Breathtaking, inspiring terrain and an apparently unending string of palatial villas typify Lake Como. Begin the tour of the lake by taking the old "Strada Regina", stopping first at Cernobbio. Here the splendid Villa Erba, the childhood home of the film director, Visconti, stands, facing the lake, amidst vast grounds. A medieval town, Cernobbio is a favourite haunt of the famous, both Italian and international. When not securely within the sumptuous villas dotted around the lake, these can sometimes be glimpsed in the chic Piazza Rinascimento.

A mesh of tiny lanes makes Montrasio a fascinating place to explore. Here, the Romanesque church, built in the local grey stone, is a "must" to visit. Beside the church, the Villa Passalacqua stands in its magnificent terraces. There is a beautiful view of the lake from Laglio. George Clooney's two villas, Villa Oleandra and Villa Margherita are sited here.

Brienno, originally a medieval town is situated at the base of the San Bernardo and Briante Mountains. Here you will find the 11th century church of San Vittore with its "comacino", or bell tower and can visit the oratory of the Church of Saints Nazaro and Celso to see Andrea de Passeris' polyptic.

Many artisans have made their home in the medieval village of Argegno. Take the Pigra cable car which will transport you, 900metres up to see the 16th century San Rocco Oratory and an amazing panorama. Sala Comacina, with its 15th century church, San Bartolomeo, is a few kilometres further along the Strada Regina. The ruins of the Church of Sant'Eufemia, on the island of Comacina, can be explored from here.

Further on, in Ossuccio, is the 11th century Church of Saints Giacomo and Filippo, with a substructure built into the lake itself. This church has an exquisite bell tower as has the neighbouring Church of Santa Maria Maddalena. Higher up is the Sacro Monte; 14 chapels built around the Madonna del Soccorso sanctuary. This sanctuary was constructed to house a 14th century statue of the Madonna and child, which is fabled to be capable of effecting miracles.

The first town you come to in Tremezzina is Lenno. Here the 16th century Villa del Balbianello, owned by the Italian Environment Foundation (FAI), the Church of Santo Stefano and the Baptistery are worth a visit. Busy Tremezzo, on the lakeshore is next. In the 18th century Villa Carlotta, built for Carlotta of Prussia, are sculptures by Antonio Canova.

With its Baroque Church of San Carlo, the Romanesque Santo Stefano and winding alleyways, Menaggio is a delightful place to explore. It is also the departure point for journeys across to Bellagio. Bellagio is famed for its upmarket hotels, fashionable stores, the sublime Romanesque San Giocomo church and for the Rockefeller Foundation, housed in the Villa Serbelloni. Lovely gardens are the setting for both Villa Serbelloni and Villa Melzi and at Varenna the estate of the magnificent Villa Monastero is also open to the public.