Out of the five lakes, which compose the Italian Lakes region, Lago di Como is without a doubt the most popular. Shaped like an inverted Y, surrounded by mountains and dotted with charming resort villages, Lake Como is the most picturesque travel destination for travellers of any type and especially for lovers.
Lake Como is one of those special places that a single visit does not do justice. As many families have done for generations, Lake Como can be an annual summer holiday and each time it can be as varied as the previous one.
We stayed in Cernobbio, which sits right smack in front of the large town square and right on the water’s edge making you in the middle of the action. And there is plenty of action with nightly summer festivals and fates. There are lots of nice restaurants and also a lido. http://www.lidodicernobbio.com/v1/
Beautifully located in the square are two boutique hotels, the interior are a little old fashioned (think Faulty Towers) and the rooms are quaint but the location is perfect and the views are stunning:
Hotel Regina Olga – offers beautiful grounds with a private swimming pool. Prices range from Euro 150 upwards
Hotel Miralago – a small boutique property on the waters edge. Room prices start from Euro 150 plus
The most prestigious villa/hotel is without a doubt Villa d'Este, which has been transformed into the Grand Hotel Villa d'Este one of the most luxurious hotels on the lake and located on the waters edge of Cernobbio. Prices range from Euro 1000 to Euro 3000
Traveling around Lake Como is pretty easy by ferry. There are slow boats, fast boats and private boats – we ended up doing all three. For 20 euros the ferry will take you to the following towns of Varenna, Bellagio, Tremezzo, Lenno, Menaggio and Cadenabbia. We ended up taking the slow ferry from Cernobbio to Bellagio which took 2 hours and the fast ferry back which took one hour.
Check the public transport timetable http://www.navigazionelaghi.it
When staying on the lake you must rent your own speedboat and venture out for the day. Take everything at your own pace in order to really enjoy the beauty of Lake Como and all its hidden gems. The lake’s waters edge are dotted with countless restaurants, all serving classic Italian fare – moor your boat, and wait for the staff to ferry you onto shore. A lot of these restaurants also offer water sports too. We stopped for lunch at a great restaurant between Cernobbio and Bellagio called Hotel Albergo Aroura, the food was great, the view was simply stunning and the watersports were awesome.
If you want to take a break from the lake and enjoy Como from above then you should take the funicular to the top of the hills. My husband hiked up to the top of one of the hills, which has a tall tower at the peak. It took him and his friends 3 hours, but they enjoyed a splendid, chilled lunch at one of the cafes at the top, took some breathtaking pics of the view and then got the funicular back down. It’s a medium to high intensity hike but is well posted and the views at the top are well worth any discomfort.
Hiking Trails - https://www.mountainwalking.org
Bellagio is the most popular town on the lake and is bustling. With many shops and restaurants, its beautiful but very busy with tourists coming and going on ferries and private boats. Walk up the long straight flight of steps called Salita Serbelloni that starts behind the harbor and goes straight up the hill. All along the narrow street are small cafes, shops, and colorful houses, each one of them with their own unique story. To really enjoy the town I would recommend a walking tour in order to discover the little-known vantage points and sights that many visitors miss. It’s a 3-hour tour, were you visit a sleepy fishing harbor with rare Larian gondola boats bobbing on the water, a park, and a botanical garden. Then, finish up with a gourmet lunch at a Michelin-listed local restaurant. Another guided tour, with limited daily ticket sales is the beautifully maintained gardens of Villa Serbelloni which occupy a large area above the town and contain a myriad of highlights including plants, statues, small caves and water features.
A few must visit spots in Lake Como are:
- Visit the immaculate gardens and this dramatic villa on Lenno.
-This is the most visited villa in Lake Como for good reason! Get lost in the extensive and elaborate gardens, explore the museum and grab a bite to eat.
Villa Oleandra - Look out for George Clooney’s house – enough incentive!
For the adventurers and thrill seekers, try the following activities:
Paragliding – View Lake Como, from another perspective – the sky. Gera Lario is the perfect place to start this unforgettable experience. It takes about 50 minutes from Cernobbio to the village. A shuttle will take you up to Montemezzo where you can enjoy the breathtaking view before taking a flight that lasts 15-20 minutes and during which you get a chance to drive the parachute!
Jungle Park - The jungle rider park is the perfect family fun activity with 7 paths created depending on people’s ages. From 1-meter high platforms for children and higher platforms for adults that can reach 15 meters of height, Jungle rider park offers other attractions such as Soft Air for fight lovers, archery, canoeing for water and other adventures.
Mountain Bike Tours – There are many biking tours around lake Como, contact
firstname.lastname@example.org - a great way to explore the beauty and charm of this place
Nearest Airport is Milan which is a 30 minutes car drive to Cernobbio.
Lake Como is one of those special places that a single visit does not do justice. As many families have done for generations, Lake Como can be an annual summer holiday and each time it can be as varied as the previous one. This was my first visit to this magical place, I fell in love with it and I will certainly be going back many more times again.
Here’s a little teaser…
We recently visited Lake Como and decided to extend our vacation so we could drive 2 hours to the Italian Rivera to visit Portofino. We simply rented a car from Hertz in Como (straightforward and easy) and then dropped it back to the airport in Milan (also stress free).
The drive to Portofino is mostly highway driving in the early stages but then you hit the mountains and start going through many winding tunnels until you hit the coastal town of Santa Margherita leading you via the coastal road of Portofino.
Entering Portofino you can’t help be amazed by its postcard level beauty - the ocean on one side filled with massive, private yachts and on the other side imposing mountains all dotted with pastel color houses and hotels.
Entering Portofino you can’t help be amazed by its postcard level beauty - the ocean on one side filled with massive, private yachts and on the other side imposing mountains all dotted with pastel color houses and hotels. The main road literally ends at the Piazzetta (town square) where the town comes alive with hundreds of tourists, designer boutiques and many restaurants as well as access to all the boats, yachts and ferries. Portofino certainly lives up to its reputation as a glamorous place, especially during the summer, as you can spot many celebrities and palatial yachts that get bigger and bigger. However, it also preserves its authenticity with cobbled streets and tiny stores and an amazing wild side since the village is also the center of the Portofino National Park and Marine reserve, leading to fantastic hikes up and through the mountains.
One morning from literally our hotel entrance (Splendido), we took one of the hiking trails up to the top of the mountain from where we witnessed the most amazing views that went on for miles and then climbing down the other side we ended up straight onto a pebbled beach with a typical Italian restaurant – it reminded me of the restaurant featured in the movie Mama Mia. It was so random but a refreshing beer at the end of our two-hour steep trek was the perfect way to end our adventure. As we were on the other side of the mountain instead of walking back, we jumped onto a super-friendly Canadian family’s boat who kindly offered to take us back to the Portofino port. With a 30 min boat ride is perfect to witness Portofino from the sea and we even got a great view of Dolce & Gabbana stunning home on the cliffs edge..
During our few days in Portofino we stayed in two hotels – both equally fabulous but one being a lot more luxurious that the other.
Hotel Piccolo I really loved as its set in the mountain with its entrance on the main road and right across the narrow street the steps take you down to its private beach and restaurant. It was the perfect lunch spot to enjoy a large glass of rose and enjoy the view, not to mention checking out all the super yachts. While enjoying our lunch, Mr. Zara himself (yes the owner of high street giant Zara AKA Europe's richest man Amancio Ortega) moored his 154-foot yacht right in front of us! We were literally a stones throw away (see photos below) it did cross my mind to swim in front of his boat with the hope he would invite us on board !!! LOL
Even though the beaches are all pebbles, so its an “oh and an arh” to get to the water, but once you’re in the ‘Med’ its just amazing, so refreshing, so clean and utterly perfect.
The hotel has 23 rooms all furnished rather basic in whites or neutral palette with some rooms offering great ocean views. The hotel is just a few minutes walking distance from the hustle and bustle of the port/marina area.
Our other hotel was the Belmond Hotel Splendido which is set in lush terraced gardens on the steep, verdant hillside with fabulous views of the bay. This 16th century monastery building oozes elegance and sophistication. The interior is traditional with an opulent feel of white marble, antiques furniture and old photos of famous guests who have stayed at this immaculate hotel. The stunning well-manicured grounds are perfect for dining and relaxing by the pool. It’s a hotel where you don’t ever want to leave, as the view is just simply breathtaking that no picture can replicate. Again, you can take a simple 5-minute walk down to the harbor or take one of the walking trails from the hotel doorstep.
Every night we ate in the harbor but people dine early and most of the popular restaurants get fully booked in advance with reserved tables. So if there’s somewhere you want to eat in particular, book in advance but wherever you eat, trying the pasta is a prerequisite and a MUST!
Portofino is Italy through and through. Everything that you want to experience about this magical country you can find in this tiny, picturesque village perched on the ocean-side. Places like these deserve multiple trips back as they really do fuel the soul.
Watch our video:
I can’t take any credit for organizing this great trip in Barcelona as my good friend Azee arranged everything for her husband’s 40th Birthday celebrations. Even though I have been to Barcelona a couple of times, this visit ticked every box from partying at “Off Sonar” (a very popular annual dance festival), dining at the best restaurants, a yummy picnic in the park, a history lesson while cycling around the city and to top it all off we were a great group of friends who laughed and danced our way through the trip together.
Passeig de Gràcia is one of the major avenues in Barcelona – its perfect for shopping, dining and also home to one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, Casa Batlló. A stone’s throw away from this major tourist attraction is the minimalistic and elegant Hotel Alma. The beauty of this hotel is that even though it’s in the middle of the city, it has a large stunning manicured garden area for dining and a cozy, roof top garden for drinks. The property is more of a sophisticated adult retreat than a family hotel, but saying that it does cater for kids upon request. All the rooms only have fingerprint locks for instead of room key; shutter blinds for curtains and the interiors are neutral and masculine toned. For the best view I would suggest requesting a Grand Deluxe room as they offer views of Gaudi's iconic wavy-stone La Pedrera building.
Like every major city worth its weight in gold, Barcelona is packed with its share of amazing restaurants offering tantalizing tapas, al fresco dining or unique cuisine nooks hidden away in buildings filled with history, stunning designs and wonderful architecture. If you, like me, find it difficult putting together a list of places to go, simply due to being scared of missing out on anything, here’s a few recommendations:
Tickets Bar is number 25 on the ‘Top 50 restaurants in the world” list – a very cool tapas concept and designed like something out of Willy Wonka’s world. Especially the desert room, imagine hanging strawberries and candy canes from the ceiling!! Its not an easy restaurant to book as it has a long waiting list and you can only book a table the same month you plan on visiting
Nino Viejo - one of my favorites – a traditional urban Mexican tapas restaurant by the award-winning group who own Tickets Restaurant (above)
La Dama – redefined French Mediterranean cuisine located in the spectacularly beautiful Casa Sayrach, an architectural masterpiece located in the elusive Zone Alta.
Jaime Beriestain a modern yet sophisticated coffee shop, cocktail bar and concept store designed by Jamie Beriestain himself. It’s a local hangout and a must visit for tourists.
Barcelona Tapas tour by bike organized by Barcelona by Bike is a “Must Do’ as it’s the best way to see Barcelona, from the parks to the port, inside the windy narrow streets and all based around a typical "Ir de tapas" (Tapas bar hopping)
Pintxos (or pinchos) are small snacks/tapas - these finger foods have an array of toppings placed on crunchy bread, spiked with a toothpick and displayed buffet style. You end up paying for the amount of toothpicks left on your plate. From savory to sweet these were simply mouth watering - add in a sangria or a cool beer and this is the perfect pick me up while biking through the city.
The bike tour was also a great way to learn more about Antoni Gaudí i Cornet otherwise known as Gaudi, the famous Spanish architect who designed the most striking buildings throughout the city. Even if you don’t know what a Gaudi building looks like, very quickly you will be able to spot one as his wacky, artistic and progressive architecture stands out from the crowd.
It’s actually a sad story. Even though Gaudi is now an architectural icon however his life was hardly easy. He was so engrossed in his work and a strong follower of god, that he let himself go - not eating, wearing shabby old clothes and never shaving. One day on his way to confession, a tram hit him, because of his shabby appearance and no ID, the 73-year-old genius was thought to be a poor beggar. He never received the medical attention he required. It wasn't until the next day that the chaplain at the ‘Sagrada Família’ recognized the old man as the famed architect, but it was too late—Gaudí died two days later, on June 10, 1926. The residents of Barcelona mourned Gaudí’s death, his funeral procession snaked through the city, ending at his immense, unfinished church. He was laid to rest in the crypt of the Sagrada Família, underneath his final efforts to finish his elaborate, colossal sanctuary. That work is still underway, 90 years later. Current projections expect the Sagrada Família to be finished in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the great architect's death.
Check out this link to see the 10 must-see Gaudi buildings in Barcelona:
Picnic in the park
Picture this…a warm, beautiful clear day with a slight breeze in the air, the sun is slowly going down and while walking through the lush grounds up a hill you stumble across an area with blankets laid out, ice buckets filled with wine and basket hampers complete with tapas. This was the perfect setting to relax, reminisce about the last few days and watch the sunset over a magical city.
Getting around Barcelona is easy and quick. Uber is the best option as local taxis can depend on how lucky you are. I would suggest downloading the Uber App and using it at your convenience.
And few extra cool excursions for you to do with your family:
Barcelona has so much to offer if you or your child are obsessed with football as a pilgrimage to Nou Camp (Barcelona FC Stadium) is a must and a priority. Even though I have never done it, it’s a fantastic experience especially as it’s the 3rd biggest football stadium in the world.
Like Dubai’s version of Café Ceremique, Mosaiccos is an art studio that provides workshops on how to create mosaics with the style and techniques of Antonio Gaudi.
Soak up the sun
You can’t beat a swim in the gorgeous Med Sea. Barcelona beaches are fun and free and during the summer season they are busy right up till the sunsets. The beach next to the W hotel is a good one to visit.
Barcelona is the ideal long weekend get-a-way with Emirates flying directly into the city.
Spend your time in Croatia discovering hidden natural beauties while sailing the stunning Adriatic coast. The below 7 day itinerary is just one version of what we can arrange for you. This itinerary isn't too demanding and allows you to perfectly balance days of lazing on the deck and swimming in crystal clear sea with active days exploring medieval towns, indulging in local specialties in luxury restaurants along the coast, and hiking Dalmatian rugged mountains.
Choose from one of our many sailing itineraries in Croatia to discover natural hidden beauty.
It takes about 20 minutes to walk around the harbour to Kut, the oldest and prettiest part, where most people stay.
The Pakleni Islands are located just off the southeast coast of Hvar island, and if you’ve ever stood on Hvar’s famous Riva promenade or climbed to the top of the fortress in Hvar Town, then you’ve undoubtedly made eyes with this chain of isles. Pakleni is home to 17 beautiful islands fringed by pebble beaches and lush pine forests. Head to dinner on Palmižana Island.
Montenegro is a petite country in the south-east of Europe, next to Croatia and opposite of Italy. It is sitting on the Adriatic Sea and has a Mediterranean energy.
Porto Montenegro is one of the best tourist investments on the Montenegrin coast in the last 25 years, and today represents a real example of one of the most beautiful destinations in Montenegro. Luxury packaged in a beautiful Mediterranean style, Porto Montenegro represents one of the most prestigious marinas on the Adriatic Sea.
Montenegro is bursting with majestic mountains and breathtaking beaches.
Day 1 Porto Montenegro
Arrive at Tivat airport in Montenegro and head straight to Boka Bay, the largest natural harbor in the eastern Mediterranean and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its picturesque shoreline of rugged mountains hugged by ancient hamlets and sandy beaches slipping into the Adriatic waters is absolutely breathtaking.
Check into the stunning Regent Porto Montenegro which is positioned perfectly on the marina offering stunning views. Spend your first day enjoying the marina, restaurants and shopping.
Day 2 Tivat – Kotor – Njegusi - Cetinje
Rent a car and head 10 kilometers towards the old town of Kotor. Walk around the old piazzas and through the narrow streets which is a UNESCO heritage site. Walking around you will spot the famous walls which is a trademark of the town. You can walk along the walls which will take you approx. 1 hour and provide stunning views.
From Kotor head towards Cetinje taking the road less travelled which is the old road with over 25 serpentine bends, offering a breathe taking view of the Bay of Kotor.
Leaving the seaside vibe you will now arrive in the mountains at the village of Njegusi where the sea and mountain climates collide. This is the birth place of the Ruler and Prince Bishop of Montenegro, Patar II Petrovic Njegos (1813 – 1851)
Your first stop must be lunch at a family restaurant with a century long tradition “Kod Pera na Bukovicu” and also try out the prosciutto and cheese.
If your physically fit this is where you can climb Mount Lovcen at an altitude of 1.660 meters which can be reached by climbing 461 steps!
Continue on your drive to Cetinje, the spiritual capital of Montenegro and home to the Royal castle, museums and monasteries.
35 minutes past Cetinie is Budva famous for its beautiful beaches, great restaurants and fun nightlife.
Day 3 Budva – Bar – Ulcinj – Ostros - Podgorica
Enjoy the morning in Budva where the celebrities like to stay and make time to visit the unique island hotel Sveti Stefan.
Leaving behind Budva you head towards Bar the largest coastal town in Montenegro. Enjoy the area and then make your way to the old town of Bar which preserves the spirit of old Turkish towns, paved with stone.
Continue your journey to the south towards Ulcinj down the coastal road and head towards the old town. Here you will hear tales about the pirates and Cervantes, a prisoner of the dungeon. Walk around Ada Bojana the place where the River Bojana meets the sea and stop for lunch at one of the many wonderful restaurants offering gastronomic experiences.
Take the old road to Ostros the picturesque route to Podgorica the capital of Montenegro. Drive along the shore of Lake Skadar which is the largest lake in the Balkans and visit the scenic town of Virpazar, shortly you will reach Podgorica.
Hotel - Regent Porto Montenegro
Big Sur California:
As an avid traveler, pre and post my three children, and a lover of boutique hotels, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, stay at unique properties and take adventures off the beaten track.
I've been lucky to see and enjoy so much that I think now is the perfect time to share my travel experiences, so I have created Unique Family Travel - a company where my team and I can develop bespoke, wonderful and unique travel experiences for you and your family. I can guarantee our experiences aren't available on the likes of large booking websites as we take you on a tailored journey which caters to your specific needs.
Each destination and journey should be a timeless memory, created for you and your family and captured in fantastic memories to keep forever. We can help with this simply because that's how I would do it for myself, my family and friends!
Do get in touch with us, drop us a line and lets get you going on your next amazing, unique travel experience.
PS. All photos on this site are taken by me, mostly on my iphone :)
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