10 December 2023

Driving Italy: a Lake Como retreat

Lake Como is a great location for a quiet getaway, providing a suitable place for those looking to retreat from the busyness of a city.

Lake Como in Italy’s north is a great location for a quiet getaway. Only a two hour drive out of Milan, it provides a suitable place for those looking to retreat from the busyness of a city and enjoy some Italian tranquility.

Lake Como was the first destination on our road trip and capped off a long day from leaving London very early in the morning.

Italy roadtrip DAY 1: Milan to Lake Como

I don’t think I will ever learn that an 8am flight from Stansted is a good idea. Dan and I met at Hammersmith at 4am to take the dreaded night bus to Stansted airport.

I’d vowed after my Hamburg trip that I wouldn’t be booking any more RyanAir flights before 10am but with limited options to fly in to northern Italy foregoing sleep on this occasion was the price to pay. The two hour flight with a one hour time difference got us in to Milan-Bergamo at 11am, where we picked up our hybrid Toyota Prius – great for fuel efficiency, but it definitely lacked the power to get around some tricky terrain later in the trip.


Milan is roughly an hour away from Bergamo airport on the freeway, so being in the vicinity of the area, it makes for a good lunch stop and a great place to christen the trip with good food and Italian culture.

After being in Rome last year and seeing the chaos on the streets, I was very cautious about driving into Italian cities, and on this occasion we parked on the outskirts and walked our way into town. It was my first experience driving on mainland Europe and I had to quickly change my attitude to the road – organised lanes are optional, vespas are quick to weave in and around traffic and you need to drive with an assertive mentality.

The day was incredibly warm (reaching 29 degrees) and without a good flow of air around the city, the dry heat made it feel like a sauna. At 2pm, most locals had taken shelter at home for a siesta, while tourists were sitting around the fountain dipping their feet in the water. We spent around three hours walking around Milan.

Top sites:

  • Parco Sempione and Sforza Castle
  • Piazza del Duomo
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II


A scenic drive

Our destination that night was Menaggio on Lake Como, about two hours from Milan on the autostrade.

Some pre-reading on Italian motorways is a good idea to know what to expect. As I turned onto the freeway, I was made to grab a ticket at the booth. Realising it was for a toll, I wasn’t too sure how to pay but fortunately there are options for credit card and cash, on top of the local’s preferred autopass. There are some motorways where you won’t collect a ticket because you’ll be on it for its entirety, others you will only need to pay for a segment – hence the ticket.

Off the highway, the local roads around Lake Como are incredibly tight. You’ll need to contend with mopeds, tight turns and impatient drivers. And while you concentrate on the road, the sights go past you. There are several opportunities to stop for a gander and a picture – the water on the lake was clear and the glistening sun with a backdrop of the mountains.

It’s definitely worth staying in the region for a couple of nights. We found a pretty good hostel, Lake Como Peace Lodge, which had a great dining area that was high enough to have a view of the water.

No surprises that there was an Australian from Melbourne and an Englishman from Manchester working there for the summer. The affordable food options and well priced drinks added made it a great location to start the trip and set the bar reasonably high for the next eight days.

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