourism had begun. Bellagio Hotel was the first to open in 1825, and several more splendid hotels sprang up in a short time, many of which are still open today run by the founding families, such as Hotel du Lac, Hotel de la Grande Britannia and that Grand Hotel villa Serbelloni. Today, more than a dozen hotels are operating here and many more vacation rentals.
Our visit to Bellagio is coming to an end. It's time to get on board and continue our journey. These ferryboats are an excellent way to get around the lake and not expensive. It's so easy to travel this way. You can purchase your ticket right on the dock before departure. You'll have a grand view looking back at the town with that sweet sorrow of departing, knowing that you have experienced such an incredibly magical and wonderful place. There is nothing exactly like Bellagio in the entire world.
We'll share more explorations of the Italian lakes in our other videos, be sure to tune in.