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Como (town): 65km (40 miles) NE of Milan; Menaggio: 35km (22 miles) NE of Como and 85km (53 miles) N of Milan; Varenna: 50km (31 miles) NE of Como and 80km (50 miles) NE of Milan

Life is slower around the northern Italian lakes than in mega-paced Milan; the city of Como is an ideal base for drawing breath and kicking back. Sitting on the southwestern tip of Lake Como, the city is essentially a center of commerce with a miniscule medieval quarter and a pretty waterfront. Tourists flock here for its ancient heritage, fine churches, and lake views. Como is the jumping-off point for most adventures on the lake, and the 10-minute funicular ride up to hilltop Brunate leads on to stretches of hiking along wooded trails up to Bellagio.

Lake Como is criss-crossed by regular ferry routes: It takes 4 hours to travel from one end to the other and there are many stops along the way. The most popular are Tremezzo, Menaggio, Bellagio, and timeless Varenna. Single fares from Como are 10.40€ to Bellagio; a day pass costs 23.30€. Tickets cannot be purchased online. The ferry terminal, run by Navigazione Lago di Como, is on the lake esplanade at Via per Cernobbio 18 (www.navigazionelaghi.it; (tel) 800/551-801).

Visitor Information -- The regional tourist office at Piazza Cavour 17 (www.lakecomo.com; tel. 031/269-712) has info on hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds around the lake. The office is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm. You’ll also find tourist offices open in summer in several of the small towns around the lake; in Tremezzo at Via Regina 3 (tel. 0344/40-493); in Varenna at Via IV Novembre 7 (www.varennaturismo.com; tel. 0341/830-367); and in Bellaggio at Piazza Mazzini (www.bellagiolakecomo.com; tel. 0341/950-204).