Lake Como: Resort has grown fond of its most famous resident
June 12, 2007
It’s not as if we were actively looking for him. Really, we weren’t. But a visit to the northern Italy’s gorgeous resort area of Lake Como naturally brings thoughts of one George Clooney.
Some years ago he bought a small house on the lake shore. Now he passes a few months each year relaxing there while counting his money and avoiding curious onlookers.
The American movie star/political activist/magazine cover boy/all-around decent guy is not the first person to decide on a home on Lake Como. Its shores are jammed with voluptuous villas, elegant estates and huge houses. For hundreds of years, Italy’s "old money," mostly from the financial capital of nearby Milan, has invested in Como luxury. Clooney is just the most recent and most famous resident.
Locals are not unhappy with their well-known neighbor. If conversations with restaurant managers, wine merchants, ferry boat drivers and grocery store clerks are any indication, Clooney is welcome wherever he goes.
"Yes, he comes here all the time," said the owner of the Internet Wine & Tasting Bar in Bellagio, a popular resort on the lake (it’s on Salita Plinio). "He sits right there with his baseball hat on and greets everyone."
Right. Mind you, it is a nice place. It offers a passable selection of wine from all over Italy, a simple buffet of snacks and a high-speed Internet connection (everything a hungry, thirsty geek wants), but my guess is that the chance of running into Clooney sitting there updating his MySpace profile is pretty slim.
Besides, Clooney would be better off stopping at the Aperitivo Et Al wine bar, just two blocks away on Salita Serbelloni (www.bellagio.co.nz/aperitivo). The food is better and the wine list more interesting. Here a tasting of three generously poured local wines (one Franciacorta — the champagne of Italy — plus one white, and one red) will set him back 12 euros (about $19). After the tasting, he could grab an excellent pizza at La Grotta Pizzeria on Salita Cernaia.
Bellagio nestles comfortably at the fork of Lake Como, an ideal location for visitors. The body of water resembles an upside down letter "Y" and has more than 120 miles of lake shore.
Clooney’s house is in Laglio, on the western shore of the lake. (Laglio translates to "the garlic." Maybe he really likes Italian food.) Getting from there to Bellagio and the Internet Wine & Tasting Bar would be the first hurdle for Clooney. He, like most visitors and new residents, probably would cross the lake using the ferry, since driving there would be a challenge accepted only by those who knew the way. The roads around the lake are narrow, winding, busy and beautiful. They would offer great rides for Clooney on one of his motorcycles, but to get all the way around the lake would take him hours.
Reading the ferry schedule might be a problem, unless he knows the difference between "battello," "autotraghetto" and "servizio rapido." As it turns out, almost everyone in Bellagio speaks English, maybe to assist Clooney, who, as he points out in interviews, is still learning Italian. In any case, the ticket office and the tourist office (which are right next to each other) are a big help.
Traveling by ferry is the most efficient. The principal stops of Menaggio, Bellagio, Como and Varenna are reached by all three types of service (battello is for passengers only, autotraghetto carries cars and tour buses, servizio rapido is a hydrofoil that is, well, faster).
Each town has its own special flair: Bellagio is the most heavily touristed, Como has the most working-class feel, and Menaggio oozes quaint and has fine bars and restaurants.
Using the ferry is also the best way to see Clooney’s house, along with the two thousand or so other impressive structures along the shore. The ferry charges 3 euros for a one-way ticket, and up to 23 euros for an all-day pass. Of course, prices go up for high season – which seems to coincide with Clooney’s visits.
On the days when Clooney prefers slower pursuits, the area teems with nature walks that vary from 90-minute strolls through villages to six-hour mountain hikes. He could pick up a map at the tourist office for details. Or he could contact the Cavalcalario Outdoor Club (telephone 0339-530-8138) to arrange horseback rides, mountain-bike excursions, paraglide rides or to rent a sail boat.
If shopping is on his mind, the town of Como and surrounding area produce 80 percent of Europe’s silk and has been doing so since the 14th century, when silkworms were imported here. Each town brims with boutiques and shops selling fine quality silk products (ties, scarves, shirts, etc.) at surprisingly reasonable prices. Certainly his friends Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie would enjoy a nice silk scarf.
Of course, if he prefers, he also could sit comfortably on the terrace of his small house and watch ferry boats filled with tourists enjoying the peaceful paradise that is Lake Como — and taking photos of his home.
Jim Sajo is a freelance writer who lives in northern Italy.