It’s the destination of royals and celebrities and it is easy to see why when you take a boat trip along Lake Como.
From the water you get to see everything – from the lake itself to the densely wooded mountains that drop steeply to the deeps – and best of all, close up views of the magnificent villas that dot the shoreline.
Despite its once remote location in the mountainous north of Italy, Como has been a draw for visitors for centuries. The Romans stopped here, probably grateful for the cooler climate than that afforded by the heat of the capital. They started a trend and by 1800 the region was firmly placed on the map as a visitor destination of wealthy European bankers, industrialists and entrepreneurs, not to mention royalty and the aristocracy.
The natural attractions of this part of Italy are magical. Steep hillsides, mostly heavily-forested, plunge straight into the deeps of the lake. As you sail across the water from the town of Como at the Southern reach of the lake, you will see where millions of years ago, advancing Ice Age glaciers gouged the exposed rock face leaving distinctive markings on the granite rock faces.
Properties are equally dramatic. Elegant lakeside villas built over the centuries for the wealthy dot the shoreline, each with a fascinating story to tell.
These were the homes of the aristocracy and some such as the awesome Villa D’Este and the Villa Serbelloni have been turned in stunning hotels that attract the rich and famous. Others remain in private hands, attracting celebrities such as George Clooney who is known to spend time in his lakeside villa.
Smaller yet still impressive homes many featuring terracotta tiled roofs and orange-mustard coloured or muted grey walls perch precariously among the cliffs vying for the best view of the lake and maximum exposure to the sun.
As the boat continues its journey you pass a string of beautiful villages with romantic names such as Menaggio, Bellagio and Bellano each featuring little churches, pretty properties, many with small allotments, tall, conical cypress trees and sweet smelling jasmines.
There is plenty to do and enjoy at Lake Como, not to mention to glorious food, yet the local tourist board and its partners have now decided to promote the area as a golf destination.
With seven courses within 40 minutes of Como there is variety and they differ in feel and challenge.
This however a far cry from Spain, Portugal and Turkey and it would not suit a group of men looking for a week’s golf and beer and little else.
It is however ideal for golfing couples and small groups of friends, particularly those with discerning palates, and a taste for culture and luxurious hotels.
The first course in this area was opened in 1907 by four Englishmen. The Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf Club, perched in the hills overlooking the lake was only the second course in Italy but it has survived and become one of the most famous. It was in Italian hands by 1961 and completely redesigned in 1965, but the club prides itself on its English feel on the course and in the fine club house.
Pinetina Golf Club has a different feel to Menaggio & Cadenabbia.Set amid pine, silver birch, oak and chestnut trees it requires careful strategy for as well as the trees there are numerous water hazards, out of bounds, and has fairly small greens.
Among the best is Villa d’Este Golf Club. It may measure fairly short, but you won’t find it easy here on a wooded hillside. A number of testing par three and a variety of interesting par 4s and 5s makes for an enjoyable round where all the holes have a distinctive character. A nice easy start driving downhill to a wide fairway is not really a true reflection of what is to come. The second plays uphill to a green perched on a slope and then it is across the driveway to a very tough series of five holes, marked by three difficult par 3s. The course the opens up a little to two nice par fours before you head back into the woods for some testing challenges. I played the course in the July and it was hot and humid, although the fairways had been watered to create nice playing surfaces. The greens were in good shape if a little slow. All in all enjoyable and the clubhouse is awesome.
Getting there: Fly to Milan Malpensa Airport for a 45 minute drive to Lake Como
Stay: You can enjoy the ultimate in luxury and spot celebrities at the sumptuous Villa D’Este. www.villadeste.it On the other side of the lake is the impressive Villa Serbelloni which again provides luxury in opulent surroundings. There is a wide range of less expensive hotels including The Palace Hotel, over looking the lake at Como itself www.palacehotel.it
When to go: Lovely in spring, summer and autumn but golfers need to we aware that some courses are closed throughout the winter months.