48 Hours in Lake Como on a Budget

Europe, Italy, Travel

On our busy tour around Northern Italy—which included Trieste, Venice, Bologna, Bergamo, Brescia, and Verona—Big & Small fell head over heels for the spectacular Lake Como. With its glistening waters rippling against the foothills of the Alps and its scenic towns colored by stacks of modest abodes and luxury villas, it’s hard not to fall in love. Even big-name celebrities like George Clooney and Madonna have been unable to resist its charms.

This kind of high-profile place can be intimidating for budget travelers, but Big & Small were able to keep costs low while taking in all the natural beauty and effortless elegance of this Italian gem—it just takes a little strategizing. Here, we offer some tips on how to enjoy a quick 48-hour trip to Lake Como on a budget. And click the video above for more information!

  1. Visit in the Low Season (Early Fall/Late Spring)

    Lakeside Views

We are total believers in low-season travel, which typically means fewer crowds and lower prices. We visited Lake Como in mid-September, an ideal time to capture some rays on the lake and take in all the lakeside attractions.

  1. Stay in the Town of Lecco

Lecco, Italy

Located on the south-eastern part of the lake, Lecco is in a strategic position. You can get there in under 40 minutes from Milan or Bergamo via train, and you can easily hop on a ferry to access other major towns along the lake. It’s a cool little city, too, with great shops and restaurants. We found a spacious AirBnB studio in Lecco, just a 2-minute walk from the lake, for about $65 (USD) per night. Check out the video to see what we got for this price!

  1. Bounce on the Lecco Trampolines!

Sure, you can take a nice jog lakeside, but how often can you find a trampoline with such a spectacular backdrop? We happened upon a small outdoor trampoline park, about a 5-minute walk north of the Lecco ferry terminal, and enjoyed 10 minutes of jump time for just €2 per person. It was a great adrenaline boost before our busy day on the lake.

  1. Skip the Car and Get Around Via Ferries and Trains

Forget the stress of navigating narrow, curvy roads (and fast Italian drivers!), and sit back and relax on a ferry or train. Lake Como is filled with cute towns to discover, many easily accessible without a car. Tip #5 below is our recommended day trip for hopping between two of the lake’s most popular villages.

  1. Take a Day Trip to Bellagio and Varenna

From Lecco, take a 90-minute ferry to Bellagio (€8,30). This posh town boasts world-class hotels and restaurants among its hidden alleys, cobbled stairways, and panoramic lake views. Schedule in a few hours to walk around the historical center and grab a panino or gelato. Here, you’ll find a few recommended walking tours through nearby mini-villages as well. From Bellagio, take a quick 15-minute ferry across the lake to Varenna (€4,60). Upon arrival, take a stroll along the shore-hugging path, part of the 6-km Greenway dei Patriarchi. When you’re ready to head back, make your way to the Varenna train station for a 25-minute train back to Lecco (€2,90). Transportation for the day totaled to just €15,80 per person (these prices are from September 2017).

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48 Hours in Slovenia: Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Dragons, and More!

Europe, Slovenia, Travel

Big & Small had a quick two-day trip through Slovenia. Play the video to find out the 5 things you should absolutely do when visiting this beautiful, peaceful European gem.

1. Explore the center of Ljubljana. This small and tidy capital is easy to walk and full of high-quality food at reasonable prices.

2. Visit the Ljubljana Dragon. The Ljubljana dragon is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the city. Symbolizing courage, grandeur, and power, the dragon appears on everything from car registration plates to buildings around town. The one you’ll want to see stands majestically on the Dragon Bridge.

3. Walk up to the Ljubljana Castle. The castle is a key landmark of the town. Originally a medieval fortress, it was constructed in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 12th century. The hike up is a nice little workout and totally worth every step.

4. Visit Lake Bled. Lake Bled is just 35 km (about a 1-hour bus ride) from Ljubljana, making it an ideal day trip. Located in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwestern Slovenia, the lake is the sparkling center of the town of Bled.

5. Walk around Lake Bled. The perimeter of the lake is only about 6 km. Take your time winding around the lake, taking in the mountainous landscape and the adorable Bled Island, the only island in all of Slovenia.

Learn more about Slovenia in our video above!

48 Hours in Dijon and Burgundy – France

Europe, France
The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon.

The Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon.

Arriving in the Gothic town of Dijon by train, we were happy to be away from the hustle and grandiosity of the City of Lights. We had about 48 hours to explore this city and its surrounding Burgundy region. We packed a lot in with little time and light wallets. Watch Dijon Videos by Big and Small Travel, and our other Travel Videos.

Dijon cuts the mustard.

Dijon cuts the mustard.

Most people will automatically think of mustard when they hear the name Dijon (including us). But there’s much more to the city than just an abundant amount of the delicious condiment. As the capital city of the revered Burgundy region, it’s the perfect pit-stop for wine lovers, as well as history and architecture buffs. The town dates back about 1,000 years, to around 1015, when Robert I decided to settle the capital of his duchy here. Since, it’s seen both tremendous times of power and wealth, and devastating moments under the siege of various armies.

The Liberation Square and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

Liberation Square (Place de la Libération) and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

THE OWL’S GUIDE

Today, Dijon feels like a hidden nugget in France, in the shadow of bigger cities like Paris and Lyon. You can see magnificent architecture and ornate cathedrals, and get hearty French cuisine for a fair price. To start, we recommend heading to the tourist office and buying “The Owl’s Guide,” which maps out various walking trails throughout the city. You’ll grow to love this little owl as it diligently guides you along through historical Dijon, via gold plaques embedded into the sidewalks.

The famed and good luck Owl of Dijon.

Dijon’s good luck owl

So, why an owl?! We learned that its significance comes from an owl-shaped statue found on the original construction of Dijon’s Church of Notre-Dame Cathedral. It’s considered to be a good luck symbol, especially if you rub it. The actual owl looks a little disfigured (maybe from all of the rubbing!), but a sign claimed that it is now protected day and night after it had been vandalized in 2001.

Saint-Benigne Cathedral.

Saint-Benigne Cathedral

The Owl’s Guide gives just enough information to give you get an idea of the medieval importance and little quirks of Dijon. Some of our favorite spots along the way included the expansive and panoramic Place de la Liberation and the decadent Saint-Benigne Cathedral. See a video of Handstand Steph at Place De La Liberation from our YouTube page.

There’s the main owl trail, as well as a few extra loops (we highly recommend doing those as well—it really gives you a good sense of the city). One of these loops ends at a plaza named after the author Emile Zola. We realized we had walked this very trail on the day of his death … kind of a cool coincidence! Though Place Zola was a little underwhelming, it did house some decent restaurants.

 THE FOOD: FROM MUSTARD TO ESCARGOT

Eating escargot in Dijon.

Eating escargot in Dijon

 

After walking with the owl, you’ll likely be quite famished. Fortunately, food in Dijon is reasonably priced for France. There are several places for more traditional French food, as well as plenty of boulangeries (good for cheap baguette sandwiches) and patisseries, along with cheap spots for wraps, kebabs, and crepes.

Don’t forget to stop at the many mustard-tasting shops, like the famous Maille, to sample the delights for free. Bread sticks are provided alongside a vast array of mustard flavors—our favorite was blackcurrant. There are several boutique shops and corner stores that sell mustard, too, where you can get compact jars of various flavors for just 1 Euro. Also, give escargot a shot. This French specialty actually comes from the Burgundy region, and you can find some good deals here, as cheap as under 5 Euros.

Patriarche Wine Cellar in Beaune.

Patriarche Wine Cellar in Beaune

EXPLORING BURGUNDY: A DAY TRIP TO BEAUNE

A great and economical day trip from Dijon involves heading to the Burgundy wine town of Beaune, about 50 KM from the city center. We took the bus there for just 1.50 Euros per ticket, with total travel time at about one hour and 20 minutes. The ride is a beautiful one, as the bus snakes through small Burgundy towns and vineyards. Once we got to Beaune, we found some French fare and coffee and then headed to the tourist office, where we got tickets for 15 Euros each to the oldest and biggest wine cellar in Burgundy, called Patriarche, located right in the center of Beaune.

Wine tasting at your own pace without moderation. Wine is life.

Wine tasting at your own pace… without moderation. Wine is life.

There, we sampled over 15 wines and got an informative, unique, and personalized walk through the cellar, which winds its way through tunnels and passageways underneath the streets of Beaune. Along the way you pass by (literally) millions of bottles of wine. Best of all, you could pour and sample as much wine as you like—which meant we definitely felt a bit tipsy by the end of the tour. (Pro tip: bring water!) There are “sommeliers” available, though we only came across one and she only knew limited English. Overall, though this was a wonderful and worthwhile wine experience.

Place François Rude in the historical center of Dijon, France.

Place François Rude in the historical center of Dijon, France

 A WORTHWHILE TRIP

In just 48 hours you can have great wine, lip-smacking mustard, and a wonderful historical walking experience with the help of an adorable owl. What more could you want?! We highly recommend making the trip to Burgundy and Dijon. Bon voyage!