Daniele Riva’s perfect weekend on Lake Como

The master builder of the Cantiere Ernesto Riva is the eighth generation of the Como family to craft exquisite wooden boats, from simple skiffs to vaporinas, entirely by hand

Daniele Riva on Lake Como
Daniele Riva on Lake Como | Image: Valentina Sommariva

Lake Como is the best place to be in summer; the weather is good, the food excellent and it’s very safe – the doors are always open. Little has changed here over the centuries and the days are very carefree. My weekends are spent in nature, either out on the water or hiking and biking with my children, Sara and Stefano. 

Saturday starts at Poletti, in the small town of Laglio where I live; the cappuccino and jam-filled croissants are the best you’ll find anywhere. This place is an institution and everyone comes here to start their day with bread, cakes and pastries, including crisp chiacchiere during carnevale. I also like Da Luciano, another family-run place, at any time of day; it’s part café, part deli, part wine bar, and the bresaola is a must. 

After a light meal, we might hike around the lake, past the medieval Isola Comacina. The island once belonged to Milan, and when it finally gained independence in the 12th century it was burnt to the ground. Every year in late June we celebrate its independence with a festival of fireworks and music, and the island is lit up with red maritime lights. It is best to watch from the water on a Lucia, a traditional flat-bottom fishing boat; an Inglesina, a covered boat designed in the 19th century to protect the English from the strong sun; or from a vaporina, one of the chic mahogany motorboats synonymous with la dolce vita.

If we’re feeling energetic, we’ll hike all the way to Tremezzo. The villas and gardens lining the lake show off all the cultures and architectural styles that have touched this area over time, and one of my favourites to visit on a Saturday afternoon is the Villa Carlotta, across from Bellagio. The gardens are extraordinary; full of rhododendrons, azaleas, bamboo and all kinds of statues and fountains. I also love the spectacular 18th-century Villa del Balbianello, perched high above Lenno: it featured in Casino Royale and now showcases an incredible collection of artefacts from around the world.

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Lenno is home to the glamorous Grand Hotel Tremezzo, but on a Saturday evening we’ll go there for La Fagurida, which serves authentic Lombardy cuisine. It has beautiful views of the lake – maybe the best – and the friendly owner, Adriana, serves excellent polenta uncia, a local dish with garlic, butter and sage. 

Il Sereno, the contemporary hotel designed by Patricia Urquiola, is another lovely spot to watch the sunset. It’s ideal for an aperitivo and they have a delicious tapas-style tasting menu. Or we might go to Blevio, home to Momi, for homemade pappardelle and fried lake fish such as perch or lavarello. The chef, Momi, holds cooking classes and will take six guests to the market in the morning and help them cook a hearty meal, prosecco in hand.

Sundays are for relaxing with friends and family and we’ll often go to Como, stopping to admire the gothic cathedral and the colourful Palazzo Broletto. La Vita è Bella, a small restaurant on the harbour is good for a light salad before visiting the fascinating Silk Museum. Como is more commercial than some of the other towns, but it has its charms. One of my favourite shops is L’Arte di Modellare il Cuoio, a little leather atelier that specialises in handmade accessories.

Later, I might take my electric boat Ernesto – named after my father – out on the lake, or we might ride the funicular up to the quaint town of Brunate, the place to enjoy mountain foods – creamy polenta, casoretta and zincarlin cheeses, and the local favourite, pizzoccheri, a buckwheat pasta dish. Full of good food and fresh air, I’m ready for the week ahead.”

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