Lake Como is a lake of glacial origin in Lombardy, Italy. It has an area of 146 km², making it the third largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. At over 400 m (1320 ft) deep, it is one of the deepest lakes in Europe, and the bottom of the lake is more than 200 metres (656 ft) below sea-level. Lake Como has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times, and a very popular tourist attraction with many artistic and cultural gems. It has many villas and palaces (such as Villa Olmo, Villa Serbelloni, and Villa Carlotta). Many celebrities have or had homes on the shores of Lake Como, such as Matthew Bellamy, Madonna, George Clooney, Gianni Versace, Ronaldinho, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Branson, and Ben Spies. Lake Como is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy.
The lake’s name in Latin is Larius, Italianised as Lario, but this name is rarely used; it is usually called Lago di Como (literally “Lake of Como”). In guidebooks the lake may be variously described as “Lake Como”, “Lake of Como”, or, wrongly, “Como Lake.” Its name comes from the town of Como, known to the Romans as Comum.
The lake is shaped much like the character “Y”. The northern branch begins at the town of Colico, while the towns of Como and Lecco sit at the ends of the southwestern and southeastern branches respectively. The small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna are situated at the intersection of the three branches of the lake: a triangular boat service operates between them. Lake Como is fed in large part by the Adda River, which enters the lake near Colico and flows out at Lecco. This geological conformation makes the southwestern branch a dead end, and so Como, unlike Lecco, is often flooded.
The Lake Como ferry service is a highly developed public transport system linking the dozens of small towns and villages dotted around the perimeter of the Lake. A motorized service began in 1826 when a steamship with sails, the “Lario”, was launched by the newly established Società privilegiata per l’impresa dei battelli a vapore nel Regno Lombardo Veneto. Since 1952 the system has been run under the auspices of a government organization called first the Gestione Commissariale Governativa and subsequently the Gestione Governativa Navigazione Laghi, which is also responsible for services on Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda.
Today there are three main services:
- “Motorship” services up and down the western branch and northern end of the Lake (between Colico or Piona and Como town), with additional shuttles to the mid-lake area.
- “Fast services” that follow broadly the same route but use quicker hydrofoils, stop less frequently, and cost extra.
- “Ferries” that run only between the hugely popular mid-lake villages of Menaggio, Bellagio, and Varenna, plus Cadenabbia. Some of these boats carry vehicles as well as passengers
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