In the tucked-away villages of Lake Como, painted frescoes and secret wine cellars deep underground are hints at a life that happens unhurriedly. Explore the northern tip for a more rural, yet real experience. Or come during low season to score the best deals. +++ If you've caught Nespresso's latest ad set in a luxurious lakeside villa starring Jack Black and George Clooney, you'll know that legendary Lake Como attracts Hollywood's heavyweights—at least that's what big corporations would like you to think. And it's partly true. But is this lake, one of Italy's finest, just for the aristocratic crowd? Locals know better. Way before Clooney attracted the tourists, Lake Como, with its perfect location and climate, was a hub of settlements and small communities, with visitors coming from all over the country. Artists, writers and philosophers sought inspiration here. Many holiday homes belong to locals who either have their original dwelling higher up the mountain, or in the bigger cities. Even if you only have a few days to sight-see, the farther you move from the shopping towns (think uphill), you'll reach some breathtaking views: rustic stone chapels standing strong against bellowing wind; sheep grazing in pastures, children scrambling or biking up mule trails to reach school. Here are ten ways to do more with less while on an affordable dream holiday. 1. Walk or hike. Going by foot is the oldest way of travelling, and still the cheapest. Take the rugged foot paths which start at lake level before winding up craggy mountains. Switch up your level of intensity by choosing how high or low you walk. Follow this link to downloadable maps for the northern tip hikes: 2. Rent a bike. Move around effortlessly and hit multiple beaches by pedaling your way through the lake's trails. In recent years, more towns have constructed paths fronting its shores for easier access to the water. Cycle lanes and bike rentals for your itinerary here. Giancarlo's Bike Rental in Sorico (north) rents out from just €15 euro for a day. You can get a guide as well, to learn some history—and Italian—as you cross the protected Pian di Spagna Nature Reserve. Call +39 3384717186 3. Buy spirits from local supermarkets. The Valtellina region is world-renowned for its fantastic vineyards and local wine cellars. You don't have to sit in a swanky restaurant to indulge. At a third of the price of what that could cost, you can enjoy premier wines or grappa sold on shelves. Iperal is the big supermarket with a mall in Colico (east) in case you feel the urge to shop. Lidl, a German chain, has also quality items at lower prices. Bottled wines from every region start as low as €2.99 4. Order house wine with your meal. Anyone who turns a stuffy nose up at the offer of vino della casa in Italy clearly doesn't know how exceptional the local wine can be. Many homes have basement cellars and produce their own aromatic reds (some, served in carafes, won't come with any label, but no matter) from the plump Nebbiolo grape. 5. Eat in an Agriturismo. No-frills; farm to table goodness. Generous portions of food are locally sourced, often from on-site farms you can visit before dinner—comfort food cooked with extra cream. You might end up rolling home, but at least your wallet's still intact. We like surprising visiting friends with such porzioni abbondanti as El Mercante serves in Colico. 6. Kayak, SUP and canoe rentals. To get a close-up view of the lake, rent a kayak from the many watersports schools that now offer decent priced options for playtime. Rates can be as low as € 10 (Standup Paddle Boards) and €7 (kayak) for an hour. 7. Get locally-sourced tips. Google doesn't always know where the good stuff is. Local festivals, art workshops, town marathons and private wine-tastings may not even be advertised on the usual travel portals. To find out about events that are open to the public, pick up a local newspaper, or search social networking sites where the community posts current events. 8. Ride the bus. Although it comes at sporadic times, and you need to pre-buy your ticket at the local tobacco store (where they sell everything from lottery tickets to grappa), it's still a great way to village-hop. Prices start at less than €2.00 and an unused ticket is valid all year long. 9. Fast Boat Ferry. Optionally, you can cross the 4.5 meter width of the lake in just two minutes by taking the ferry from Domaso to Colico, or vice versa. Or use it to sail 45 km south in less than an hour, where you can then continue on your on-foot excursion, if it's bedazzled Belaggio you seek. Find the schedules at http://www.navigazionelaghi.it/ 10. Come during winter. Layers of light deconstructed by a lazy haze make up a magical panorama. Winter is low season, meaning you'll get prized accommodations for much less, and the absence of crowds lets you feel as if you have this gem all to yourself.
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