How has or will Covid 19 effect this year’s tourist season on Lake Como? When can we expect to enjoy the lake in the way residents or visitors might remember from former times? The tourist season usually begins at Easter and would by now be well underway. But Italy has only just entered its Phase 2 at the very start of a cautious and partial re-opening of facilities. Can we at this stage predict what the summer on Lake Como will be like? The short answer is no in that there are still many unanswerable questions and unresolved issues lurking alongside the diminished but not vanquished virus.
Seeking clarification of what is open and when will not be straight forward. The complex regulations governing the opening of hotels, restaurants, sports facilities, entertainment venues etc. is putting a great strain on owners and organisers. They will each individually have to set their own schedule for reopening based on their ability or otherwise to meet the conditions designed to minimise risk to customers. In such circumstances, the Internet is proving inadequate since web pages are not updated sufficiently quickly. Facebook is better in this regard as is Instagram. However social media does not offer universal coverage. The best option is to contact the organisation directly by mobile phone. Direct contact in any case is usually the most effective option in Italy and no more so than now. Don’t let language differences put you off. English is well understood and local businesses want your custom and will do their best to understand you.
Right now the only people actually allowed to visit Lake Como are those resident in Lombardy or those travelling in from abroad. However foreign visitors face a number of obstacles to getting here. Most international flights are still suspended. Emirates will recommence flights to Malpensa from June 2nd but American Airlines won’t restart until October. Ryanair is waiting until the beginning of July before flying to Bergamo and Easyjet have not yet declared when their flights will return. An added problem for visitors from the United Kingdom is the two week quarantine they face on their return home.
Our neighbours across the border in the Swiss Canton of Ticino are still restricted from crossing the border at Chiasso or elsewhere. So the vast majority of visitors are currently coming from Brianza, Milan or further afield within Lombardy. And, with the residual fear born out of weeks of isolation, the crowds strolling the narrow streets of the old town at the weekends are already causing alarm. However such crowds can easily be avoided simply by visiting mid-week or staying outside of the main centres.
Eating and Drinking
Many of the weekend visitors are happy to queue for a gelato or a slice of pizza and the gelaterias are very happy to see the queues returning with the warm weather. Restaurants are still restricted to offering take away or home delivery services or, if space and capacity to meet legislative requirements permits, serving customers outside. This at least means diners can soon return to some of the most romantic alfresco locations on the lake. Hotel Villa D’Este’s outside dining re-opens from 5th June. The Tirlindana’s terrace (excellent ravioli al limone) at Sala Comacina opened from this last Saturday. So dining out (as long as it remains outdoors) should not be a problem. As more restaurants open their doors, they will need to apply limits on the number of diners they accommodate. You are therefore advised to book ahead and reserve your table.
Right from the first day of Phase 2’s easing of restrictions, customers returned, albeit one at a time, to entering a bar, ordering a coffee and then consuming it standing outside on the pavement. Unfortunately while all bars insisted on the wearing of masks when indoors and also provided hand sanitisers, many overlooked the requirement to take temperatures – a ritual previously established in supermarkets but now also needed in bars and hairdressers. While the morning coffee routine still seems rather awkward, the evening aperitif looks more relaxing and natural. However queueing to fill your plate from the ‘apericena’ buffet will not be possible for the time being. Aperitif buffets like that offered by Cafe Touring in Piazza Cavour are for the moment not allowed. Aperitif ‘stuzzichini’ served at the table are however fine and the return to the enjoyment of these small daily rituals is immensely reassuring. Seeing people enjoying an evening aperitif illustrates the pleasure to be had in just being here.
Phase 2 regulations require constant attention to cleanliness and social distancing which means that hotels will open only when they have managed to meet all the conditions laid down by law. The Villa D’Este’s suites and bedrooms will be available from June 15th. The Palace Hotel reopens from June 11th. Do not take any availability dates from the Internet for granted. Always call the establishment to find out exactly when they will be open. There should also be no problem finding bed and breakfast accommodation but there may not be one standard date when places reopen so always call to verify whatever might be stated online. Fellow blogger Como Lake Today recently published this article on hotel openings where you may find more information.
The mountain refuges will also open in time but many are having to plan how they manage to ensure social distancing within dormitories and communal bathrooms. The issue of communal facilities will also complicate matters for the camp sites at the northern end of the lake.
Gardens and Historic Houses
The trio of beautiful gardens up in the Bellagio triangle are all open again as one might expect with access to outside facilities being some of the easiest to manage. Villa Monastero in Varenna opened on May 23rd with the gardens open throughout the week and the house museum from Thursday to Sunday during May. Villa Carlotta and its gardens in Tremezzina opened on May 22nd. You are advised to buy your ticket online in advance since the ticket office is closed. The gardens of the Villa Melzi in Bellagio opened on May 18th. None of these sites welcome large groups and visitors must wear masks however wearing masks is compulsory in all public spaces.
The properties run by FAI (the equivalent of the UK’s National Trust) which include the Villa del Balbianello at Lenno also opened on May 22nd but only for those booking in advance online. Don’t forget to take your face mask with you when visiting.
Museums are all now open and will greet you by taking your temperature and inviting you to use their hand sanitiser. Unfortunately the Como museums never seem to be crowded which is a pity since they are well worth a visit. The Art Gallery (Pinacoteca) in Palazzo Volpi on Via Diaz contains works by theAstrattisti Comaschi, 13th century frescoes from the old Chiesa di San Giorgio on Via Borgo Vico, portraits that formed the 15th century collection of Paolo Giovio and some memorable examples of 17th century Lombardy Baroque. Visitors to the art gallery can often be outnumbered by the staff on duty.
Navigazione Laghi is running both its normal passenger routes and car ferries but with a provisional timetable which may well change. Use their Internet site to plan your journey and also to buy your tickets rather than have to queue up at the ticket offices.
Both urban and interurban buses are operating normally but with seating restrictions and the requirement that passengers wear face masks and gloves.
The vast number of private hire boat services and water taxis are all back in business as are bicycle hire shops and bike tour operators. Use our page here for contact information for boat hire. Click here for bike hire.
Musical Events, Festivals and Theatre
This is perhaps the least certain category since these are events where large numbers of people tend to gather and thus make social distancing specifically challenging. The Teatro Sociale remains closed and there is no information about any shows due to be performed over the summer. The annual opera involving a massive chorus of local singers which is normally staged in the open air towards the end of June and beginning of July is unfortunately cancelled.
A normal summer on the lake is accompanied by a large number of music festivals as well as other music outdoors. It is too early to tell which of these may survive the coronavirus and the best I can do is to suggest you consult Musical Events where information will be updated as soon as it comes available. Key dates will also be put into our Calendar as soon as they are published.
I fear many festivals will not take place this year but one at least has gone ahead to organise events in the open air where both musicians and audience can keep a safe distance. This is the Lake Como Festival whose dates are now in our calendar with the promise that further events may well be planned for later in the summer.
Lidos and Swimability 2020
The lido at Faggeto Lario will open on 30th May two months later than last year. The lido at Cernobbio will open shortly after. The lido at Villa Olmo shows signs of preparing to open but not sure when. Whenever they do open, they will be different from last year if only to comply with new regulations. It could well be that customers will profit from this. For example, at Faggeto there will be more space between sunbeds and, while the bar area will be closed, customers will instead summon a waiter by ringing a bell. Spaces will be reduced and Faggeto is asking that all places are booked in advance online.
In addition to the lidos there is nothing to stop people going out to any of the public beaches and taking a dip in the water. It’s for those of you who enjoy a dip in the lake that I have published water quality data for the last two years. I will also do the same for 2020 once samples are taken and results are published. Data is slow to be published on the government website undoubtedly due to the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Even though the water looks delightfully clean, one cannot just go on appearances but comfort can be taken from the good record established over former years.
The message in Phase One of the pandemic was a simple one to understand and to execute. Close your establishment and stay indoors. Now the message is open but respect all the protective regulations and be aware that they will be rigorously applied. Therefore opening dates will vary with some enterprises not able to open at all. Visitors will however be able to eat, sleep and travel around in comfort. Major attractions on the lake are already open and local entrepreneurs will be very pleased to see visitors coming in from abroad. A Bellagio hotelier has already pleaded on BBC News for the return of the English! A BBC correspondent residing in Menaggio also gave an oral portrait of the lake the other day on UK news. Our lake with its dramatic beauty and tranquility is the perfect antidote to lockdown blues. Its offer of freedom and serenity is open to all who manage to get here – just get into the habit of using your mobile when planning your perfect restorative stay.