IT wasn’t always so easy to find George Clooney’s home on Lake Como. When the star moved there 20 years ago looking for a quiet life away from Hollywood, sympathetic locals would fob off fans and the paparazzi.
Then a sharp-eyed photographer, leaving yet another shop where questions about “Signore Clooney” were met with a shrug, spotted, well, a Cloo.
Behind the counter was a bank of pigeonholes with post sticking out. Scrawled on one of the holes were the words: G. Clooney, Villa Oleandra, Laglio.
Busted . . .
It’s very different now. Take a boat trip on this stunning northern Italian lake and when you get to Laglio, the captain will helpfully point out the star’s huge 18th- century villa — and slow up so you can take photos.
You can’t get too close, mind. George has a 100-metre exclusion zone around his jetty to keep out the riff-raff.
If you do want the full Clooney experience in Lake Como, head for Cernobbio, just down from Laglio.
The GC hangs out at Il Gatto Nero restaurant, where he has his own table, and the waterfront Harry’s Bar (the latter’s a bit snooty, though).
Having said all that, Lake Como doesn’t need Clooney to pull in the punters. This stunning stretch of water, shaped like an upside-down Y, is surrounded on all sides by alpine mountains, quaint villages and opulent palaces and is one of Italy’s most beautiful treasures.
And even Clooney must get villa envy here.
Take the rambling Villa del Balbianello, out on a peninsula a few miles up the shore from Laglio. It is so stunning it has become a major film star in its own right.
James Bond convalesced there in Casino Royale and Anakin and Padme got married in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones.
And there’s the grand, imposing Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo, which dates back to 1745 and is now a museum and botanical garden open to the public.
Astonishingly, it was the original owner’s second home — he had an even more luxurious one in Milan.
Villa Carlotta looks out across the lake to Bellagio — the town that tends to be the focus of any trip to Lake Como. Bellagio is known as the Pearl of Lake Como and you can see why as you approach it on the ferry. It may be the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
That impression fades a bit when you step ashore because it is unbelievably touristy and it can feel like a cruise ship has just docked. Still this colourful warren of cobbled lanes, filled with cafes, restaurants and pricey designer boutiques, is definitely worth your time.
Go there just to eat at Ristorante La Punta which is on a promontory that sticks into the lake where all three limbs of the Y meet. The views are incredible.
Lake Como has been a holiday destination since Roman times and has always attracted the famous. It inspired poets Shelley and Wordsworth and composers Verdi and Rossini. Today tycoons and showbiz names have replaced the artists.
That is reflected in Como city, at the southern tip of the left leg, which is moneyed but discreet rather than flamboyant.
We stayed at the excellent and affordable Hilton, near the centre, and loved sitting in the infinity pool on the roof and looking out over the lake.
It is even better at night, with a cocktail in hand and a warm breeze blowing across the water.
Como is great for shopping, sightseeing (go to Villa Olmo) and eating out. But if you want to venture farther afield, Milan is an hour away by train.
It needs more than a single day for the full experience but if one day is all you have, visit the Duomo and the big shops in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, possibly the world’s oldest and grandest shopping mall. Don’t go on a Saturday, though, it is hell.
To see just how beautiful this part of Lombardy is, fly over it in one of the vintage seaplanes from the Aero Club on Como waterfront.
Much cheaper, though, is to take the city’s funicular railway up to the village of Brunate.
There you can sit outside a restaurant and look west over to Lake Lugano, Lake Maggiore and into Switzerland.
We sat down outside one bar and a waiter came over and asked if Sir and Madam would like a drink. A Nespresso, perhaps?
Of course. This is George Clooney’s town. What else?
GO: LAKE COMO