Como is an easy 50km daytrip from Milan—so easy, people have been doing it since Roman times. So go instead to Lecco. It’s even easier. Populated enough to justify several dependable bus lines, but hosting no Clooneys or Madonne, Lecco is almost bereft of the sort of tourists thinking people hate. It’s on the same lake (Lago di Como) and exactly 39 minutes’ train ride from Milan’s magnificent Centrale station—slightly shorter the Como commute—and under €20 round trip.
In Lecco, you can have a perfect alpine Italian experience. It’s smaller and prettier than Como, featuring steeper, more dramatic mountains, turning the least gifted phone-tographers into artists. The fin de siecle promenade on the lake offers stunning sunset views, a passably swimmable beach and many outdoor cafés.
Restaurant patios spill into Lecco’s many car-free pedestrian ambles and piazzas. For a treat—and to impress the locals with your knowledge—order pizzocheri (“peat’s SO-kay-Rree”). This buckwheat pasta swimming in white cheese kept peasants alive in the nearby Po Valley for generations. Today it’s considered exotic.
For time-starved nature lovers, Lecco has a gondola into the Piani d’Erna mountains. Open all year, this gondola connects to the #4 bus route, a €1.50 and 10-minute ride from the town train station. Hike for an hour on any of many rugged but well maintained trails, then return to the wonderfully unpretentious rifugio restaurants at the upper gondola station for gob-smacking meals and views. They’re cheap and delicious. Order anything with polenta, Lombardia’s answer to pasta.
Instead of a daytrip, consider spending a night on the lake. You can still hop aboard the gorgeous, if pricey, commuter ferry to visit other more famous and towns on the lake, like Bellagio, Varenna and, of course, Como, but I’ve always found accommodation cheaper and easier in Lecco. Next day, you’re less than an hour from the heart of Milan with easy access to the trains and planes to the rest of Europe, never mind Italy.
Small surprise that Lecco was awarded Alpine Town of the Year Award in 2013. What we don’t understand is why it isn’t overwhelmed with tourists even if it doesn’t have George Clooney.