Lake Como, Italy: sceneries that have enchanted the world, for centuries.
Hermann Hesse in his book Wandering Italy in the chapter “Walk on Lake Como” (it was the year 1913 on a boat near Torno) wrote: “Even the village, tiny and slightly steep, gave to the lake the harmonious enchantment of one of its sceneries: wide stone steps to serve as a docking place and for washing, at the foot of which some boats were moored, a house covered with vegetation, a quiet small square in clear stone with beneath the façade and the bell tower of a fine church and the pleasant half-round wall of the harbour overlooked by young trees. It was a painting of such harmonious perfection that at last I did not dare to disturb its grace.”
The magnificent scenery of Lario, another name under which Lake Como is also known as, has charmed over the centuries numerous artists other than Hesse, including: the French writer Flaubert, the musicians Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Vincenzo Bellini, the latter in particular here found the inspiration to write the famous opera “Norma”.
The lake is the birthplace of eminent personalities such as the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the first generator of electric energy or the battery, whose relics are on display inside the temple erected in his honour in Como. In the city it is possible to retrace his history and his importance thanks to dedicated itineraries, also known as “itinerari voltiani”.
Lake Como is situated within short distance (around 50 km) from Milan and lies in between the provinces of Como and Lecco; it is the third Italian lake by extension, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore, and is the deepest (410 metres). The lake, one of the most important in Lombardy and with a typical shape of an upside down Y, is made of three main branches: that of Como to the South-West, Lecco (cited by Manzoni in his famous incipit in The Betrothed) to the South-East and of Colico to the North.
Numerous beautiful villas are scattered among the branches of the lake, which has been the idyllic destination for the vacation and pleasure of the Lombard nobility since the beginning of the XVI century, while its main villages offer many hidden gems to be discovered. Como, the main city and administrative centre, from which the lake takes its name, has a millenary history and a role as a border city, between the Northern characters and the grandiosity of Rome and of the settlers coming from the Magna Greece. Como has a complex and rich history. It has exceptional monuments, Roman, Romanesque and Medieval, but is also considered the fatherland of Italian architectural and artistic Rationalism; here lie numerous examples of modern European architecture such as the Novocomum, the house Giuliani Frigerio, the War Memorial and the former Casa del Fascio (or House of the Fascist Emblem), all designed by the Italian architect Giuseppe Terragni. It is possible to discover these fine examples of architecture following dedicated rationalist itineraries.
In Cernobbio, it is worth paying a visit to the sixteenth-century Villa d’Este, used by Alfred Hitchcock as the location of the movie “Garden of Pleasure”, and the famous Villa Erba, one of the most important 19th century Italian villas on the lake. Further to the North, lies the village of Ossuccio, famous for the presence of the only island on the lake just in front of it and for the Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio, recognised by UNESCO as a universal heritage site. In the villages by the shore of Moltrasio and Lenno also lie Villa Passalacqua and Villa Balbianello. They are famous for the perfect symbiosis with the surrounding scenery.
Along the coastline, lies Tremezzo and its famous Villa Carlotta, with the garden terraces famous all over the world and the museum enriched with works by Canova and Hayez.
At the meeting of the three lake branches, lies the gem of Bellagio with its elegant and magnificent aristocratic villas, among which Villa Serbelloni and Villa Melzi, the latter famous for its botanic park. The area is also one of the main destinations for the worldwide cycling. The Giro d’Italia passes every year by Bellagio and from here thousands of amateur and professional cyclists challenge themselves by cycling the steep hill up to Ghisallo whose narrow bends have seen the best performances of famous champions such as Coppi, Bartali and Pantani. At the top of the hill, there is the museum of cyclism, one of the richest in memorabilia around the world and with a simple and moving chapel by which it is said every true cyclist should pass at least once in a lifetime.
From Bellagio to the South, you arrive in Lecco. Surrounded by breath-taking mountain scenery where famous mountaineers have trained, such as Cassin, Lecco is less famous than Como but has fine views and is still largely unexplored. Here, a visit to Villa Manzoni is imperative. The site of a museum dedicated to the famous Italian writer is also the starting point for an itinerary to retrace the steps of his most notorious work, The Bethroted.
From Bellagio to the North, it is possible to visit the splendid villages of Varenna, Bellano and Colico, where lies the Abbey of Piona.
Together with the historical-cultural vocation of Lake Como, there are also nature loving and sporting activities that can be easily practiced. Mountaineers can climb, and there are plenty of hill trekking trails, mountain bike trails, and hiking areas.
The foodies who love good food and want to know more about the wine and food traditions of the area have the opportunity to discover the dishes and the unique products that the lake has to offer including the risotto with perch fish, the fine olive oil from Lake Como, the numerous vegetables (among which the asparagus from Cantello and surrounding areas) and obviously numerous dishes with fish from the lake such as missoltini (salted and dessicated fish, shad, that is pressed and marinated with vinegar and oil).
This is just a brief overview of what the territory has to offer and of its fascination. We invite you to enjoy in person the true beauty of what has been described that has charmed tourists and celebrities all over the world, but also to go beyond normal touristic things. Every village, every little neighbourhood, has its own peculiar character. Some metres beyond the mainstream monuments, you can find hidden gems that are poorly or almost completely unknown to the most.
Lake Como has a deep and complex beauty which is the perfect destination for the tourist who likes going beyond the surface.
A crossway between Italy and Europe, Lake Como has been in the past a stop-over for millions of pilgrims. This role is still well documented today by the presence of numerous sacred places that have survived and have maintained their centennial beauty. The area is also rich in Churches dating back to the Romanesque period that have been placed along the main communication routes or else, often, in hidden places less likely to be reached. Numerous are the abbeys and monasteries run by different religious groups that are surrounded by oases of calm. This is a true reward for the slow traveller who is not afraid of leaving the mainstream routes for those less known. You are welcome to discover the area at a slow pace and with the attention of a real ancient pilgrim, without compromising the fundamental principles of the pilgrimage: solidarity, sharing, hospitality and the taste for the slow contact with the places and their history.
Not to be missed:
San Nicolo’ Abbey, Piona – Colico (Lake Como, Italy)
Situated at the far end of the Piona peninsula, north Lake Como area, the abbey complex dates back to the 11th century and has its origins during the Langobardic period. It is an important representation of the Lombardic Romanesque. In 1937 the complex was donated to the Cistercian monks who have been the owners since and have taken care of its maintenance. The monks have managed to keep alive ancient traditions to this day, such as the production of an exquisite liqueur.
Church of Saint Peter al Monte and Oratory of Saint Benedict – Civate
Situated on the slopes of Mount Cornizzolo, they are considered among the most important representations of the Romanesque art in Western Europe and are part of a single Benedictine settlement. Inside, there is a series of frescoes dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. In this remote place, approachable only on foot, it is possible to enjoy the most interesting apocalyptic narration of the Italian Romanesque: the triumph of good over the evil with the defeat of the dragon by the archangel Michael.
It can be reached only on foot after an hour long trip on a mountain trail (300m drop).
Convent and Sanctuary of Saint Mary of Lavello – Calolziocorte
Situated on the shores of the river Adda, this articulated religious complex represents an important landmark from an historical, artistic, environmental and economic point of view. Together with the Sanctuary, where there are impressive frescoes dating back to the 15th, 16th and 17th century, the convent nearby is also worthy of an in-depth visit.
Church of Saint Abbondio – Como
It is one of the oldest churches in Como and one of the most famous monuments in Lombardy. It was built during the second half of the 11th century. It has 5 central naves and 5 apses, of which one was finely frescoed during the 1300s, twin bell towers and an elegant exterior complex of decorative elements.
Complex of Galliano – Cantu’
It comprises of the Church of Saint Vincent, where one of the oldest series of frescoes in Lombardy is kept, and of the Baptistery, both dating back to the 11th century. According to the tradition, the Church was built on the ruins of a previous ancient pagan temple around the 6th century A.D. The first reliable documentation dates back to the consecration in the 11th century when Ariberto from Intimiano who was the keeper at that time also took charge of its embellishment and enlargement.
Saint Mary of the Linden – Gravedona
It is one of the most important Romanesque monuments in the Lombardy region and is characterised by a dichromatic wall cladding and a bell tower situated on the façade. It presents frescoes dating back to 1300s and a wooden Cross from the 12th century.
Abbey of Saint Benedict in Valperlana
The Abbey of Saint Benedict is a favourite destination for the very slow moving tourist and lies at the bottom of Perlana Valley; it dates back to the 11th century and is an important example of the mature Romanesque period. It can be reached only on foot from Ossuccio or Lenno after a 2-hour walk on a mountain trail (500m drop).
Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin Mary of Succour
This religious complex situated just at the back of the small town village of Ossuccio is a holy trail comprising of 14 shrines that lead to the Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin Mary. The shrines unwind along a cobblestone path embellished by grandiose sycamores and retain numerous life-size statues representing the fundamental chapters of the story of Jesus. It can be reached on foot after a nearly 40-minute walk from Lenno or Ossuccio.
Church of Saint Martin – Griante Cadenabbia
The church lies on a spectacular spot on the steep of the Saint Martin Stone and can be reached on foot after a nearly 40-minute walk starting from Saint Martin road in Griante. From the church it is possible to enjoy a beautiful view of the Lake also comprising of the promontory of Bellagio. The building was built in the 16th century and has become a worshipped sanctuary dedicated to Holy Mary after a wooden statue of Our Lady with Child was found.