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Italy’s Lake Como: Honeymoon Country (4:16)

Italy

Italy’s honeymoon country is the seductively beautiful Lake District, nestled in the Alps. My favorite lake, Lake Como, is lined with 19th-century villas, busy with ferries, and dotted with lakefront towns. Bellagio is the region’s resort, while sleepy Varenna is more romantic.

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Lombardy's seductively beautiful lakes district — where Italy meets the Alps — seems heaven sent for communing with nature. In this land of so many popular lakes, the million-euro question is: Which one? While all have their charms, Lake Como is my favorite. It offers the best mix of accessibility, scenery, and offbeat-ness with a heady whiff of aristocratic-old-days romance.

Lake Como is lined with elegant, 19th-century villas, crowned by snowcapped mountains, and busy with fleets of little ferries. It's a good place to take a break from the intensity of urban turn-style sightseeing. It seems half the travelers you'll meet have tossed their itineraries into the lake and are actually relaxing. Today the hazy, lazy lake's only serious industry is tourism. The lake's isolation and flat economy have left it pretty much the way 19th-century Romantic poets first described it.

Bellagio, the self-proclaimed "Pearl of the Lake" is a classy combination of Old World elegance and new world luxury. Spendy five star hotels give the well heeled traveler all the comforts they are accustomed to. Harborfront shops entice posh travelers with jewelry and accessories. The heavy curtains between the arcades keep the visitors and their poodles from sweating. The steep-stepped lanes rising from the harbor front lead to a tangle of sun-splashed squares.

Part of the fun of your lake visit is town hopping on the ferries. For me, the ideal home base for Lago de Como is 15 minutes from Bellagio...Varenna.

This town of 800 people offers the best of all lake worlds. Easily accessible by train from Milan, on the less-developed side of the lake, Varenna has a romantic promenade, a tiny harbor, and narrow lanes. These buildings are stringently protected. You can't even change the color of your home without asking permission. There are no streets in the old town...just characteristic stepped lanes.

It's the right place to savor a lakeside cappuccino or apperitivo.

Imagine this sleepy harbor two hundred years ago. It was busy with coopers expertly fitting their chestnut and oak into barrels, stoneworkers carving and shipping Varenna's prized black marble quarried just above town, and fishing boats dragged onto the cobbled beach.

Many Lake Como towns have a villa or two with their dilapidated 19th century elegance and wistful gardens open to the public — and even transformed into inviting hotels. In Varenna, the sprawling lakeside Villa Cipressi rents rooms and welcomes visitors — for a small fee — to explore its peaceful, terraced garden.

Albergo Milano, located right in the old town, is the kind of place I like to recommend. It's graciously run by Egidio and his Swiss wife, Bettina. Fusing the best of Italy with the best of Switzerland, the place manages to be both romantic and very well-run. Most of its comfy rooms offer dreamy lake views.

And Egidio is a fine chef. The limited menu changes daily according to the season and the chef's whim.

Varenna whispers luna di miele — honeymoon. And a good place to enjoy that romance is strolling along its passerella.

You'll pass by wisteria drenched villas, evocative vistas, and lakeside lovers embracing the moment.

It's places like this where I really feel the romance of Europe. I hope you've enjoyed our visit to Milano and Lago di Como. I'm Rick Steves. Until next time...keep on traveling. Ciao.