ITALY (eTN) – Como is the first train stop in Italy heading to Milan coming from Switzerland and is also the gateway for many Americans in the summer who travel from Zurich across the Swiss Alps to Italy, spending a few days on Lake Como before traveling on to Venice for a cruise into the Mediterranean Sea.
Being one of the most important railway stops and just across from the Swiss Italian border, travelers are disappointed receiving such a poor welcome on their first arrival in Italy. They find a railway station without any escalators, without any elevators, but with plenty of very uncomfortable stairs, far away from usual standards.
One would think they were in Italy, but when having a cappuccino at the only bar in the Comos Railway Station run by unfriendly Chinese and also selling (local) bus tickets, one wonders if this was the right station to get off. The only souvenir shop is selling things made in China, and the monitors indicating which platform the trains will arrive at are out of order.
It is summer and the high season, but the ticket counter does not accept credit cards, and foreigners are having a hard time finding out from which platform their train will leave.
Anyone arriving in the evening after 7:30 pm will find it difficult to get a taxi, and I find myself telling travelers to share a taxi when one is showing up by chance. A young couple from Los Angeles going to one of the four five-star hotels on Lake Como made the mistake of not wanting to ride in a limousine waiting for them; they wanted the “real” thing. Why has modern times forgotten the railway station of Como San Giovanni – the passport to Italy with all international trains stopping here? After waiting for quite some time for a taxi, we all ended up taking the last bus.
Lake Como is one of the most beautiful spots in the world
The Como region is ranked as the tenth most popular city in Italy and is among the top ten cities where most money is spent by foreign visitors. If it were not for all the foreigners flocking the streets of Como, it would be rather bleak for the shopkeepers.
“I turisti salvano i saldi,” (the tourists saving the summer sales) the shopkeepers say. Thanks to foreign visitors, (95% of the buyers) arriving from the United States, Russia, Great Britain, nearby Switzerland, and as far as Australia, this year’s summer sales are doing well.
Roberto Cassani, President of the Comos Hotel Association, affirms that most of the guests arriving are from all over the world, and there is no longer a specific market. More and more Australians are discovering this part of Italy, and Chinese tourists are starting to come.
The beautiful, stunning nature is breathtaking and a sheer delight, but it needs more.
Travelers residing all over Lake Como who want to go shopping and spent some time and money in Como on their return trip – before catching a plane from Milan or a train for the onward journey – are often disappointed not finding anywhere where to leave their luggage.
It is for security reasons, the officials say. But across the border in Switzerland, railway stations and lakeside ticket offices (for boat trips) have lockers to deposit luggage and have no problems with that.
This year, Como is among the top ten of Italy’s most visited places by foreign tourists.
“The tourists are saving the Lario” (region) writes Corriere di Como.
Como is a newcomer on the list where eternal Rome is number one, followed by Milan, Venice, Varese, Imperia, Trieste, Como, Florence, Bolzano, and Verona for number of foreign tourists.
This year’s travel trends are showing a strong run towards the art cities of Italy as well as lake destinations which have out powered the common beach holidays. Provinces like Varese with Lake Maggiore, and Verona with Lake Garda, also re receiving more tourists this year.
Regarding the list of big spenders of Italy’s top ten cities where foreigners like to spend the most money, Rome leads the list, followed by Milan, Venice, Florence, Verona, Bolzano, Naples, Brescia, and Turin, with Como finishing the list with over 655 million euros in the year 2012. (+4% from the year before).
According to a recent survey, Lake Como received over 700,000 tourists in 2012, an increase of 2.5%, generating 2 million overnights. Luckily the months of June and July saw many arrivals and is picking up rapidly after seeing a strong decline of arrivals in April and May 2013 due to heavy rainfalls and cold weather.
But nature is not enough – it needs an entire makeover believes Andrea Camesasca, Vice President of the Hotel Association of Como. “It cannot be that such a lot of reconstructions are still uncompleted and blocking traffic and tourists.”
This year for first time, tourists in Como can enjoy a full lake view again. This was not possible for some years, as the lake was barred away by a high wall in order to keep high water out of town.
Now, thanks to private enterprises and hoteliers of Como, there is a new waterfront (Lungolago) and delightful corniche. “If we would have waited for public services, we still would have nothing,” explains Roberto Cassani, President of the Hoteliers of Como. “We depend very much on foreign tourists, as Italian tourists have nearly disappeared this year due to the economic downturn. Around 95% of our guests are foreign tourists; we need to give them the maximum. This is not done by closing public parking places in Como, as tourists arriving by car do a lot of shopping here.”
But the fascination of Lake Como is unrivaled. It has a unique panorama, and there is no better way than taking a ferry boat from Como and heading to beautiful Bellagio and charming Varenna in the middle of the lake.
The Centro Lago Villas were the Versailles of Italy in the 17th and 18th century, and Lombardi nobilities had splendid villas built there. Exquisite gardens were designed and laid out around the lake, and cardinals, kings, artists, and writers flocked from afar to enjoy the beauty of the lake.
It is here where current United States Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, once owned the Villa Oleandra which is located on an ancient Roman settlement right on the lake.
Thanks to George Clooney who purchased the luxurious Villa Oleandra in 2001, the little fishing village, Laglio, has become one of the most famous spots on the lake. Hollywood is coming to town, and the villa also served as the filming location for some scenes in the movie, Ocean’s Twelve, in June 2007. Clooney expressed opposition to a planned council development of the lakefront near his villa, and hosted a meeting of a local protest committee also opposed to the development.
This year – for first time – hotels rooms are still available even through the “hot” weekends in the high season (July and August).
With Italians traveling less this summer, the road to paradise is surprisingly less crowded, which is attracting more and more people to travel by car, coming as far as from Finland, or for a weekend away from Paris, or having their precious cars shipped to Europe for an outing on Lake Como.
Lake Como has always been a retreat for artists, aristocrats, poets, muses, musicians, garden lovers, and honeymooners, and this will not change, but hopefully the train station will change.