An Italian real estate specialist offers advice on how to find a budget house among the wealthy residents of Lake Como.
First he saw off a queue of rich would-be purchasers willing to offer more than US$25million for his mansion, now he’s shrugged off the unearthing of a 500lb cache of war-era munitions in the water less than 15 metres away. Hollywood icon George Clooney is clearly so attached to his $10million pad in Laglio, on Italy’s Lake Como that he’s not about to move anytime soon.
And maybe that should come as no surprise. Italy’s lakes district is so picturesque that most people find it a wrench to leave. Just some of the other star names who own real estate on Lake Como are fashion designer Donatella Versace, Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson, rock star Sting, Ryanair owner Michael O’Leary and soccer coach Jose Mourinho, while the family of late designer Gianni Versace sold their mansion for US$40million. Such is its star appeal that parts of Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond and Star Wars epic Attack of the Clones were shot here while Cernobbio, on Lake Como’s south-western tip includes Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone and Sir Paul McCartney among its devotees.
Since Clooney purchased his property in Laglio in 2002, near Cernobbio, regular visitors have included the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. The screen star also took on a abandoned house alongside his for a further US$4million that has been fixed up into a guesthouse for his famous chums.
The lake, in Italy’s Lombardy region, forms an upside-down “Y” that begins at the foothills of the Alps close to the border with Switzerland and extends southwards for around 55km. Its superlative views and the Alps forming a stunning backdrop make the area one of the country’s premier locations for real estate investors.
One of the most expensive too. Clooney coming here led to a surge in the housing market that has meant asking prices climb by a steady 5% average per annum. Despite the global real estate crash, the situation here has remained firm, thanks to demand from Milan’s wealthy elite and Swiss bankers. The area has no shortage of multi-million dollar villas if you have your heart set on an illustrious home on the banks of the lake with a movie star for a neighbour.
Yet thankfully one doesn’t require a hedge-fund manager’s bank balance to pick up a villa or apartment here. In Laglio, a 36-apartment lakeside complex recently became available with prices from Euro 137,600 to Euro 400,000 for a two-bedroom property. In Lenno, some 15km up the same coast, new-build apartments came on the market in 2009 starting at Euro 165,000. And in Tremezzo nearby, Euro 240,000 may be enough for a property with two bedrooms and lake view.
There are even better bargains as you head north. Villages on the north-west shores such as Pianello Lario, Musso and Dongo are a great alternative for properties under Euro 300,000.
In Pianello Lario, a newly built lake-view complex just 500 meters from the water’s edge and wit swimming pool offers prices from Euro 110,000 for one bedroom, Euro 145,000 for two bedrooms and Euro 205,000 for small villas. The Alps being close at hand means rental potential is excellent, typically around Euro 3,500 a month. Gravedona, some just over four miles away is cheaper still. Here, expect around Euro 100,000 for a two-bedroom flat with a view over the water, although you may have to give up proximity to the water.
Lake Como has drawn superlatives from visitors from all walks of life almost since time immemorial. The Roman poet Virgil referred to its beauty. Some years on, Pliny The Younger owned a couple of villas here. In 1818, the poet Shelley waxed lyrical about how the lake “exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty”. And writer Henry James was left awestruck as he gushed: “One can’t describe the beauty of the Italian Lakes, nor would one try if one could.”
It’s easy to see why. Como is the country’s third largest behind Garda and Maggiore and is 145sq km of tranquil blue water bordered by mountains and woodland, a picture postcard of stunning beauty.
The view is stupendous from almost throughout its 180km shoreline. But it’s hard to top its central section where the lake splits into two forked lengths, stretching to Como and Lecco.
Bellagio is known by locals as The pearl of the lake and many people in these parts insist it is Europe’s most beautiful town. Take in its charming medieval lanes, gazing at the view, or catch a ferry to Menaggio on the west bank or Varenna on the east, the peaks of the Alps soaring imperiously in front of you, and you would struggle to disagree. There are six airports to choose from around Como: Lugano in Switzerland, just half an hour away; three in Milan, all within an hour and a half; and two slightly further out, in Verona and Brescia.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adriana Giglioli works for property in Italy website Homes and Villas Abroad.com, who advertise 3,000 Italian homes for sale.
Where to stay in Como
There are hotels, apartments, B&Bs and villas available, check it out and make a reservation here.
Lombardia in Cucina: The Flavours of Lombardy
Milan-style risotto, pizzoccheri Valtellinesi, and pumpkin tortelli to start; casoeula, Milan-style cutlets, frogs stewed in tomato to follow, and to send, a slice of sbrisolona cake or panettone.
Lombardy surprises with the richness of its culinary traditions and natural ingredients, which modernity has barely affected.
"Milano in Cucina" captures this kaleidoscope of flavours, with contributions from some of the most celebrated chefs on the culinary scene, who pay homage to their territory, and whose skill is able to present a modern vision in keeping with the region's progressive spirit.
The Italian Academy of Cuisine
La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
Fifty years ago, a group of Italian scholars gathered to discuss a problem: how to preserve traditional Italian cooking. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine to document classic recipes from every region. The academy’s more than seven thousand associates spread out to villages everywhere, interviewing grandmothers and farmers at their stoves, transcribing their recipes—many of which had never been documented before. This is the culmination of that research, an astounding feat—2,000 recipes that represent the patrimony of Italian country cooking. Each recipe is labeled with its region of origin, and it’s not just the ingredients but also the techniques that change with the geography. Sprinkled throughout are historical recipes that provide fascinating views into the folk culture of the past. There are no fancy flourishes here, and no shortcuts; this is true salt-of-the-earth cooking. The book is an excellent everyday source for easily achievable recipes, with such simple dishes as White Bean and Escarole Soup, Polenta with Tomato Sauce, and Chicken with Lemon and Capers. For ease of use there are four different indexes. La Cucina is an essential reference for every cook’s library.
Milano in Cucina: The Flavours of Milan
The famous Risotto Alla Milanese gets its golden hue from the precious spice saffron. Legend has it that the dish came about when a Milanese painter decided to gild the risotto served at his wedding banquet with a harmless gold-colored dye. In Milan, they traditionally serve Risotto Alla Milanese with ossobuco (braised veal shank).
Traditionally made with raisins and candied citron, or with a creamy cream filling, the light, fluffy brioche-like bread called panettone may be tall or short, covered with chocolate or flavored with various liquors, but it’s always a symbol of the Christmas season.
With its hallmark domed shape, panettone graced Christmas tables in Milan since at least the 15th-century. Common knowledge claims its invention is from Milan. It is the most famous Christmas Lombardia food.
The Pax side of the Moon featuring Cesareo
Lombardia (Dicon tutti che sei mia) Quarantine Version - feat. Cesareo (Quarantine Version)