Nestled into the foothills of the Alps in the Lombardy region of Italy, you’ll discover the third largest lake in Italy. Measuring 46km in length, this wishbone-shaped lake is surrounded by colourful, picturesque villages. Due to its enchanting beauty and easy access from Milan, Lake Como’s charming lakeside towns are popular with local and international tourists alike. For a peaceful getaway, a weekend or day trip from Milan to Lake Como is perfect.
Lake Como is renowned for its beauty, glamour and tranquillity, being a favourite holiday destination for the rich and famous. Celebrities including George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson have all famously owned homes here.
This Milan to Lake Como day trip guide will help you make the most of your day, discovering the timeless beauty of this Italian lake. Expect to meander through pretty streets and botanical gardens, take in dramatic mountain vistas, cruise past luxurious villas, indulge in Italian cuisine and relax at a lakeside bar.
Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE Milan itinerary too for before or after your trip to Lake Como!
Map of Lake Como Day Trip Itinerary
The Italian Lake District is a dream destination that should be on everyone’s Italy bucket list. However, before you go I think it helps to first understand the layout of Lake Como and its surrounding villages.
Set in the middle of Lake Como, at its fork, are Varenna, Menaggio and Bellagio. Known as the “golden triangle”, it is arguably the most scenic part of the lake with a spectacular combination of mountain vistas, opulent villas and charming towns. The town of Como itself is situated on the southwestern arm of the lake at its most southern point. Being the closest lakeside town to Milan, it is one of the most popular towns on Lake Como.
Click on the map to open an interactive Google Map with all the locations for your day trip from Milan to Lake Como.
Getting to Lake Como from Milan
Lake Como is one of the best lakes in northern Italy and is easy to reach from Milan with a few different transport options. Personally, I decided to take the train from Milan to Lake Como as it was the quickest, easiest and most affordable option travelling by myself.
Train from Milan to Lake Como
In my opinion, the best way to travel from Milan to Lake Como is by train. I will provide some other options, but for this itinerary, I would recommend the following train tickets:
- Milano Centrale station -> Varenna-Essino station
- Como San Giovanni station -> Milano Centrale station
All trains are run by Tren Italia and tickets can be purchased through their website. You do not need to print your tickets, simply keep them on your smartphone. It’s worth booking your tickets a few days ahead of time to ensure you can get tickets for the time you want. My total train fare was €11.50. The train from Milan to Varenna takes approximately an hour. On the way back, the train from Como to Milan takes 40 minutes.
There are also trains from Como Lago station to Milano Nord Cadorna station. If you’re located closer to this station you may wish to consider this route back. It is also easy to take the metro (line 2) between Milano Centrale and Milano Nord Cardona.
I recommend taking the earliest train from Milan to Varenna and the latest train back from Como to Milan to give yourself as much time to explore as possible.
It’s also worth noting that there are two train stations in Como; Como Lago and Como San Giovanni. They are a 17-minute walk apart. Accordingly, make sure you check your tickets carefully when returning from Como to Milan so you don’t end up at the wrong station!
Driving to Lake Como from Milan
Milan to Como by car is approximately an hours drive, depending on where in Milan you’re leaving from. However, unless you’re already planning to rent a car to explore other parts of Italy or take a longer Europe road trip, I wouldn’t recommend renting one just for a day trip to Lake Como.
It would provide you with some flexibility to drive from Como along the edge of the lake to other villages. However, the drive from Como to Menaggio, Belaggio or Varenna, would each take one hour each way. It also means you’d have to find parking at each destination which can be limited.
Even if you decide to drive, you’ll likely only want to drive to one village from Como, then take the ferry to others. It is possible to take a vehicle across the lake on a car ferry but with just one day at Lake Como, you can see plenty on foot in each village.
Milan to Lake Como Day Trip Tour
While this itinerary is designed for you to be able to easily self-navigate, it is also possible to take an organised Lake Como day tour from Milan. If you prefer to avoid having to arrange transport on your own then there are numerous Lake Como day tours from Milan on offer. Most tours come with the added bonus of a knowledgable tour guide to give you a deeper insight into the history of this incredible region.
Check out some of these great Lake Como tour options:
- Lake Como, Bellagio and Varenna Full Day Tour from Milan
- Luxury Bus From Milan to Visit Como and Bellagio
- Lake Como with Bellagio and Lugano (Switzerland) Day Trips from Milan
If you’ve got some cash to spare and want to experience an entirely different, aerial view of Lake Como then check out this scenic helicopter tour!
Book your Milan to Lake Como day trip here:
READ MORE: 2 Days in Milan Itinerary
Getting Around Lake Como
Once you’ve arrived at Lake Como, you will be able to get from one town to another by ferry. For this Milan to Lake Como itinerary you will need the following ferry tickets:
- Ferry from Varenna to Bellagio
- Ferry from Bellagio to Como
It is not possible to book your ferry tickets in advance. However, tickets can sell out during peak times. Therefore, I would recommend buying your ferry tickets as soon as you arrive at each town. So, for example, when you arrive in Varenna, go directly to the ticket office and purchase your ferry tickets for Bellagio.
You have only one option for the ferry from Varenna to Bellagio, the local ferry Corse Traghetto. This takes about 15 minutes and costs €4.60.
From Bellagio to Como there are two options; the fast boat (Corse Rapide) and the hydrofoil or slow boat (Corse Battello). The faster service takes 45 minutes from Bellagio to Como and costs €14.80, whereas the slower service takes 2-2.5 hours and costs €10.40.
For current timetables and prices check the Navagazione Laghi website.
Personally, I chose to take the fast boat, opting to spend more time in the towns themselves. However, the boat I was on had no outside access so the views I had were very limited. In contrast, the slow boat supposedly offers incredible views as it stops at the various towns along the shores. Therefore, it’s a good option if you’d like a rest while taking in more of the beauty of Lake Como.
When to Visit Lake Como
The summer months of June to early September are considered peak tourist season. During this time the weather is hot with highs of 24-30°c and you can expect mostly sunshine. However, this is also when you can expect the most tourists. This means crowded places, full ferries and busy restaurants. With this said, I visited at the end of August and didn’t find much of an issue with crowds.
The shoulder seasons in spring and autumn can provide a good balance between nice weather and fewer tourists. However, it is more likely to rain during this time.
During the winter months, Lake Como not only is colder, but there are also less frequent ferries and some businesses that cater to tourists may be closed. If you are able to plan your transport well then you will be rewarded with a much quieter experience that is free from most other travellers.
Milan to Lake Como Day Trip Itinerary
With the logistics taken care of, it’s time to get onto the fun bit… What to do on your Lake Como day trip!
There are numerous towns dotted along the perimeter of Lake Como, each with its own splendour. However, it’s not possible to see them all in a day trip! Therefore, to maximise your time this itinerary will take you to Varenna, Bellagio and Como.
After a lot of research, this is the exact Lake Como from Milan day trip that I took last summer. Lake Como far exceeded my expectations and I absolutely fell in love with it. It should definitely be on everyone’s travel bucket list!
A day trip will give you time to absorb the enchanting atmosphere of this Italian lake. Wind your way through quiet alleys, explore historic villas and manicured gardens, indulge in traditional Italian food and even take a refreshing dip in the lake (if you’re brave enough!). All of this with a spectacular mountain backdrop.
Milan to Varenna
The first stop at Lake Como from Milan will be Varenna, which is my favourite town on Lake Como! Stepping out from the train station, I was immediately encompassed with a feeling of absolute tranquillity. Arriving at around 7:30am, only one other person disembarked from the train at the same time. This further amplified the sense of having discovered an unspoiled sliver of paradise.
Varenna is more traditional and less touristy than many other towns on Lake Como. Traditionally a fishing village dating back to the 11th century, this rustic town has maintained its characteristics of an ancient village.
Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lover’s Walk)
From the train station, head towards the waterfront to take a stroll down Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lover’s Walk). Hugging the coast, this romantic pedestrian walkway leads to the town centre via the ferry port (where you can buy your boat ticket for Bellagio). Take time to admire your first breathtaking views of the lake and the colourful town that lies in wait!
Riva Grande and Colourful Houses
Continue to follow the walkway hugging the coast and you will reach Riva Grande, the charming promenade of Varenna. From here, wander through the bright, colourful houses and steep, cobbled alleyways to reach the main square, Piazza San Giorgio.
Piazza San Giorgio (Town Centre)
In Piazza San Giorgio, nestled amongst colourful houses, you’ll discover the Church of San Giovanni Batista. Dating back to the 11th century, it is one of the oldest churches on Lake Como.
At the other end of the piazza sits Chiesa di San Giorgio with its clock tower rising above the square. This Romanesque and Gothic style 14th-century church is home to many ancient paintings, as well as an impressive pavement made from local marble.
Continue to immerse yourself in this postcard-perfect town, meandering back and forth through the narrow streets. Stop at Al Barilott (in the yellow building on the right in the picture below) to grab an Italian style breakfast of coffee and a freshly made pastry. Full of locals and with breakfast only costing €3.20, this place was a real gem.
Built between 1400 and 1800, Villa Cipressi is a stunning complex of buildings and terraced gardens. Its name is derived from the ancient cypress trees that are still found in its gardens.
If you decide a day trip to Lake Como from Milan isn’t enough, Villa Cipressi is also a 4-star luxury hotel. I can only imagine how incredible it would be to wake up here! Fancy staying there? Check here for current prices and availability (or just to take a peek at the photos like I did!).
While Villa Cipressi and its gardens are open to the public, you have to pay to enter. Tickets cost €8 or can be combined with entrance to Villa Monastero for €15. Opening times vary so it’s worth checking their website for the most up to date hours.
This impressive villa dates back to the 12th century with roots as a monastery. It spent centuries as a private residence before being donated to the State of Italy. Today, it is home to Casa Museo, a collection of numerous pieces gathered over four centuries and displayed in 14 ornate rooms. It is surrounded by a wonderful botanical garden that has many rare botanic species.
Entrance to this top attraction in Varenna costs €8 for just the botanical gardens, or €10 for the museum and gardens. Tickets can be combined with Villa Cipressi for €15 just for the gardens, or €17 to include the museum. Opening times vary throughout the year. Check the Villa Monastero website for current opening times and prices.
Castello di Vezio
Overlooking Varenna stands the ancient ruins of Castello di Vezio. With over a thousand years of history, this fortress offers magnificent 360° views across the lake. It also is home to a permanent exhibition on the extinct Lariosaurus and an aviary housing birds of prey, with regular falconry shows.
However, a visit to this historic landmark requires a 45-minute uphill walk. With only a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, I decided to skip it as I wanted to dedicate more time to exploring the towns and other attractions.
If you decide to make time for a visit, check the Castello di Vezio website for current opening times and prices. At the time of writing, entrance to the castle is €4 for an adult.
The Fiumelatte River is one of the shortest rivers in Italy, measuring a mere 250m from its source to the lake. Its name is derived from the frothy, milky-white appearance of its waters as they hurtle down the steep valley during floods, causing its crashing waters to appear foamy and white.
As I discovered firsthand, the river is impermanent. It usually appears suddenly towards the end of March and disappears in October based on local rainfall. I visited at the end of August and unfortunately, the river was non-existent! A local I met on my walk said the best time to see it in full flow is typically April – May.
However, I still recommend walking to this little hamlet and river, even if it is dried up. The walk itself is spectacular, offering breathtaking views that back across the lake to Varenna.
After spending a few hours exploring Varenna, take the ferry across the Bellagio. Note that you will need to arrive 15 minutes prior to departure time. I chose to take the 11:25 ferry, giving me a full 4 hours in Varenna.
A vivacious town bustling with life, Bellagio provided a bit of a shock to the senses following the serenity of Varenna. Still, this vibrant atmosphere is part of its charismatic charm. Commonly referred to as the most beautiful town in Europe, Bellagio provides unbeatable panoramic views. You, therefore, cannot skip Bellagio on a day trip from Milan to Lake Como!
Take some time to roam the narrow streets and admire the details. With its cobbled alleyways, flower-adorned balconies, vibrantly painted shutters and elegant lamps, it’s easy to see why Bellagio is the most famous town on Lake Como. I recommend walking up Salita Serbelloni (Serbelloni’s steps) for the famous view pictured below. This will bring you to the main road, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, which will take you through the old town centre.
As you wander through this area you’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants. Take some time to do some shopping or enjoy a gelato!
Piazza della Chiesa
Within the heart of the town centre, you’ll discover Piazza della Chiesa. Here you can admire the beautiful Romanesque church, Basilica di San Giacoma. This historic church is nearly 1000 years, built between 1075 and 1125.
When I visited there was a little crafts market within the square and some games for children and adults alike to enjoy!
Not to be confused with the world-famous luxury hotel Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, the Villa Serbelloni is set atop the promontory of Bellagio. Dating back to the 15th century, the grounds of this villa can only be visited with a guided tour. The tour costs €9 and must be booked in advance through the local website. Guided tours are only conducted twice per day and have a set minimum and maximum group size. For these reasons I chose to skip these gardens, although I’m sure the views from them would be magnificent.
From Via Garibaldi, you will naturally continue along Via Eugenio Vitali to reach Punta Spartivento, the northernmost point of Bellagio. This tip is the middle of the three branches of Lake Como. Here you’ll find a small park with views over Lake Como to Varenna, Menaggio and many other of the towns that dot the shoreline.
Punta Spartivento provides the perfect place to relax under the trees or even enjoy a picnic while admiring the lakeside views.
The charming village of Pescallo, on the opposite side of the peninsula from Bellagio, provides a tranquil oasis. An old fishing village, it is about a 20-minute walk from Punta Spartivento, but it is well worth the extra steps. The way here is steep and uneven in parts so be prepared for a bit of a workout. This was one of my favourite stops on my Milan to Lake Como day trip.
This picturesque little village is much quieter than Bellagio and is a great place to relax and escape the crowds. You’ll find colourful buildings covered in greenery and fishing boats moored just off the shore. It is also a popular spot for watersports.
On your way into Pescallo, you will pass Cimitero del Borgo. While I can’t say I’m usually very interested in cemeteries, this one was simply too impressive to pass without photographing.
Head back to the other side of the peninsula for a stroll along the waterfront promenade. From Pescallo, it’ll take you about 20 minutes to reach the waterfront. Fortunately, it is a flatter route than the one to Pescallo!
Rows of trees align the lakeside promenade providing some refreshing shade. These trees and accompanying flowers also provide for some beautiful photo opportunities along the way.
The lakeside promenade will naturally terminate at Villa Melzi. Dating back to the early 19th century, this stunning villa and surrounding gardens is often listed as one of the best things to do in Bellagio.
The garden was the first example of an English garden in Lake Como. It is set superbly on the lakefront and is home to numerous native and exotic plants.
However, the entrance can be paid in cash only. Something that I was not aware of when I arrived to pay for my ticket! Due to this, unfortunately, I missed out on these spectacular gardens. This Milan to Lake Como day trip involves a lot of walking as is, and I wasn’t prepared to walk back to the town centre to go to an ATM only to turn around and walk back to the gardens! Don’t make the same mistake I did – take cash with you!
Tickets cost €6.50 per person (cash only!) and cannot be bought in advance. The villa is only open March-October. Check current prices and opening hours on the Villa Melzi website.
Take a ride on the tourist train
During the busier summer months, you may see the little tourist train, the Bellagio Express, driving through the town. It departs from the square in front of the ferry port. From there, it drives up past Pescallo and through Visgnola to San Giovanni. As there are no roads along the lakeshore, the route it takes is not that scenic. However, it does provide a hop on hop off service. Therefore, if you want to explore more of Bellagio it could be a good option, particularly if you’re travelling with kids.
Go for a swim
Lake Como can get really hot during the summer so why not cool off with a refreshing dip in the lake?
Unfortunately, you can’t just swim everywhere as there is a fair bit of boat traffic. However, you can find free public swimming spots at San Giovanni beach and in Pescallo. Both of which have pebbly beaches.
For a sandy beach, you’ll need to visit the private beach club Lido di Bellagio. Rather than an entrance fee, you will need to pay to hire a sun lounger, deck chair or gazebo, starting at €10 for a half-day.
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Como is the largest of the towns on this Lake Como to Milan day trip itinerary. As the closest town to Milan, it is also one of the most popular places to visit on Lake Como.
While there are many things to do in Como and it is indeed a stunning town, it was my least favourite of the three. I found it somewhat underwhelming following the exquisite beauty of Varenna and Bellagio. That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful, because it really is! But, for me, Como didn’t have quite the same depth of character as the other towns.
Como does, however, have a remarkable history, having been populated since the Bronze Age by Celtic tribes. Later, during the first century BC, it became part of the Roman Empire. It’s, therefore, no surprise that you’ll find an abundance of museums and historic buildings scattered throughout Como. If you have any interest in history then I am sure you will be enamoured with this ancient city.
As you disembark the boat from Bellagio, you will arrive at the lakeside promenade and Piazza Cavour. This square has a few benches and decorative fountains with gorgeous views over the lake to the houses nestled into the mountainside. You’ll also find several pretty cafes around the perimeter of the square. From here it’s a short walk along Via Plinio to Piazza del Duomo.
Piazza del Duomo
As you make your way to Piazza del Duomo, you will reach a scene comprised of several historic landmarks. Side by side you will discover the Church of San Giacomo, the Cathedral bell tower, Broletto and Duomo di Como (Como Cathedral).
The ornately decorated San Giacomo church is a magnificent golden colour, making it stand out against the surrounding architecture. Once the biggest church within the city, in the 16th century its size was reduced to make way for Como Cathedral.
Surrounding Piazza di Duomo you will find many restaurants and cafes. Tucked between the Como Cathedral and its bell tower is the Broletto. Built in 1215, it was home to the old town hall. Take a moment to admire the red, grey and white local Lombardy marble that comprises its colonnade.
However, the real star attraction here is Como Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, to give it its proper name. This imposing building with its spectacular dome can be seen throughout Como and took over 400 years to build. Construction started in 1396 and wasn’t completed until the early 18th century.
The front of the Cathedral, with its white marble facade, makes up one edge of Piazza del Duomo. It is free to enter and explore and is just as impressive from within.
Piazza San Fedele
In the heart of the historical town centre, you’ll find Piazza San Fedele. Originally a wheat market, this square still retains some of its market heritage. On Saturdays, a menagerie of colourful stalls appears, selling handicrafts and antiques.
Additionally, nestled within this picturesque square is Basilica di San Fedele. Dating back to 1120, this Romanesque church has over 900 years of history.
Piazza Vittoria and Porta Torre
Piazza Vittoria and Porta Torre (Tower Gate) mark the outer edge of the previously walled medieval city centre. Standing at 40m tall, Porta Torre was built in 1192 to defend the main entrance to the city.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8am-1pm and Saturdays from 8am-7pm, there is an outdoor market. Next to Porta Torre, a variety of stalls pop up selling vintage clothing and handicrafts.
Weave your way back through the city, discovering the delightful streets, shops and restaurants. You may notice the copious amount of silk on sale here. Como is renowned for having been the centre of Italy’s silk industry since the turn of the 20th century. Today, traditional techniques are still used to spin and print silk, making Como the perfect place to shop for silk.
When you reach the shore, take a left and walk up the western side of the lake. Along this stretch of the shore, there are several notable sights, including Tempio Voltiano, Villa Olmo, Villa del Grumello and Villa Sucota. For some reference, the furthest, one is Villa Sucota and it will take you half hour to walk to from the port.
Overlooking Como from atop a 715-metre hill is the village of Brunate. Since 1894 this village has been joined to Como by funicular. Departing every 20-30 minutes and lasting just 7 minutes, the funicular provides a speedy and fun way to get up to Brunate.
It is possible to walk up, but it is a steep, grueling hike. Plus, the funicular only costs €5.50 return and looks way more fun! As it was so overcast by the time I reached Como, it started getting dark quite early. Unfortunately, I decided to skip visiting Brunate. However, if the weather is even half-decent the views certainly look worth it! Even with only a day in Lake Como, you could still absolutely fit this into your itinerary.
Once you’ve made it up to Brunate, there are many walks you can take to enjoy enchanting views over the city below, Lake Como, and the Alps. You can also visit Faro Voltiano (Volta Lighthouse). This beautiful lighthouse emits lights in alternating colours of the Italian flag.
Lake Como to Milan
After a busy day, the train ride from Lake Como to Milan provides a great opportunity to rest! Take the train back from Como to Milano Centrale or Milano Nord Cadorna. This journey will take you about 40 minutes, bringing an end to your Milan to Lake Como day trip.
READ MORE: Most Instagrammable Places in Milan
Other popular villages at Lake Como
While I decided to visit Varenna, Bellagio and Como, there are a plethora of beautiful towns and villages in this region. These are a few of the other most popular towns in Lake Como that you may wish to consider including on your day trip from Milan.
Located on the western banks of Lake Como, the dreamy town of Tremezzina was recently formed through the merger of the communes of Lenno, Mezzegra, Ossuccio, and Tremezzo. Its close proximity to Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio make it a good option to include on a day trip to Lake Como from Madrid.
The main attractions of this town include Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello. The latter has even appeared in a Star Wars movie.
For those with a bit more time, there is a beautiful 10km walkway called Greenway del Lago. Discover villas and gardens, Roman history and exquisite architecture as you walk through several lakeside towns.
This beautifully preserved small medieval town has direct access to Varenna and Bellagio. Menaggio’s charming lakeside promenade will take you past a variety of impressive villas. While it was once a walled city, today it is home to a number of high-end hotels, restaurants, shops and even a mini-golf course.
Explore the older part of town to see remnants of the old medieval city wall. or relax under palm trees.
While Lecco is a less popular destination for travellers, it is well connected with Milan making it a good choice for including on a day trip itinerary. Located at the very end of the easter arm of Lake Como, Lecco offers a charming village set against a dramatic alpine backdrop with spectacular lake views. However, this is all offered without the crowds of more popular Lake Como towns.
Packing list for a day trip to Lake Como
There are a few essentials you want to ensure are in your bag to ensure you have a great time on your trip to Lake Como.
- Camera: There are plenty of beautiful places and fun moments to capture, so don’t forget your camera (or at least smartphone!). We use the Sony a7riii and have been in love with it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, we’ve recently invested in a Sony Rx100 VI which will likely become my city camera as it’s so small and convenient!
- Swimsuit: If you plan on going for a swim in Lake Como then make sure you pack your swimsuit.
- Eco-friendly sunscreen: While you’re out exploring, make sure you’re protected from the sun. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s reefsafe and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
- Travel towel: A travel towel is perfect to dry off after a swim or to even use as a picnic blanket. They are small, dry quickly and don’t collect any grit or sand.
- Comfortable shoes: A visit to Lake Como from Milan is going to require a fair bit of walking, often on uneven ground and up and down steps so you’ll want some comfortable shoes. I love my Brooks sneakers and find they’re ideal for walking all day in.
- Reusable water bottle: We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remain hydrated without wasting single use plastic bottles!
- Cash: Some of the villas only accept cash – don’t make the same mistake I did and turn up without cash otherwise you’ll miss out!
Final thoughts on a Milan to Lake Como Day Trip
There’s no place quite like Lake Como. With its dramatic landscape of unparalleled natural beauty, scattered with brightly coloured houses, fascinating history and delicious Italian food, it’s an absolute must-see on any Italy itinerary.
With just one day in Lake Como, it’ll be a full day and you’ll barely scratch the surface of what this marvellous region has to offer. However, you will not regret taking this day trip from Milan to Lake Como. Even with just a day, you’ll still discover some of Italy’s most incredible treasures.
It is possible to do this itinerary in reverse, starting at Como and finishing at Varenna. However, I preferred starting in Varenna to get the longer train journey done in the morning. Also, arriving early in Varenna allows for time to explore with fewer other people around.
If you are planning your trip to Italy and want to maximise your time in Lake Como, it’s certainly worth taking some time pre-planning. I hope this Lake Como day trip guide will help you plan your perfect itinerary. If you do decide to follow this itinerary, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a long, tiring day.
I feel that it’s worth mentioning that should you have the time, it is worth considering staying for more than one day in Lake Como. This part of northern Italy truly is spellbinding, and I’m sure, like me, you won’t want to leave!
Don’t forget to check out our blog posts on Milan for before or after your Lake Como day trip: