Given that offers of a reported US$26million failed to get George Clooney to part with his luxury mansion on the banks of Lake Como, the recent dredging up of a half-tonne store of WWII explosives close by wasn’t likely to budge him. Guess it’s official: the film icon simply adores Lake Como.
And that’s perfectly understandable. Most people who come to Italy’s lakes region are in no hurry to leave. Just some of the other star names who own property on Lake Como are singer Sting, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho and fashion guru Donatella Versace, while relatives of late designer Gianni Versace sold their property for US$40million. Such is its glitzy allure that parts of Daniel Craig’s first movie as Brit secret agent 007 and Star Wars epic Attack of the Clones were filmed here while Cernobbio, on Lake Como’s south-western banks numbers everyone from Angelina Jolie to Yves St Laurent among its fans.
Since Clooney bought his property in Laglio eight years ago, a few miles north of Cernobbio, regular visitors have included the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Clooney also picked up a rundown property neighbouring his for an extra US$4million that has been converted into a guesthouse for his famous chums.
Lake Como forms an inverted “Y” that starts in the foot of the Alps close to the Swiss border and runs south for around 50km. Its magnificent views and the Alps forming a stunning backdrop make this one of Italy’s most desired locations.
One of the most expensive as well. The presence of the actor precipitated a boom in the market that at its peak meant a 25% acceleration in prices in little over two years. Forget the global housing crash, the situation here has stayed firm, fuelled by demand from wealthy Milanese and financiers and bankers based across the Swiss border. This part of Italy is choc-a-bloc with multi-million Euro properties if you have your heart set on an illustrious home by the lake with a movie star for a neighbour.
Yet the good news is you don’t require a movie star’s bank balance to pick up a property in Lake Como. In Laglio, a lake-view development of nearly 40 apartments recently came on the market with prices ranging from Euro 137,600 for a studio flat to Euro 400,000 for a two-bedroom flat. Some 10 miles north, in Lenno, you can find a new-build flat for just Euro 165,000. Meanwhile, in nearby Tremezzo, Euro 240,000 may be enough for a property with two bedrooms and lake view.
Even bigger bargains can be found as you head north. Areas on the north-west coastline such as Dongo, Musso, Domaso and Pianello Lario are a great alternative if you want to spend less than Euro 250,000.
In Pianello Lario, a development of lake-view properties just 500 metres from the lake and with communal pool has one-bed flats from just Euro 110,000. With the Alps nearby, rental potential is pretty strong, up to around Euro 900 weekly. Gravedona, some four miles away is more affordable still. Here, expect just over Euro 100,000 for a two-bedroom lakeview property, albeit you may have to settle for being slightly away from the water.
Lake Como has drawn superlatives from visitors from all walks of life for centuries. The Roman poet Virgil, who would have known it as Lake Lario, spoke of its allure. Some years on, Roman politician Pliny The Younger owned a couple of villas here. Early in the 19th century Shelley waxed lyrical about how Como “exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty”. And author Henry James was left awestruck as he said: “One can’t describe the beauty of the Italian Lakes, nor would one try if one could.”
It’s not hard to see why. The lake is Italy’s third largest after Garda and Maggiore and is just under 150sq km of serene blue water bordered by mountains, hills and woods, a picture postcard of breathtaking beauty.
The scenery is majestic from almost throughout the 178km coastline. However, it’s hard to beat its middle section of Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio, where the lake divides into two forked legs, one leading to Lecco, the second to Como.
Bellagio is known to Italians as “La perla del lago” (The pearl of the lake) and many Italians will tell you this is the prettiest town in Europe. Walk along its charming medieval lanes, gazing at the view, or take a ferry to Menaggio or Varenna, the snowy Alpine peaks soaring majestically in the background, and you would think likewise too. Six airports serve the area: three in Milan and others in Verona, Brescia and Lugano, Switzerland.