A walk along Lake Como’s lovely Greenway

>A walk along Lake Como’s lovely Greenway

Lake Como has a rich and varied history: as a crossroads for merchants, smugglers and pilgrims, as a battleground for the European powers that be, and as a vacation spot for rich Romans, decadent bishops and wealthy industrialists. When you’re cruising down the narrow lake road admiring the view, it’s easy to forget that navigating Lake Como was never easy for yesteryear’s conquerors, cow herders and travelling salesmen. The steep slopes and hillside hamlets were once crisscrossed with mule tracks and makeshift roads, some of which – thanks to the initiative of nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts – have been restored and opened to the public.

One of our personal favorites here at Palazzo del Vice Re is the Greenway del Lago.

The Greenway del Lago is a six-mile hiking path that follows the lake shore from Colonno to Griante, meandering through wooded slopes and charming villages, passing ancient places of worship and elegant lakeside villas. Follow along with us as we make our way through the seven main stages of the walk, highlighting the main points of interest, a few spots to grab a bite and some fascinating historical anecdotes. The path is ideal for Palazzo del Vice Re guests, whether you strike out on your own or avail of our expert local guides, and the convenient ferry stops along the way make it easy to access or escape the path wherever you like!

Stage 1

Colonno – Sala Comacina

Following the signs for the Greenway del Lago, the path takes you through this typical Lake Como village along the Via Civetta, a narrow path with houses on both sides. A small stone bridge crosses the Torrente Pessetta, before the path opens out onto the panoramic views over the center of Colonno with its prominent bell tower to the lake and Isola Comacina. Curious types may want to detour into Colonno and visit the Church of San Michele Arcangelo with its medieval frescoes. The path continues above the village along what was known as Strada Regina for Queen Theodolinda, a Lombard queen who lived on Lake Como from 589 to 616 and was not only responsible for the rapid rise of Christianity, but also the construction of passable roads like this one.

Did you know?

As you’ll notice, Torrente Pessetta is more a trickle than a torrent! In Italian, “torrente” is used to describe a stream bed with varying amounts of water. Often filled only during downpours or when mountain snows melt, the name can be quite misleading!

Stage 2

Sala Comacina – Ossuccio

At the quaint shrine of San Rocco, a stone stairway leads down to the lake and the marina of Sala Comacina, while the Greenway continues toward Ossuccio. If it’s time for lunch, hop on the ferry and head to Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only inhabited island, for lunch at the Locanda dell’Isola! The bay in front of Sala Comacina is known in the local dialect as the Zoca de l’Oli, referring to the dark water with nary a ripple – as smooth as oil! – and the local tradition of producing olive oil. The views from the Greenway toward the island are utterly instagrammable as you make your way back down to the lake shore. Anchored just off the coast below the path is La Velarca, a houseboat that has been moored her since the early 1960s. Famous Milan-based architects BBPR designed the boat based on the age-old gondola corriera tramezzina and its owners welcomed the literati of the “dolce vita days” on board. FAI, Italy’s historic preservation association, is currently restoring the boat to its former glory.

Just before you round the Zoca de l’Oli, stop off at the 11th-century Church of Santi Giacomo e Filippo perched just above the water. It is notable for its curious bell gable as well as its interior and exterior frescoes. The path continues into the first of Ossuccio’s hamlets, Spurano, before climbing once again to Via Castelli. The Greenway continues above the second hamlet, Ospedaletto, with lovely views of the 14th-century bell tower of the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena. You may want to detour into town to see the church up close, along with the complex that gave the hamlet its name – the Hospitablis in Stabio, a refuge for the poor and for religious pilgrims. Today, it houses the Antiquarium, a small museum with artifacts found during archaeological excavations of Isola Comacina. The Greenway veers back down towards the lake into the hamlets of Isola and Campo, passing the Romanesque Church of Sant’Eufemia and the moving Monumento ai Caduti, commemorating the local soldiers who fell during World War I.

Locanda dell’Isola

Everybody who’s anybody on Lake Como dines at Benvenuto Puricelli’s traditional restaurant Locanda dell’Isola – just check out the Wall of Fame inside! The Locanda’s 7-course menu hasn’t changed since 1947, offering simple cuisine with homemade antipasto and cured meats, grilled fish and chicken, and creamy gelato with fresh fruit. The “entertainment” is utterly charming as well: a wheel of Parmigiano makes the rounds, with generous chunks carved for each guest, and Benvenuto himself performs a ceremony with flaming brandied coffee known as the “Exorcism of Fire” after every meal to break the island’s legendary curse. All the while, the wine is flowing, the lake is glittering and the view is enough to take your breath away…

Sacro Monte di Ossuccio

From Via Castelli, you can make a detour up the hill to the Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, one of nine ‘sacred mounts’ in Lombardy that were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2003. Nestled in among olive groves and woodland, the devotional complex comprises fourteen chapels decorated in the local baroque style along with 230 terracotta statues. The ornate colorful figures are shown in the typical clothes of the 17th century, giving great insight into the everyday life of the time. From here, follow the path through the hamlets of Carate, Garzola, Molgisio, Masnate and Tregola, coming back to the Greenway at Mezzagra. This detour adds about 1.5 miles to the total distance.

Stage 3

Ossuccio – Lenno

After crossing a footpath over the Torrente Perlana, the path enters the quaint village of Campo and passes in front of 16th-century Villa Monastero, which we think is well worth a visit. The Greenway continues straight towards the village of Lenno, with the Dosso di Lavedo peninsula jutting out into the lake to your right. A 25-minute walk on this wooded, hilly peninsula takes you to the world-famous Villa del Balbianello, where you can tour the former home a rather worldly bishop, an American General and the eccentric explorer Count Guido Monzoni. The elegant canary-yellow Loggia, which served as a backdrop in James Bond and Star Wars films, is Lake Como’s most popular photo op, while the library and expedition museum celebrate the life of one of the 20th-century Italy’s most fascinating figures – complete with a narwhal horn and Guido’s retro mountaineering gear!

After returning to the Greenway, the path winds its way back to the lake shore and the picturesque Gulf of Venus. Beach-lovers will want to linger at the Lido di Lenno, with sunbeds on its sandy platform, stairs into the lake for a quick dip and a chic on-site restaurant that morphs into a cool cocktail bar as the sun sets over the lake. On the quaint main square of Lenno, you’ll find an 11th-century octagonal baptistery and the Church of Santo Stefano, as well as the landing stage with regular boats to and from Lenno.

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero on the shore. Like many lakeside estates, Villa Monastero has a fascinating history. First a convent for nuns fleeing the fires of Isola Comacina, then a lakeside retreat for magnates in the iron ore business in the 16th century. German businessman Walter Kees bought the villa at the turn of the 20th century and his additions in an eclectic neo-Baroque, neo-Classical and Belle Epoque mix are the star attractions of the house museum today – along with exotic species in the stunning botanic gardens. The final owner, Dr. Marco de Marchi, was a famous patron of the sciences, and the villa still hosts numerous scientific symposia and conferences today.

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero on the shore. Like many lakeside estates, Villa Monastero has a fascinating history. First a convent for nuns fleeing the fires of Isola Comacina, then a lakeside retreat for magnates in the iron ore business in the 16th century. German businessman Walter Kees bought the villa at the turn of the 20th century and his additions in an eclectic neo-Baroque, neo-Classical and Belle Epoque mix are the star attractions of the house museum today – along with exotic species in the stunning botanic gardens. The final owner, Dr. Marco de Marchi, was a famous patron of the sciences, and the villa still hosts numerous scientific symposia and conferences today.

Stage 4

Lenno – Bolvedro di Tremezzo

From the Lenno landing stage, the Greenway leads across a footbridge over the Torrente Palo before turning left at the Hotel San Giorgio on its way up the hill to Mezzegra. As you make your way past olive groves and old stone houses, keep an eye out for the Oratory of San Giuseppe with its characteristic porch. At the next crossing, history buffs may want to take a detour to the site of Mussolini’s assassination. The Greenway continues to the Church of Sant’Abbondio, a striking example of 18th-century architecture with rococo decorations and altars made of local black marble as well as stunning views across the lake to the Bellagio promontory and the Grigne mountains rising in the distance. The hamlet of Bonzaniga, a jumble of ancient stone buildings, arches and stairways that seems frozen in time, is also home to the Palazzo Brentano, a 17th-century palace built by a family of merchants who went on to great success throughout Europe. The path continues across the Torrente Bolvedro, leading back down to the lake shore at a tiny harbor on Via Monte Grappa.

Mussolini Assassination

Villa Belmonte on Via XXIV Maggio has a black cross marking the exact spot where Benito Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci were assassinated. When it became clear that his days as Il Duce were numbered, the self-styled Caesar raced rather cinematically to Lake Como in an Alfa Romeo, where he joined a group of German soldiers trying to cross the border into Switzerland. Despite disguising himself in a German army uniform, he and Claretta were captured by a gang of partisans, imprisoned in a remote farmhouse and then executed by machine gun fire before Villa Belmonte on April 28, 1945.

Stage 5

Bolvedro di Tremezzo – Tremezzo

Just after the Bolvedro harbor, stop to ogle the Villa Solo Cabiati, otherwise known as La Quiete. This stunning 18th-century palace sits behind ornate wrought-iron gates amid a lovely landscaped Italian garden and is currently an event spaced operated by the owners of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. The Greenway continues along the lake to the Church of San Lorenzo, an imposing monument begun in the 18th century, but not finished until the 20th century. Next door is the Villa Maier and its lovely park, Giardino Teresio Olivelli. Restored in the rationalist style by renowned architect Pietro Lingeri in the 1920s, the villa and the park provide a lovely backdrop for a picnic. The bright yellow Villa Mainone is one of the first of its kind – a lakeshore villa with expansive gardens built as a retreat for the well-to-do in the 17th century. It currently houses a museum dedicated to the unique landscape of Lake Como, promoting historic preservation, traditional cultivation and cultural heritage. The landing stage for the public ferries across from the Church of San Bartolomeo marks the beginning of the hamlet of Tremezzo.

Stage 6

Tremezzo – Villa Carlotta

The hamlet of Tremezzo came into fashion in the 17th century as a vacation spot for wealthy Milanese families, who built imposing palaces – such as nearby Villa Carlotta and Villa Solo Cabiati – with ornate gardens right on the shore. After the first hotels started arriving in the 19th century, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo opened to great fanfare in 1910, attracting visitors from throughout Europe who came to Lake Como on their Grand Tour. The layout of the hamlet of Tremezzo – an avenue of large villas with porticos facing the lake and small streets and cobbled stairways leading off the avenue – became a model for many of the other lakeside villages. Follow the Greenway along the promenade, but definitely venture into Tremezzo’s alleyways and refresh with a coffee, a gelato or a meal at one of its welcoming locales. On the northern edge of town Grand Hotel Tremezzo sits proudly with its vine-covered stairway, flower-filled terraces and swimming pool floating it the lake. It has a couple of restaurants (if you’re still presentable!) – from the casual T Beach grill to the swank La Terrazza restaurant. The incomparable Villa Carlotta and its 17 acres of lush gardens sit on the edge of town.

Villa Carlotta

Originally built in the 17th century, Villa Carlotta has been bestowed with masterpieces by Italy’s best painters and sculptors and adorned with romantic botanical gardens. Miles of trails meander through the park, interspersed with terraces and fountains, statues and stairways. Depending on the time of year, you’ll be in awe at the dizzying array of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias or ferns, hydrangeas and bamboo. A small museum of agricultural tools in a lovingly restored greenhouse reminds us of the herculean efforts and generations of green-thumbs required to make the garden what it is today.

Stage 6

Tremezzo – Villa Carlotta

The hamlet of Tremezzo came into fashion in the 17th century as a vacation spot for wealthy Milanese families, who built imposing palaces – such as nearby Villa Carlotta and Villa Solo Cabiati – with ornate gardens right on the shore. After the first hotels started arriving in the 19th century, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo opened to great fanfare in 1910, attracting visitors from throughout Europe who came to Lake Como on their Grand Tour. The layout of the hamlet of Tremezzo – an avenue of large villas with porticos facing the lake and small streets and cobbled stairways leading off the avenue – became a model for many of the other lakeside villages. Follow the Greenway along the promenade, but definitely venture into Tremezzo’s alleyways and refresh with a coffee, a gelato or a meal at one of its welcoming locales. On the northern edge of town Grand Hotel Tremezzo sits proudly with its vine-covered stairway, flower-filled terraces and swimming pool floating it the lake. It has a couple of restaurants (if you’re still presentable!) – from the casual T Beach grill to the swank La Terrazza restaurant. The incomparable Villa Carlotta and its 17 acres of lush gardens sit on the edge of town.

Villa Carlotta

Originally built in the 17th century, Villa Carlotta has been bestowed with masterpieces by Italy’s best painters and sculptors and adorned with romantic botanical gardens. Miles of trails meander through the park, interspersed with terraces and fountains, statues and stairways. Depending on the time of year, you’ll be in awe at the dizzying array of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias or ferns, hydrangeas and bamboo. A small museum of agricultural tools in a lovingly restored greenhouse reminds us of the herculean efforts and generations of green-thumbs required to make the garden what it is today.

Stage 7

Villa Carlotta – Griante

The final section of the Greenway takes you past more of Lake Como’s lavish villas, although most are in private hands. As you enter Cadenabbia, the dark yellow Villa Collina up in the hills was the summer retreat of Germany’s first Chancellor and today belongs to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. On the shore, the striped façade of the Anglican Church of the Ascension stands out in more ways than one. It was the first of its kind in Italy when it was consecrated in 1891 – and catered to the aristocrats and intellectuals from the protestant north who came to Lake Como on the Grand Tour. Services are still held in English here during the summer months, and the interior with its gold mosaics and unusual coffered ceilings is quite striking. The historic center of Griante is about 15 minutes up the hill and well worth a visit – the ancient stone dwellings hardly leave room for the arched walkways between them! Back on the lake shore, there are two more outstanding villas to see before the Greenway ends: Villa Margherita, the 19th century home of music publisher Giulio Ricardo where Verdi composed part of La Traviata, and Villa Maria, the art nouveau gem built for Americans at the turn of the 20th century.

2018-07-10T18:03:54+00:00February 5th, 2018|Categories: Walks|0 Comments

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