The lake was passed down to us by glaciers that, withdrown one million and 800 thousand years ago, they left the mountains dive in the clear waters, where the blue sky and the green woods, from the banks to the slopes, create magical reflections... to be seized in every season!
The Lario – as this lake is also known - is located in the northern Lombardy region, divided between the provinces of Lecco and Como, at 198 metres above sea level. It is 170 kilometres long and on its shores are forests, rolling hills, bare rocks, stone quarries and cliffs resting in the waters.
The waters of the lake reflect the sky, the mountains and the behaviour of the people that live there: melancholic and silent during November, happy and intensely blue in July, when the days never end, but generous all year round with the fishermen who, with dedication and respect, leave still today set sail with the Breva, the cold wind that "cagna i vestiti" ("scratches dresses" as Davide Van de Sfroos sings, a visionary poet and singer of these places and of these people).
The Lario, with its mass of water, dominates the climate of the surrounding area, making it milder, thus offering the opportunity to cultivate with satisfaction and success typically Mediterranean and exotic plants, such as the olive tree, or gardening with plants such as camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, cedars and palms.
The public sailing lines combine the countless towns and villages that dot the shores of the three "branches", the three segments that make up Lake Como: the almost symmetrical Bacino di Como (Como Basin) and the Bacino di Lecco, where the lake runs off through the Adda River, and the Bacino di Colico that turns off to the north, towards Valtellina, Chiavenna and the Alpine passages.
The boats provide a special observation point of the Lake and mountains, both on a sunny spring day to admire blooming gardens and on a gloomy winter day, which surprises in terms of how the grey and green colours assume strong and deep tones.
Overland, almost anywhere, there are paths that go back to the top of the mountains and cross, in a panoramic position, ancient routes that run along the shores in a south-north direction while in most important centres, but not only these, there are also a number of interesting walks along the blooming "lakefront".
The Branch of Lake Como
The Branch of Lake Como hosts the narrowest point, 650 metres between Careno and Torriggia, and the deepest point of the entire Lario Lake, close to the punta Cavagnola, between the villages of Nessuso and Argegno, where prof. J. Picard, in the early years of the twentieth century, tested his own Trieste bathyscaphe, reaching the depth of 418 metres.
Como is closely linked to its Lake. Legend has it that the basin in which the city today lies, appeared as a dream vision to the first men that visited it: the calm and limpid waters of the Lake were lost in swamps partially submerged by the thick surrounding bushwoods and convinced the first settlers to build stilts. This is what legend recounts, but the origins of Como are actually very ancient: the first evidence of human presence dates back to prehistoric times and are located in the surrounding hills, in particular in today's Parco della Spina Verde, where you can see the remains of prehistoric dwellings and of a necropolis. It was the Etruscans and Romans that trasformed Como into a real city, in particular the latter, that was renamed Novum Comum, with Julius Caesar himself the driving force behind massive drainage operations of the marshes, fortifying the area where now the city centre stands, providing it with a port and defining its characters that still today distinguish it. The Cathedral, with its Square and the Broletto, the Teatro Sociale, the church of San Fedele and the homonymous square, beautifully lit up during Christmas time, remain within the Città Murata; Como is in fact located within the perimetral walls of the municipal era, the age in which the Italian municipalities formed a coalition around Milan to fight the Barbarossa to whom instead Como remained faithful friend and ally, and on which the three towers stand out on the southern side. Outside of the walls the Basilica of Sant'Abbondio, typical with two twin bell towers and the beautiful monastery, the lakefront, once splendid and now object of discussed reconstruction works, Villa Olmo and Villa Geno, beautiful eighteenth century dwellings that can be reached with just a leisurely stroll from the centre, and Palazzo Terragni, an example of the rationalism of the twentieth century and now, unfortunately, barracks of the Guardia di Finanza (The Italian Finance Police).
In the hills, again in the municipal territory and in a dominant position in Como, is the Castello Baradello, at 430 metres above sea level, of which today remains only the imposing tower of a fortress designed to protect the city and watch over that plain. The Castle is immersed in the woods of chestnut and acacia of the Parco della Spina Verde which extends over the hills on the west side of Como characterized by the remains of prehistoric times and beautiful views over the city.
Heading in the direction of the plain in the district of Albate is the Oasis Torbiere del Bassone, belonging to the WWF, where it is possible to admire more than 200 species of birds.
The village of Brunate also dominates over Como, reached at 715 metres above sea level by the characteristic funicular railway, characterized by beautiful villas and by the splendid panorama which you can enjoy from the Faro of San Maurizio (a Lighthouse), a real balcony over the Alps.
Then the Branch of Lake Como heads north and is dotted with many villages and towns, in a scenario which, however, never detracts from free nature.
Cernobbio, refined and elegant, in perfect "Villa d'Este style", hosts just one of the most famous hotels in the world. The wide "Riva" (Shore) is also very beautiful and a stroll through the historic centre is very pleasant, merely along the lake shore. In the municipal area is the summit of Mount Bisbino, 1325 metres above sea level, that can be reached walking or through a winding scenic road.
Moltrasio, a few miles on the northern side of Cernobbio, is a small but charming village that climbs with numerous gardens from the shore over a small valley that in the past, due to its peaceful environment bewitched, among others, the composer Vincenzo Bellini who lived here and composed.
On the opposite shore is Torno, on a promontory that stretches out into the waters of the lake, a typical village characterised by a small square overlooking the small port and embellished by the church of Santa Tecla, and immediately conveys the atmosphere of the villages of the Lake, with its narrow stepped alleyways that climb up between the simple houses, allowing in the reflection of water passing here and there. From Torno a beautiful promenade starts that leads at 600 metres above sea level to the hamlet of Montepiatto, a privileged balcony on the second basin of the Branch of the Lake of Como.
Continuing on the same shore is the village of Careno, with its characteristic houses, stunning due to its characteristic V shape, which gradually narrows into a small valley that reaches the lake. Across from Careno is the deepest point of the Lake: 418 metres.
A few steps further, in Nesso, is the famous Orrido: a deep and picturesque gorge where two torrents join to form a roaring waterfall that can be admired from a beautiful flight of steps.
On the opposite bank, and a little further north, is Argegno, at the mouth of the Valle d'Intelvi, with a beautiful lakefront, the square, the village on the shore and with a cable car that leads to the village of Pigra, at 850 metres of altitude.
The Valle d’Intelvi is one of two natural passages that connect Lake Como to Lake Lugano. The panoramic viewpoint of Lanzo is beautiful and overlooks Lake Lugano.
Ossuccio is a characteristic village nestled on the shore in front of Comacina Island, the only island of Lake Como. In Ossuccio, among other things, is the Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine del Soccorso, much venerated in the local area and added in 2003, along with other sacred Mounts of Lombardy and Piedmont, by UNESCO to the World Heritage list.
Isola Comacina (Comacina Island) is today uninhabited, but it was a fortress and a garrison already in Roman and Byzantine times; an ally of Milan it was completely burnt down by the inhabitants of the coastal allies of Como, an event commemorated every year on the Feast of St. Giovanni.
By "Tremezzina" we mean that part of the coast of lake Lario that, facing Bellagio and Varenna, goes from Punta Balbianello in the town of Lenno up to Menaggio.
Lenno, a village of Roman origin, stands on the placid Golfo di Venere (Gulf of Venus), sheltered by the Punta of Balbianello where the beautiful Villa is located and from where a beautiful walk starts that ends at the lakefront near the Gulf.
Tremezzo and Cadenabbia are joined by a tree-lined avenue on which a typical fairy Italian garden descends in a gentle slope, and that during spring radiates in an amazing blooming of rhododendrons and azaleas; over the top of the park the famous Villa Carlotta towers, magnificent eighteenth century building, with spacious rooms that contain, among other things, sculptures by Antonio Canova.
Opposite, Bellagio "the pearl of lake Lario" is in the background: it is situated in a beautiful location on the western side of the homonymous promontory that separates the branch of the Lake of Lecco. Bellagio is perhaps the most famous centre of Lake Como, famous for the superb villas that surround it in the setting of lush parks adorned with sculptures, grottos, fountains and exotic plants, such as Villa Giulia, Villa Serbelloni, Villa Melzi. In addition to Bellagio the activity of professional fishing is still thriving and it is a flourishing centre, just like the resorts on the mountains of the Larian Triangle, due to the production of cheeses.
From Bellagio you have access to the mountains of the so-called Triangolo Lariano (Larian Triangle), where the production of cheeses is typical. Breathe the air of the mountains, enjoy great views, especially from Colma di Sormano, and where cycling lovers can indulge their whims with cycling climbs that have become part of the myth of cycling: of all of them there is the terrible Muro di Sormano, with slopes of up to 24% and the summit at 1124 metres and the Colle del Ghisallo, at 754 metres above sea level, where there is a sanctuary dedicated to the Patron Saint of Cyclists.
The whole area of lake Lario, and the Branch of Lake Como, can be reached by bikes, with challenging paths for amateurs but also simpler ones that can also easily be climbed by bicycles. There is also the opportunity to devote yourself to trekking among beautiful landscapes and to most typical water sports and, if time permitting, for a refreshing bath looking at the mountains.
(di Renzo Durini)