Como’s Four Seasons: 2 – Feasting and Hibernation

Cherub in fountain at Villa Olmo Winter 2017

Freezing cherub in the garden fountain of Villa Olmo

Como’s winter falls into two parts as in most other western countries in the northern hemisphere.  The first half is taken up in the preparation for and celebration of the holiday season. Once that is out of the way, it is then a case of adopting coping strategies to deal with the onset of true winter. In Como, the first part is marked by the frantic exuberance of ‘Città dei Balocchi’ whilst a common way of confronting the second part seems to be to join the bears in deep hibernation.

Città dei Balocchi


Campanile Broletto

Campanile Broletto

In recent years the scale and breadth of the events under the ‘Balocchi’ banner have increased markedly. The goal of this initiative, financed by local businesses and the council, is to attract the maximum number of visitors to the city and so compensate for the seasonal nature of tourism on the lake. The results? In one sense, they may have proved too successful this year as the crowds, crammed into Piazza Duomo at the weekend to view the light show on the wall of the Broletto, exceeded safety limits. However, apart from the special lighting effects which get more adventurous each year, Città dei Balocchi organises a number of great events for both adults and children. The special lighting, Christmas market and ice skating all give the city a festive feel that complements the rich variety of cultural events on offer. Christmas time at Como is enchanting.

Consumerism and Concerts

christmas market

Christmas Market

I tend to doubt whether the great majority of visitors who flooded into Como during the weekends prior to Christmas actually spent much money. Yet it would only have taken a small percentage of them to purchase a bit more than a slice of pizza to have made the whole ‘Balocchi’ exercise commercially viable. The price they definitely pay though is the time spent searching for a parking space and then queueing for the free-ride buses to and from the car parks on the city’s periphery. Como’s Piazza Cavour becomes as crowded and stressful as London’s Oxford Street, but here at least there is the beautiful natural setting and the relatively quick means of escape for when it all becomes too much.


Beyond the streets, stalls and shopping, the origins of the holiday season are not forgotten. The special lighting on the churches and religious buildings remains in keeping with the season. Free Christmas concerts are organised in the Duomo, the Basilica di San Fedele, Villa Olmo and elsewhere. The Opera season has its grand opening at Milan’s Scala on 7th December- that city’s saint day. Como’s Teatro Sociale follows a different calendar but with plenty on offer over the holiday period.

bishop's palace

Bishop’s Palace, Piazza Grimoldi

The restaurants meanwhile have survived that dip in demand through autumn, even if the gastronomic festivals may not have brought in as many clients as wished. Now there are all those avid shoppers who need refuelling, or the groups of varying sorts who wish to celebrate the season together in that atmosphere of shared conviviality which many restaurants in Italy manage to achieve so artlessly.

La Cucina di Elsa

Ristorante Cucina di Elsa

This is the season of fixed menus offered primarily by those restaurants who have a reputation to maintain. Dining out on New Year’s Eve, in Como as elsewhere, carries a premium. As an example, the Navigazione offer a New Year’s Eve dinner aboard a lake cruise taking in Como’s midnight firework display and ending at 2 in the morning – at a cost, but with a voucher for a full day’s travel in the summer season thrown in with the deal.

And then, once the Befana has flown down from the Broletto on her broomstick to distribute sweets to the children in Piazza Duomo on Epiphany (6th January), the pace all changes.



Bears preparing for the long hibernation

No-one has yet devised a marketing plan to fill the dead period in Lake Como’s tourist season. In particular the super luxury hotels mostly close after 6th January until the start of March. These include Cernobbio’s Villa D’Este, Blevio’s Casta Diva, Torno’s Il Sereno and Villa Pliniana and Tremezzo’s Grand Hotel. In Como, the Hilton seems closed until the end of March, Villa Flori until 8th March and the Albergo Terminus closes for a brief two weeks in January. Of the luxury hotels, both the Palace and Vista Lago remain open. So, even though the seasonal closures may be diminishing, lakeside hibernation is still a reality.



The rest of the commercial world does however carry on undiminished, and since Como’s industry is derived only half from tourism, those hotels catering to business travellers cannot hibernate. The wily visitor might well choose this as a good moment to spend a few days on Lake Como – and profit from some of the undoubted advantages of off-season travel.

Off-season Visitors

winter view brunate

Winter view of Monte Rosa from Brunate

In my opinion, January and February are good months to visit Como assuming you don’t mind the cold, you aren’t looking to swim in the lake and you appreciate avoiding large numbers of fellow visitors and paying less for travel and accomodation. The downside is the short length of daylight but even this becomes less marked in February. The winter here is often dry and sunny. You are unlikely to get the periods of prolonged rain that are more common in November or Spring. The restaurants that remain open are those that were never dependent on tourist traffic in the first place and, perhaps as a result, are often of good quality. There are days even in mid-winter when the midday sun allows for a pleasant meal outdoors. Its true that some of the main lakeside villas and gardens are closed until March but, assuming you stay in or near Como itself, there are other attractions and of course, easy access to Milan once you have exhausted Como’s cultural delights.

misty mood

Misty Winter Mood

The lake retains its beauty and displays a greater variety of moods than during the hot season. Small changes in temperature, wind speed or direction can alter its appearance. The mountains may well remain snow-capped from one thousand metres and above but you will walk the Greenway or the Strada Regia uninterrupted.

cormorantsWhen visiting the small towns on the lake, you will be eating or drinking where the locals eat. When out in the woods, you will hear the occasional lizard rustling through the dry leaves prompted by the rising sun to venture abroad.  On such days the sun’s heat brings out a feint earthy odour from the undergrowth as a precursor to the flavours of Spring. On the water you will see cormorants jump off from their watch posts to skim a metre above the lake surface on their forays for fish. In other words, the lake modifies or retains its charms even off season.

Festa della Giubiana

By the end of January, the appeal of the crisp chilly winter days begins to pall as winter moves into its coldest period. It was during these bleakest days in the natural cycle that pagan worshipers in Ticino and across Northern Italy celebrated what is now called the Festa della Giubiana or Giobia.

la giubiana

Festa della Giubiana at Seregno in Monza Brianza, ©Massimo Chisari

The festival lives on in many towns close to Como, such as Albavilla, Alzate Brianza and Tavernerio. In both Cantù and Canzo, the celebrations are more extensive. The centrepiece of the festa is a large communal bonfire upon which is burnt a female effigy known as the Giubiana. She represents the spirit of the old year and her sacrifice symbolises the death of the past to make way for the birth of the new in anticipation of spring. The origin of the Giubiana is obscure but the ceremony certainly reaches back into pagan times with some suggesting that the  alternative name of Giobia  derives from the Roman God,  Jupiter or Jove (Giove in modern Italian).

saint anthony with pig, naples

Saint Anthony with Pig, Naples

The ceremony may well also have been the inspiration for another tradition celebrated with a large communal bonfire – Saint Anthony’s Saint Day or the Festa di San’ Antonio. This is celebrated with a large bonfire in both Barni and Varese where locals can also take their pets into church for a blessing. Saint Anthony is associated with the care of animals and is usually depicted with a pig at his side. The Festa di San Antonio is another example of how the early Christian church appropriated or radically adapted pre-existing pagan ceremonies to fit the new system of beliefs.


brut 6

Schignano Carnival – Bruts (pictured) are often armed with something like a carpet beater to aggravate the onlookers or a passing Mascarun (see next photo).

By mid-February, the scent of spring is ever more prevalent on the hillsides as the earth warms up and the days grow longer. Mid February is also carnival time. This too is another celebration with origins going way back into pagan times representing a joyful welcome to the coming of Spring. In Como we are lucky to have one of the most entertaining and original carnival celebrations in Italy – in Schignano. Whilst Venice’s carnival has characters dressed up in luxurious finery assuming genteel postures, Schignano’s characters dress in rags, make raucous noise, lounge about and harass the onlookers. It is truly and originally anarchic. Children love it but it also affects us adults no matter for how long our anarchic spirit may have lain repressed. Schignano’s carnival has the true spirit of liberation and is perhaps the best possible way of marking the end of Como’s winter!

Mascarun Schignano Carnival

A Mascarun – the rich, sophisticated and beautiful players in the Schignano Carnival.



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Christmas Como: Citta dei Balocchi

Over recent years Como has sought to exceed itself in attracting visitors to its streets over Christmas defining itself as the ‘Citta dei Balocchi’ – a phrase that might roughly be translated as the city of fun and fantasy.  The most visual elements of the Como Christmas are the special effect lighting installations in the main piazzas. These installations seem to become more ambitious each year. The photo collection here hopes to give an idea of Como Christmas nights. Go to our calendar for a more complete view of the different Christmas events or visit the internet site of Citta dei Balocchi.  

Como Companion wishes all readers, supporters and followers a very happy holiday season. Auguri e buon anno nuovo!

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Noir 2018: Moral Ambiguity and Death

Gigi Cavenago’s design for this year’s poster in homage to ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ and representing the Noir in Festival’s main content – film and book.

The Noir genre in film or fiction was bound to find fertile ground within Italy, given the high levels of moral duplicity, obscurantism and corruption within many of its institutions and in general public life – made even more stark when contrasted with those heroic figures who have entered into combat with these dark forces without thought to personal safety and often at personal cost. Italian society seems ready made for ‘noir’ and Como is the ideal location for appreciating it since its stunning natural location will calm the spirits after the moral turbulence provoked by this annual feast and festival of noir.

This December sees Como and its Teatro Sociale hosting ‘Noir in Festival’ for the third year since its transfer in 2016 from Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley.  Half of the festival is based in Milan but from December 6th to 9th, all events go lakeside. Other than a couple of prize givings (including this year’s Raymond Chandler Award awarded to Jo Nesbo), the festival’s activities are screening original language films or tv shows in the main auditorium  or having authors present some of their latest works in the Sala Bianca. The films and tv shows are international but the author presentations are all Italian this year with the exception of Lars Kepler. So there is no better place to take the pulse of current day Italian noir and for taking bets on whose works may next be translated into English.

Teatro Sociale

The following Italian authors will be presenting their recent novels over the four days; Mariolina Venezia, Gianni Biondillo, Roberto Costantini, Carlo Lucarelli and Antonio Valenzi. None of these latest releases are yet available in English but both they and their authors are worth checking out for an insight into current trends in Italian crime fiction.

Mariolina Venezia

Mariolina Venezia’s latest in the Imma Tataranni series.

The first author up on the podium is Mariolina Venezia this Thursday at 17.30. She will be discussing her latest work, ‘Rione Serra Venerdi’ with Annarita Briganti. The novel is set in Matera in the heart of the southern region of Basilicata, a town embracing global tourism but still haunted by past poverty. The heroine Imma Tataranni is a state prosecutor tempted into an inappropriate  relationship with a police detective into betraying her husband and jeopardising her family.

Mariolina Venezia has published poetry and both film and TV scripts as well as publishing a historical saga tracing a Basilicata family over the last 150 years. Some of her previous books are available in English, French and other languages.

Gianni Biondillo

Gianni Biondello’s latest mystery for Inspector Ferraro

Gianni Biondillo makes a welcome return to Noir in Festival on Friday in the Sala Bianca at 17.30. His novels are set in his own home town of Milan and feature the run-down Quarto Oggiaro, where he himself was raised.  ‘Il Sapore del Sangue’ has Biondillo’s Inspector Ferraro investigating into why a multiple murderer seems to be out on early release from the Bollate Prison.

Gianni Biondillo has written seven Inspector Ferraro novels all located in Milan. He is an architect by training and has written an account of Como’s famous architect son, Antonio Sant’Elia as well as also writing for film, TV and theatre. Some of his books have been translated into French and Spanish.

Roberto Costantini

Roberto Costantini has Michele Balistreri revisit an old cold case before his retirement

His place is taken by Roberto Costantini at 18.30 who will be discussing his latest novel ‘Da Molto Lontano’. His detective Michele Balistreri, described as scarred in ‘both body and mind’ tries to resolve a cold case dating back to Rome in the summer of 1990. His failure to clear that up at the time now comes back to haunt him as he faces his retirement.

Roberto Costantini wrote the prize winning ‘Trilogy of Evil’ series starting back in 1952 with ‘The Memory of Evil’ (2014) giving a noir view over the previous sixty years of Italian history. The trilogy features ageing detective Michele Balistreri with this last novel offering insights into his complex character as he faces retirement. His Evil Trilogy is available in English and other languages.

Carlo Lucarelli

Lucarelli’s Commisario De Luca investigates murder and negotiates dangerous politics in wartime Bologna

Carlo Lucarelli presents ‘Peccato Mortale’ on Saturday at 17.00 and it takes us back to 1943 and the period between the overthrow of Mussolini and the armistice signed with the allies in September by the king and Prime Minister Badoglio. His detective, Inspector De Luca working in Bologna, gets embroiled in dangerous politics as he investigates the mystery of a headless corpse.

Carlo Lucarelli’s  police detectives – Coliandro, De Luca and Grazia Negro – have all been filmed or televised. He himself has also directed film and made both radio and television programmes. He is a journalist and teaches creative writing in school and prison. Some of his books are available in English and French.

Antonio Valenzi

Valenzi’s unlikely protagonist takes on global capitalism and its political backers.

Antonio Valenzi appears on the last day of the festival on Sunday morning at 12.00 in the Sala Turca. He presents ‘Il Quinto Dominio’. This novel takes on the shadowy world of international corporations and their political backers as they maneuver for power and profit. As might be expected in the era of global capitalism, the noir tentacles spread out to France, South America and beyond.

Antonio Valenzi took up journalism after trying out a string of different jobs. He covered a variety of investigative topics involving the media industry and currently writes a blog on media affairs for the Huffington Post. His second novel ‘Golden Standard’ won the 2016 Casa Sanremo Writers Prize. His books have not yet been translated into English as far as I can establish.

Teatro Sociale with the lighting organised by Como’s Citta dei Balocchi 2018

Italian Noir presents many  grey and negative aspects of Italian society, well beyond the stereotypical images of a beautiful and cultured country. This is not to say that Italy lacks culture and beauty. Far from it  BUT it is also a country where many private lives get caught up in the machinations of seemingly indifferent state and morally dubious private institutions and where injustices, whether intended or accidental, may never get resolved – rich territory for our modern day noir writers.

A summary of the Festival’s events in Como is available on our calendar. For more detail, go to the Noir in Festival’s website.

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Clouds Over Como: Lest We Forget


Clouds over Como

November is a melancholy month made even more so in this centenary year marking the end of the First World War. Italy celebrates this anniversary on the 4th rather than 11th November since that was when the hostilities in the Dolomites and the Isonzo valley ended. This conflict between the young Italian state and the old Austro-Hungarian Empire registered as gruesome a rate of mortality as that on the Western or Eastern fronts. As elsewhere across Europe, most Italian towns have a memorial to their local dead from both this and the subsequent tragic conflicts of the twentieth century. Como’s Monumento ai Caduti, designed by Giuseppe Terragni and inspired by Como’s other famous architect son Antonio Sant’Elia – himself a victim on the Isonzo front, is a particularly striking example due both to its bold design and its prominent location on the lakefront.

Giuseppi Terragni’s Monumento Ai Caduti, inspired from designs by Antonio Sant’Elia

The local impact of the First World War is still visible in the Linea Cadorna, a line of trenches and machine gun emplacements straddling the peaks of the mountains around Como and marking the frontier with Switzerland. That defensive line was never needed. Como was however tragically embroiled in the last years of the Second World War when the town had become a favoured residence for many fascist leaders, their families, mistresses and assorted unsavoury bullies and hangers-on.  The civilian population, enlarged by the escapees from the unrelenting bombardment of Milan, witnessed the dying days of the nazi-fascist regime and the blood-letting that followed its immediate overthrow. Como was at the heart of the maelstrom following Mussolini’s retreat from Milan and his attempt to seek safety in the Valtellina. Those days brought tragedy on both sides of the political divide with summary justice often meted out with little discrimination. It seems appropriate to personalise this season of remembrance by recording the tragedies that marked those horrendous days in Como – and  to identify the sites and structures where various acts of horror took place, if only to remind us all that, even in locations as beautiful as ours, our recent history has been punctuated by the grossest acts of inhumanity. The cruelties of the past need sometimes to be brought to current attention in the hope that they may never be repeated.

The Isotta Fraschini – the luxury car favoured by the fascist hierarchy and wealthy wartime society.

Before the armistice of September 1943 Como seemed to have been spared the worst of war deprivation, and even later managed to avoid most of the allied bombing maybe due to its proximity to its border with neutral Switzerland. The population suffered deprivations from the strict rationing, the ongoing callousness and favouritisms of the fascist state and of course the bullying, torture, imprisonment  and deportation to Nazi labour and extermination camps of its social and political enemies. But for those friends of the regime, with money or some useful connections, Como became a hedonist paradise. Luxury cars were a common sight as politicians, industrialists and media stars enjoyed the good life in casinos, restaurants and bordellos whilst the common folk struggled by on the meagre rations issued to those fortunate to be in work.

Hedonistic Como

General Rodolfo Graziani – Commander of the RSI’s army

Mussolini had chosen the shores of Lake Garda for his residence but his son Vittorio, other relatives and some at the top of the fascist political hierarchy lived on Lake Como. Among these were Rodolfo Graziani – the general commanding the RSI Army  who lived in Villa Crespi on Monte Olimpino and one of the Duce’s ex-mistresses, the Countess Alice de Fonseca, living in Lezzeno. The climate and the beauty were undoubtedly as appealing then as now but the additional advantage for them and also for many of the Nazi state institutions, was the proximity of the Swiss border if there was a need for a quick escape.

Paolo Porta

By April 1945, the imminent defeat of the Nazi-fascist state was increasingly obvious even to the most diehard fascist leaders such as Paolo Porta, the chain-smoking fanatic boss and chief representative of the fascist state in Como. From his headquarters at the Casa del Fascio (Giuseppe Terragni’s rationalist masterpiece), and from the barracks of his division of the Brigate Nere right by Como Borghi Station, he waged a successful war against the partisan bands operating in the hills on the western shores of the lake and those further up towards the Valtellina.

Casa del Fascio designed by Giuseppe Terrragni

He filled up the Brigate barracks on Via Sirtori with his prisoners as well as in the town’s old prison, San Donnino. Even these facilities were insufficient to hold all his and the Questora’s detainees.

Palestra Negretti in Via dei Partigiani

The gymnasiums of Palestra Gino Negretti in the renamed Via dei Partigiani and Palestra Mariani on Via Sauro, where Ines Figini was held prior to her deportation to Mauthausen, were converted into temporary jails. Giuseppe Terragni  designed the Casa del Fascio with its glass atrium way back in the idealistic early years of Mussolini’s era with the idea of conveying transparency in local government, but instead it had become the centre of oppression over the local population and the site to where partisan leaders such as the Chief of Staff of the 52 Garibaldi Brigade, Luigi Canali (‘nome di battaglia’ Capitano Neri) and his girlfriend Giuseppina Tuissi (‘nome di battaglia’ Gianna) were brought to be tortured mercilessly by henchmen such as Enrico Mariani, who had won the European Rowing Championship in his youth but was now an ardent fascist with a perverse streak who whistled arias from Verdi’s Il Trovatore as he indulged his sadistic fantasies.

A Nest of Spies

The ex-Swiss Consulate on Viale Geno

The fascist state could only gain results against its enemies by using threat, torture and bribes to urge local people to denounce enemies of the state whether they be Italian or foreign jews seeking to avoid deportation, young ex-soldiers avoiding conscription, escaped allied prisoners of war or the increasing bands of armed partisans with their allegiances either to the communists, socialists, the Catholic Church or the Royal Family. Como was not only a magnet for the wealthy hedonists but also for these so-called enemies of the state seeking safety over the border or, in the case of some of the partisans, receiving funding from the allies and particularly from the future head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, based in Bern. However he took care to fund only the more moderate partisan bands from the OSS (American secret service) office in Lugano. Como too was full of agents, double agents, traitors and double-dealers whose loyalties became increasingly difficult to decipher as fortunes turned against the Nazi-fascists. One point of reference for those wanting to link up with agencies across the border was the Swiss Consulate on Viale Geno, still standing but as a private residence.

Vodafone shop which used to be the luggage and bag workshop of Remo Mentasti  who provided a point of contact for partisan sympathisers arriving in the city and wanting to make contact with the groups hiding in the mountains. 

Partisan Resistance

Partisans were under fierce pressure during the bleak winter of 1944/5, under attack from Porta, constrained to disband temporarily by the Allied leadership, facing the cruel deprivations of winter reliant on the support of a civilian population suffering from ever stricter rationing, unemployment and civil oppression. But some sites such as the shop of Remo Mentasti – the luggage maker – in  Piazza San Fedele continued to provide a point of contact for all partisan sympathisers from Milan seeking contact with the groups encamped in the hills although Porta had his men spying on the shop’s entrance from the first floor of the restaurant across the square.

Dionisio Gambaruto, seasoned partisan commander from the Spanish Civil War

Opposition to the fascist state was led by the Italian Communist Party with its disciplined cadres and hardcore guerrilla leaders who had learnt their craft, and unfortunately their Stalinist intransigence, fighting against Franco’s forces in Spain. Such was Dionisio Gambaruto, a veteran from the Spanish Civil War and a hardline Stalinist in command of the Garibaldini based at the top end of the lake. He would feature more prominently after the fall of fascism. However partisans were recruited from a wide range of political backgrounds and even the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade (Communist funded like all the Garibaldi brigades) was under the leadership of a royalist ex-army captain, Count Pier Luigi Bellini delle Stelle, whose ‘nome di battaglia’ was Pietro.  He led his group in blocking the column of German soldiers as they approached Dongo on April 27th to negotiate the surrender of all those in the column who were Italian citizens, including Mussolini who had initially tried to pass himself off as a German soldier and his girlfriend Claretta Petacci who was travelling with her brother under a false Spanish passport.

The Prefettura on Via Volta, seat of central government then as now, and where Mussolini spent his last night in Como

Two days earlier, Mussolini had realised that his attempts to negotiate some sort of deal with the leaders of the Milanese insurrection, the Committee for National Liberation (CLN),  would get him nowhere since the German Army, without Hitler’s approval, had already signed an armistice with the allies in Rome. He and his band of fascist leaders chose to flee to Como which, due to Porta, was still under fascist control. He stayed the night in the Prefettura on Via Volta but had to leave rapidly at 04.00am on the 26th to ensure his safety.

Villa Mantero – the most discrete villa in Como, impossible to see except from the air.

His wife Rachele stayed at the Villa Mantero on Via Crispi and then tried to enter Switzerland at Chiasso the next day but was turned back and later arrested by partisans. His girlfriend, Claretta Petacci, stayed at the Albergo Firenze in Piazza Volta and then joined Mussolini’s ill-fated column of German soldiers.

Insurrection and Revenge

Albergo Firenze in Piazza Volta

But Como was about to switch dramatically from fascist to anti-fascist.  Fascist leaders such as Porta had joined Mussolini’s column seeking the safety of the Valtellina but others started to negotiate surrender seeking favourable terms for themselves. There was a sudden demand for red fabric so young men could rapidly don red scarves whilst disposing of their former black shirts. Nowhere was the contrast in fortunes greater than amongst the residents of San Donnino, the town’s prison. Overnight the anti-fascist prisoners swapped places with fascists. Some of those ex-fascists faced a summary justice similar to that meted out to Porta. He was with the fascist leadership captured in Dongo. Faced with the imminent and ultimate solution to his nicotine addiction, he begged  one last cigarette before execution. His and the other victims’ bodies were then carried down for display in Milan’s Piazza Loreto alongside the corpses of Mussolini and Petacci who had been executed together on the same morning but at Bonzanigo, a district of Mezzegra now part of the newly formed comune of Tremezzina. The lakefront at Como behind the Monumento ai Caduti became the setting for the summary execution of many fascists including the Questore, Pozzoli, and his diabolical second in command, Saletta.

San Donnino Prison in Como’s old town – on April 27th the anti-fascist prisoners were released and their places taken by fascist collaborators who at least stood more of a chance of surviving than those captured by the partisans and housed in the Hotel Posta or Villa Rossa.

On the night of April 27th the American OSS, the UK’s Special Operations Executive and some of their non-communist partisan allies had to save German officers including General Wolff, the commander of the SS in Italy. On returning the previous day from secret surrender negotiations in Switzerland, Wolff had been forced by strong partisan activity to take refuge in Villa Locatelli, Cernobbio – the SS headquarters for Lombardy whose commander was ironically a double agent working for Dulles.  The communist partisans had surrounded the villa but had failed to cut the telephone lines so Wolff was able to contact the Swiss and arrange allied assistance to free him. This was perhaps the first of many occasions when the allies sought to moderate the forces of insurrection and revenge. The Americans had certainly wanted Mussolini to be captured and delivered to them alive (there are some doubts about the UK’s wishes) but the communists wanted immediate justice alongside a desire to rid the area of all those connected with the fascist past.

Police records of Dante Gorreri, nicknamed ‘ul parun’ due to his arrogance

Following the 27th April 1945, the Casa del Fascio immediately became the headquarters of the Partito Communista Italiano and Porta’s ex-director’s office was now occupied by the similarly vicious but politically contrasting figure of Dante Gorreri, renowned for his arrogance and authoritarianism. Gorreri now spent his days managing the administration of the province and his evenings in clandestine journeys personally performing summary execution of former fascist collaborators. The immediate climate for revenge and for settling the scores built up through years of oppression, betrayals and double dealing led to the formation of two bands of semi-official police. One of these, the ‘Polizia del Popolo’ led by Dionisio Gambaruto, was headquartered at the Hotel Posta on Piazza Volta, used to house prisoners whose stay there was often a brief interlude before execution.

Allies Moderation

Hotel Posta in Piazza Volta. This exterior was a less ambitious design by Giuseppe Terrragni.

Here the police worked in conjunction with the Questura (state police) who were doing their best to distance themselves from the former regime. The civil police or ‘Volonte Rossa’  had their headquarters in the so-called Villa Rossa, also known as Villa Tornaghi at 33 Via Bellinzona but now demolished. The leader here was an elegant but ruthless partisan called Leopoldo Cassinelli or ‘Il Lince’. There too the prisoners tended to stay for short period before their end. Around 20 to 30 ‘collaborators’ per night were rounded up by the partisan police patrols and brought to these temporary prisons. The allied authorities became so alarmed by the level of bloodletting that they threatened to attack both bases. In addition the Carabiniere under Brigadier Ettore Manzi used allied troops to assist them in re-arresting at least 74 of these prisoners thus ensuring their transfer to the official prison of San Donnino avoiding summary execution and left to be processed according to official court procedures. The modern day civil art gallery of Como, the Pinacoteca, was the site of the law courts positioned close to the San Donnino prison.

Blue Skies and Calm Waters

Careno – blue skies and calm waters

As civil power was gradually restored and the first democratic government since the 1920s was established, the partisan police forces were disarmed and the period of revenge, fired by hopes of a socialist revolution, faded into memory. Too many members of the PCI had failed to appreciate how the general public were fed up with any form of political tyranny and how the stalinist levels of discipline needed perhaps during times of conflict were off-putting in peacetime. In any case, the revolutionary hopes fired by the emotions of the general insurrection in April were misplaced given Russia’s lack of commitment to a Communist revolution in Italy, in reality out of the question whilst the country was still occupied by the Allied forces. Maybe the anti-communist fears of the Allies went too far. One immediate result even for hardline fascists was that, if they could survive the first six to twelve months after the war, they were likely to be given amnesty and be reintegrated into civil society with little said about their former collaboration with the Nazi occupiers. No-one was to regret the passing of those tragic days before and after the end of the war.  Even though political conflict between left and right extremes remained to resurface in the terrorism of the 1970s, this hardly impacted on Como. Here the pleasures of life in such a beautiful natural setting were re-establishing themselves as the local economy, based primarily on silk production, boomed.

The Casa del Fascio from the portico of the Teatro Sociale

‘Lest We Forget’

The bullet holes on the lakefront railing at Dongo are still visible reminders of the execution of Paolo Porta and the other fascist leaders on the morning of 27th April 1945. San Donnino is no longer a prison and in fact awaits a developer to renovate it as luxury apartments. The barracks of Villa Tornaghi or of Porta’s Brigate Nere at Como Borghi have been demolished. The Hotel Posta has been renovated and is now a boutique hotel on the corner of Piazza Volta where the Albergo Firenze still offers rooms but not to the prostitutes or mistresses of the old regime. The gymnasiums used to house Jews and political prisoners awaiting deportation to Germany are just gymnasiums. The Casa del Fascio no longer houses political tyrants and torturers but is the temporary headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza (an organisation which had impeccable anti-fascist credentials throughout the Nazi occupation). In fact the Casa del Fascio is most likely to become a museum and study centre dedicated to its architect designer, Giuseppe Terragni.  He had also designed the Monumento ai Caduti behind which so many collaborators met summary justice. No plaque is placed there in their memory. Instead it is a favoured meeting place during the summer months for young immigrants seeking to make their way to Northern Europe. The blood has been wiped clean, and memories of those bad times are fading but if the buildings that remain could talk, they would no doubt beg us to never again lose our sense of humanity.

Como Companion has published a number of articles relating to this sad period in Como’s history. You may wish also to read:


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October Gastronomica: A Flurry of Food Festivals

Rassegna Tremezzina Gastronomica

grand hotel tremezzo

Grand Hotel Tremezzo – courtesy of the hotel.

A gala dinner at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo last Friday (19 October) kicked off the Tremezzina Food Festival, the Rassegna Tremezzina Gastronomica.

Menu GH Tremezzo

Local cuisine celebrated at the inauguration event at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo.

This annual festival has now grown since its relaunch to include sixteen separate events held from mid-October to 24th November. The festival originated in the 1950s as one of the initiatives of a particularly enterprising local dentist, Gian Giuseppe Brenna. As the delegate for the Como area to the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, Brenna wished to ensure that the local traditions of hospitality and culinary excellence be preserved and celebrated. It has now been revived under the sponsorship of the newly formed local council which incorporates the previously independent towns of Tremezzo, Lenno, Ossuccio and Mezzegra – an area that encompasses the heart of local olive oil production and possibly the most upmarket tourist locations on the western shores of the lake.


Tremezzina – the new comune that combines the former autonomous lake comunes of Tremezzo, Ossuccio, Mezzegra and Lenno.

The current mayor of Tremezzina, Mauro Guerra, partly sees the festival as an opportunity to celebrate what the new unified comune of Tremezzina has to offer but also to reinforce the values and pleasures of hospitality – and to celebrate and advertise these to the world at large. Five establishments (including a Bed and Breakfast, Wine Bar and three restaurants) offer a menu based on local cuisine throughout the length of the festival.

Rifugio Boffalora

Rifugio Boffalora, famous in partisan history as the location where Capitano Ricci gathered his partisan force prior to his ill-fated attack on the Albergo Lenno.

A further ten establishments (restaurants of renown as well as the Aquadulza brewery and the Rifugio Boffalora) offer special menus on a single occasion or over a specific short period. Details about the individual offers including price and the different establishments are available on the festival’s website.


Rassegna Gastronomica di Valle Intelvi

Menu Castiglione La TorreIf imitation is the greatest form of flattery, Tremezzina will be delighted that their initiative is being duplicated in the Val D’Intelvi, that beautiful valley that links Lake Como to Lake Lugano from Argegno to Porlezza. This is the inaugural year for the Rassegna Gastronomica di Valle Intelvi  which runs from 18th October to 18th November and involves twelve restaurants this time. As in Tremezzina, this festival’s aim is to celebrate local cuisine and to help preserve the local culinary tradition whilst advertising its qualities within and beyond the local area. The Val D’Intelvi used to be a favourite destination for local Italians to take a spring, summer or autumn break but the tourist industry has declined as growing prosperity has prompted the Milanese to seek more exotic holiday destinations. But the area is stunningly beautiful and its cuisine profits both from the lake-inspired dishes and the mountain alpine products.


Missoltino – pickled lake fish – served with polenta.

Albergo La Torre

The Albergo La Torre’s Ristorante Castiglione offers an autumn menu as part of the Rassegna Gastronomica

As in Tremezzina, the twelve establishments represent a good cross section of hostelries in the Valle Intelvi. However, presumably because the organisers of the festival, the Associazione OrtiCultura, do not have the same financial resources available to them, there is no single website where you can go to see what exactly is on offer. Their Facebook page lists the restaurants and states they all  offer ‘ a menu based on autumn specialities using traditional local ingredients and offered at a controlled price’. The festival runs from 18th October to 18th November.

Gastrolario logo

GastroLario logo


The territories of the Val D’Intelvi and Tremezzina are both subsumed within the Province of Como and so theoretically within another gastronomic festival in October entitled GastroLario. This festival is in its first year as in the Valle Intelvi, but unlike there, the GastroLario seems to have more financial backing and is certainly much more ambitious in scope. GastroLario involves fifty eight different establishments each either offering a specifically local menu over the period from 1st to 31st October or specific ‘GastroLario’ dishes a la carte.

pizzoccheri and polenta

Polenta and pizzoccheri – two famous local dishes here together for a gut-busting feast

This ambitious initiative spearheaded by one of Cantu’s ex-mayors, Claudio Bizzozero, shares the same objectives as the other two food festivals running concurrently within Como Province but, with its wider geographic spread, it hopes to rehabilitate the culinary reputation of the entire province. It’s true to say that Como’s culinary tradition is perhaps overshadowed by Milan to its south and the Valtellina to the north east.

local produce

Local produce from the local producers section of the covered market in Como – all strictly ‘zero kilometri’

GastroLario has a comprehensive website with details of all fifty eight establishments. It does however helpfully categorise these into three distinct sections based on geographical zone. These are around the lake, amongst the hills of Brianza and finally in the mountains of the Pre-Alps. These zones neatly cover about ninety percent of the province’s geography leaving out some of the flatland of the ‘pianura’ in the south west. Each zone has its own culinary tradition based on local production and custom. Sig. Bizzozero further distinguishes the style  of each establishment within each zone with a further sub-division by three. We have ‘classic’ style where recipes follow traditional expectations or ‘reinterpretation’ style  allowing for greater creative scope or a ‘freely inspired’ style which takes creativity a step further from the starting point.

la fagurida view

View from the terrace of La Fagurida, one of the restaurants within the Tremezzina inititiative.

GastroLario extends itself beyond the culinary experience with scope for diners to record their opinions of each offer on the website with all evaluations leading to Como’s ‘Gastronomic Oscar Night’ to be held at the end of the festival on October 31st. Additionally all the recipes from the fifty eight participants will be collected to contribute to a general repertory of Como cuisine.


The Province of Como is spoilt for cheese with its own production matched by that from the Valtellina, Lecco and the Pianura Padana.

To my mind, the objectives of all three of these festivals are entirely laudable since all cultural aspects including local cuisine have to be made evident, recorded and reinforced so that they flourish in the face of commercial counter-trends. I hope the Lario and Intelvi initiatives also incorporate the focus on communal pleasure and the values of hospitality as made explicit in the Rassegna Tremezzina since culinary pleasures are above all, social and are always maximised when shared in good company.

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Weaving Art into Como’s Urban Fabric: Streetscape 7

Vittorio Emanuele

Via Vittorio Emanuele

Saturday 13th October saw the launch of the seventh annual Streetscape bringing street art to the four corners of the old town and beyond. Congratulations to Art Company for organising it and to the local authority entities who continue to support it.  I love Streetscape – it offers an opportunity for gentle criticism, an excuse to walk around the town for an artistic treasure hunt – and most of the installations do genuinely provoke thought and reflection often influenced by their temporary urban homes. Never do my personal reactions correspond in any way to the official notes displayed at each site but neither does this seem to matter – the interplay between each item of art and its urban setting sparks off reactions that are bound to be personal. The occasional dud might leave you underwhelmed but this year, duds are in the smallest of minorities.


Il Chiostrino Artificiale with last year’s exhibit -an architectural gem worth taking every excuse to visit.

The purpose of Streetscape, as I perceive it, is to present art outside of a gallery thus exposing it to many more people and also, if the locations are well selected, allowing the location to influence how the art is perceived, and/or conversely allowing the work of art to create reflection on its location. But if this is the conceptual heart of street art, it is problematic since there are inherent conflicts between the desire for accessibility and security, between the notions of expendability or permanence, or between iconic or iconoclastic intent. These issues do impact the sense of commercial value and can result in the ultimate absurdity as represented at Sotheby’s auction of Banksy’s ‘Girl with Balloon’ which doubled its value by being morphed via a ‘hidden’ shredder into ‘Love is in the Bin’. No such absurdities were on show or to be witnessed in Como however street art does and perhaps always should provoke a degree of controversy.

Dangerous Attraction by Rendo

Dangerous Attraction by Rendo, exhibited within the Serre of Piazza Martinelli

Home - una casa nell'albero by Florencia Martinez

Home – una casa nell’albero‘ by Florencia MArtinez within the Chiostrino Artificiale

Yet the polemic remains – as the works on show become less ephemeral, security issues become more critical. This year the trend established last year of staging works within secure compounds seems to have been consolidated since six out of the nine works are to a greater or lesser degree behind locked doors. This does not necessarily diminish their impact but those seeking to view Florencia Martinez’s textile sculpture ‘Home – una casa nell’albero’ will have to ensure they time their visit with the morning opening of the Chiostrino Artificio. Difficult to see this as street art, but never mind, the Chiostrino is always worth a visit if just for its architectural beauty. And in fact there is a whole series of Martinez’s other works on display inside.

Chinese artist Lio Ruowang’s sculpture ‘Original Sin’ can be seen also out of hours through the gate enclosing the Museo Archeologico’s courtyard, but best to enter and see this work at closer quarters, positioned as it is squarely at the centre of its exhibition space. Its location made me compare this squat humanoid shape to the idealised sculptures of famous figures adorning the squares and piazzas of our cities, such as Alessandro Volta, Mazzini or Garibaldi here in Como. Equally well located in the garden courtyard of the Biblioteca Comunale is the seemingly bucolic work by Corrado Bonomi entitled ‘Roseto‘. Initially this looks like a bright red rose arbor beautiful enough to adorn the Garden of Eden – but closer inspection, only possible during opening hours, shows the vines and flowers all to be made of plastic.

Continuing our tour of Como’s courtyards, the Pinacoteca has offered up its rather dismal courtyard space for Streetscape works over the last few years but the space is so uninspiring and confined that it usually diminishes the impact of whatever is exhibited there. Not this year, however. The monumental inflatable by Polish artist, M-City, entitled ‘Pomnik Konny’ towers high drawing the eye upwards and beyond the confined space.

Pomnik Konny by M-City

Pomnik Konny by M-City in the courtuard of the Pinacoteca Civica.

Another usually uninspiring location for Streetscape works is the enclosed shed space in Piazza Martinelli featured at the start of this article. In past years, two dimensional works have been mounted against the far wall of this shed kept secure and distant behind locked bars. This year though the work by Rendo is not only staged clear of the far wall but, through optical illusion and use of perspective, creates an intriguing two and three-dimensional ambiguity.  This seems to imbue the sculpture with a sense of repressed energy which is in turn reinforced by its position behind bars.

Dangerous Attraction by Rendo 2

Dangerous Attraction by Rendo – in the serre of Piazza Martinelli – two and three dimensional ambiguity.

The final courtyard setting is in Palazzo Cernezzi on Via Vittorio Emanuele, the seat of local city government. The work on display here is by Matteo Capobianco aka Ufocinque and is entitled ‘La leggenda del Lariosauro e altre storie comuni.’ At the heart of this sculpture is a representation of Lariosaurus, which actually existed as a pre-prehistoric creature (see our article Myth and Reality: Lake Monsters and Political Scandal for  the full story).

La leggenda del Lariosauro detail

Detail from ‘La leggenda del Lariosauro’

The Lariosaurus myth has more recently been reinterpreted by Como’s very own street artist, Pierpaolo Perretta aka Mr. Savethewall, who used it in a publicity stunt to draw attention to the local city council’s incapacity to resolve the issue of the redevelopment of the ex-Ticosa industrial site on the edge of Como’s historic centre. So it is entirely possible that this installation is intended as an ironic commentary on the local council’s inefficiency. If so, it either means the local council were either unaware of such an intention when granting permission for the work to be sited at the town hall, or, due to a recent change in administration, they feel confident enough to ignore it. Or I may of course have entirely mistaken the artist’s intent – such is the delightful ambiguity of street art! In any case, if we leave out the potential irony, this is perhaps one of the least successful installations with the location adding little to its impact.


Moving away from the courtyard settings, there is a very obvious big blob of black plastic in the middle of Piazza Duomo – a more open and exposed location would be hard to find.

Cardiaco by Paolo Grassino

Cardiaco by Paolo Grassino in Piazza Duomo

This work by Paolo Grassino and entitled Cardiaco immediately attracts attention in its anomalous setting and also by its courageous disregard for security or of threats of vandalism. In fact it seems to invite use as a massive ashtray or refuse bin. No doubt it is hard to move and almost indestructible. It is also true street art. The artist makes the original observation that when genetic engineering takes control of our bodies, the colour of the body parts will be black. As Henry Ford might have said, ‘You can have a heart in any colour as long as it’s black.’ I am sure the town council have received complaints about landing a black blob in the middle of one of the city’s finest piazzas. If so, they are to be congratulated on ignoring them.

Follow your heart by Andrea Zamengo

‘Follow your heart’ by Andrea Zamengo in the Como Lago train station.

The final installation near the old town is by Andrea Zamengo in the Como Lago station. It may be more of a symbolic representation of a heart compared with the realistic black blob in Piazza Duomo but it does restore its red coloration. The title  ‘Follow your heart’  makes immediate sense of its location, and the different planes of the heart are said to represent the full diversity of those who pass through the station on their journeys that may be following their heart.

Suffering from a temporary mobility restriction, I was unable to get to the last of the open installations – Zio Ziegler’s poster installation on Via Castelnuovo. This location could well profit from something inspirational being on a featureless stretch of urban highway. The poster gets over some of those security issues since it can be reproduced and reinstalled if needs be although last year’s poster in the same location, was one of the first installations that did not last the length of the exhibition. In terms of longevity, it was great to see that the ‘unofficial’ entry to last year’s Streetscape – Pierpaolo Perretta’s ‘Great Wave’ is still  in situ and remains totally unvandalised. Either through the Lariosaurus or his own installations, notwithstanding his remarkable international success over the last year, the spirit of Como’s Mr. Savethewall still pervades Streetscape.


Great Wave by Pierpaolo Perretta aka Mr. Savethewall installed last year and still in good condition in Piazzetta Pietro Pinchetti

Streetscape 7 runs until 18th November and I have no hesitation in recommending all who have the opportunity to take a walking tour around the city to see the art. You may well cross paths with others on the same venture. Alternatively if around on Saturday 20th October, there is a cycle tour of Streetscape setting out at 11.00am from the Autosilo Tribunale – a great opportunity to bring your own bike and share the artistic experience with others.

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Como’s Historical Fabric and its Pot of Roman Gold

Pot of Gold 2

Roman Gold from 5th century AD found recently during rebuilding work at the Cressoni theatre on Via Diaz, Como. Courtesy of il Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.

The recent find in Como amounting to more than four hundred gold coins unearthed in a terracotta amphora during the redevelopment of Teatro Cressoni has drawn both international attention and significant interest from archaeologists of the Roman period. The sheer quantity and value of the coins make this a highly significant find which may reveal more about Novum Comum, as Como was called by its founder, Julius Caesar. First reactions are that this horde most likely belonged to some state or civic institution given its size. Most of the treasure will revert again to the state but representatives from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs have intimated that at least a part of it will be donated to the city of Como for display alongside the number of other Roman artifacts in the Museo Archeologico in Piazza Medaglie D’Oro. Up to a quarter of the value may be awarded to the owners of the building site, a more than fair recompense for the inevitable delays to the development to allow for further study of the site.

Historical Importance

baradello 2

Castello Baradello, enlarged by the Swabian Emperor, Federico Barbarossa, to defend Como from the forces of Milan and other members of the Lega Lombarda

Como has always been recognised for its strategic location through the ages. For Julius Caesar, Como was a port city at the end of the lake providing  a staging post for goods and soldiers making their way from Milan to cross the Alps. For the Swabian Emperor, Federico Barbarossa, Como provided a gateway to his Italian territories. He developed the town’s defenses by rebuilding the Roman walls and also by extending the Baradello Castle and tower to keep sentinel across the Pianura Padana.


Extract from the Romweg or ‘Road to Rome’ published in Germany in 1498 showing the route from Edinburgh to Rome with the map oriented from South to North.

Como’s importance in medieval times is shown on the Romweg,  one of the earliest maps representing a pan-European route from Edinburgh in Scotland to Rome – a route used by religious pilgrims and by merchants alike. For traders, it linked the wealthy city of Milan to the cross-Alpine routes giving access to the transport links provided by the Rhine and Danube river systems. Even in more modern days, the A9 autostrada from Milan to Como was the first super highway built by the Fascist government in the 1920s. This role throughout the ages is reflected in the historical fabric – the buildings and physical structures of the city.

Como location

View over Como showing the thin thread of the Autostrada in the background still acting as the most direct link from Milan to Basel and the Rhine Valley.

The Roman baths, medieval towers and walls, or the Baradello tower are the most obvious visual evidence of the importance and prolonged history of the town. In a less direct way, the historic fabric of the city can also be seen in the evolution of many of its buildings as they were adapted for varying uses over the centuries. Some of the more readily visible modifications include the redesign of doorways or windows.

Modern internal restoration of old buildings can still be quite radical in Italy where the high costs of energy and government-set standards encourage the adoption of modern insulation technologies. However the exteriors often seek to preserve as many original elements as possible. Many exteriors contain such clues as to how the structure may have looked in previous centuries.Doorways

Coats of Arms

Stemma Piero

Coat of arms of the Del Piero family in Via Del Piero

One visual element that has remained on some ancient buildings is the crest or coat of arms of the original inhabitants. These coats of arms were carved onto the keystone above the principal doorway to a noble family’s villa. The best preserved of these is the ‘Pear’ family in the street named after the most famous family member – Adamo del Pero. Adamo del Pero was a ‘condottiero’ or naval captain of the Como fleet under the warrior Bishop Grimoldi during the city’s ten year war with Milan starting in 1118. Other coats of arms can be seen in Via Balestra including the badly eroded one of the Lucini family, whose ancestor Arnaldo Lucini was also a captain of the Como forces but he took  part in the later wars against Milan headed by Federico Barbarossa in the 1170s. (For Como these wars were about maintaining access to the lucrative trade routes across the Alps. For Barbarossa it was more about the ongoing conflict for domination between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy.)

Buried History

Column Photography studio

Roman column in a studio on Via Rodari. It descends a good metre below current ground level.

With the passing of time, the pavements trodden by those original citizens of Como have become buried under layers of earth and debris brought about by floods, earthquakes and centuries of urban development. The ground level of Roman Como is now from about one to two metres below current levels as can be seen under the Valduce car park in the ground level of the Roman Baths or again when visiting the Praetorian gates. Other proof is in the hidden columns supporting the blocked arches along Via Rodari and  in the sunken level of the Roman column at the centre of the photographer’s studio also on Via Rodari.

Columns Via Rodari

The difference in ground level between now and Roman times is shown by these columns and arches in Via Rodari.

Symbolical Traces

Fainter still, some parts of Como’s historical fabric are recorded using purely symbolical traces as with the two rings of steel laid to denote where the twin lost towers of San Giacomo used to stand. The church of San Giacomo used to be twice current dimensions with twin towers crowning its main entrance. One of these towers abutted the Broletto. Similarly close by, a small section of tram tracks remain as a reminder of former times.

San Giacomo

San Giacomo Church in Piazza Grimoldi. The church originally had its entrance by the mulberry trees. Steel bands set in the pavement beside the trees show the location of the original twin towers.

Building Conversions

The plethora of churches and convents that flourished in the middle ages has meant that a number of them have been converted as lay populations grew. The deconsecration and subsequent conversion of churches is perhaps the most common change of building use over the years  – a trend not unknown in more recent times in UK cities. Here the conversions were undertaken much earlier and without the intention necessarily of retaining any of the former aspects of ecclesiastical architecture. The faint impression of the former triple window can be seen in the image below.

church conversion

The building on the right still shows the faint outline of the triple windows above the original doorway to the church. A cloister to the right still survives within the grounds of the Valduce Hospital

An interesting form of building conversion concerns at least two former ice houses (nevere) whose original outlines are still discernible but which have now been re-purposed as a private residence behind San Fedele in one instance and as a clothes shop in the other.

The clothes shop behind the Banca D’Italia is particularly revealing since here you can freely view the interior of the nevera. Originally this structure had an open roof to allow the snow to fall in and accumulate on the floor and subsequently be pressed down to form ice. The room next to the entrance was the original shop where the blocks of ice were sold. It was located right in front of the old fish market. Clearly there has been a distinct change in climate over the years since it rarely snows in Como these days.

Lost History

via vitani

Via Vitani

This last nevera and the long-lost fish market were in a quarter of the town known as the Cortisella. Little now remains of the area of Cortisella other than the nevera, Via Vitani and the fishermen’s houses that front on to Via Fontana. The area was Como’s ‘Les Halles’ or London’s ‘Seven Dials’ – an area considered unsanitary and unsafe. The fascist government particularly didn’t like the narrow alleys which defied surveillance or the undisciplined population who tended towards ‘disobedience’.  It was redeveloped in the 1920s and replaced by the monolithic and now redundant Banca D’Italia building. The ‘spirit’ of Cortisella lives on though as a romanticised urban mythology dear to many of Como’s present-day citizens. Another item of lost history is the church of San Giovanni on the western side of town sacrificed to make way for the train station which at least continues to bear the church’s name.

False History

Banca Commerciale Frigerio

The Banca Commerciale building designed by Federico Frigerio and completed in 1927.

In this rapid review of historical fabric, we have touched on visible and hidden traces of the past but we need also to be aware of ‘false’ history or those buildings put up in the ‘eclectic’ period of architecture that borrowed from former architectural styles. The main example of this is the Carige bank, on Piazza Grimoldi designed by Federico Frigerio and built for the Banca Commerciale from 1923 to 1927. Whatever its merits may be, it isn’t as old as it looks. Frigerio also designed the neo-classical Tempio Voltiano on the lakefront which again may well be elegant but dates from no earlier than the late nineteenth century, and to my eye at least, lacks the delicacy of earlier neo-classical architecture.

Preserved History


Cupola of Como’s Cathedral

Old buildings require considerable upkeep and the economic burden of maintaining Como’s architectural heritage is not inconsiderable – a burden shared across much of Italy due to its patrimony. Federico Frigerio  was responsible for designing critical restoration work on the cathedral by devising a means of preventing the frontal elevation from continuing to bow out and ultimately collapse. He also redesigned the cathedral’s cupola following its partial destruction by fire in 1935.  He also restored the Broletto tower and showed both technical ingenuity and aesthetic sensitivity in helping to preserve some of Como’s most prestigious architectural structures.

Pot of Gold

Back to that pot of gold lying in the mud of an excavated basement on Via Diaz – those gold coins in their terracotta amphora have certainly drawn international media attention to Como.

Pot of Gold

Part of the horde of over 400 gold coins, jewels and ingots uncovered at Il Cressoni in Via Diaz.

The find is the most significant ever uncovered in Northern Italy and exceeds that of 400 coins unearthed in 2004 in Maremma. It has now been confirmed that in addition to the estimated 400 gold coins, the treasure also includes jewels and ingots. One immediate impact of the find is to focus attention on how the city can make the most of its obviously rich archaeological patrimony to promote further cultural tourism. Alongside this, there is renewed interest in attempting to define what is known about Novum Comum. For example, was the forum actually in Piazza San Fedele and does this latest find suggest that the ex-Cressoni site was an extension of it? Was the Roman theatre close to modern day Piazza Grimoldi or in Via Vitani? Como has been built over too many times to allow for the discovery of a complete urban complex like the forum in Rome, or in nearby Brescia. What remain here are only the foundations two to three metres down below ground.  All the other original building materials have been reused through the middle ages and the Renaissance. The Roman origins of the city have been incorporated into the very fabric of modern-day Como. Roman, medieval and renaissance structures all go to make up the city’s structural DNA – for which there still is plenty of visible evidence whilst no doubt more of the hidden fabric will at some time be revealed.

Additional Links

For more information about Roman Como, refer to From Out of the Swamp, Novum Comum – Roman Como

Prior to Roman times, there was a significant prehistoric community living in the foothills above the lake, refer to Up in the Hills – Prehistoric Como for more information.

Refer to Cortesella – The Mythical Heart of Old Como  for more information about this lost quarter behind Piazza Cavour.

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Como’s Four Seasons: 1 – The Re-entry (Il Rientro)

Fiera Sant Abbondio - Pumpkins

Seasonal produce – pumpkins on show at the Coldiretti Market during the Fiera di Sant’Abbondio

The four seasons on Lake Como are very pronounced each with distinctive climatic features, but also with marked changes in the social environment. Actually the social calendar is more predictably seasonal these days than the climatic one. This is why I am going to characterise the four very different periods in the year by each of their predominant social features. For September this is undoubtedly the so-called ‘rientro’ or the Italian return home from summer holidays.

rientroBack in the 1980s and 90s, bourgeois Italian families from Como and particularly those living in the hot and humid Pianura Padana, e.g. Milan, would spend July and August either by the sea or in the mountains or both. The breadwinner of the family would continue to work in July and join the rest of the family at weekends. Then he or she, normally ‘he’, would join the others for a four week break in August. Workers would also be on a long holiday in August since almost all factories would close for the entire month.  The northern cities would be deserted with most supermarkets and other shops remaining firmly shut. The poor and infirm were left to swelter in the heat and to check the newspapers for information on where to find an open supermarket or chemist. Modern economic pressures, and the need also to provide services for foreign tourists, have moderated this pattern but the ‘rientro’ is still a palpable reality.

Como Rientro

Seasonal change in Como

One cannot deny that the ‘rientro’ does coincide with a climatic change – September heralds cooler evenings and a reduction in the scorching temperatures of high summer making outdoor life even more pleasurable in the continued sun and reduced humidity.  However businesses have to restart, commuters must return to getting up early to go out and make a living. Students and schoolchildren must prepare for the new academic year. Domestic routines reassume their regular pattern.

Arrival of Federico Barbarossa

The Palio del Baradello kicks off in September with the re-enactment of the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor, Federico Barbarossa, in March 1157 – an ‘entro’ this time.

But memories of summer remain – work colleagues, friends or family members greeting each other after the summer break have stories to tell and recommendations or warnings to make about where they stayed, what they saw and what they ate.

Interior of Basilica di Sant'Abbondio

Interior of the Saint Abbondio Basilica – dedicated to Como’s patron saint who is celebrated on August 31st.

Commuters might need to make some initial adjustments to routine since the train and bus companies use this period to introduce timetable changes. In the past, road resurfacing, best done under hot conditions, would be crammed into the early weeks of September as soon as the workers returned from holiday. The ensuing confusion on the roads made for a brutal return to work for many. However nowadays, much of this work has already been done by those constrained to work throughout the summer. In the past, supermarkets found September the best time to push up prices assuming that many people may have forgotten what the original prices were before the holiday break. All in all, the rientro was often a brutal return to full immersion reality.

Como Summer Festival

The Francesco D’Auria Jazz Trio in Piazza Grimoldi as part of the Como Summer Festival

Como itself sees some specific changes at this time of year. The number of music festivals or other events intended for visitors begin to tail off. As you will see in our Musical Events section, popular classical music festivals such as the Bellagio and Lake Como Festival wind down. The Comune’s excellent jazz initiative ‘Como Summer Festival’ comes to an end. Instead the Teatro Sociale starts its ‘Notte’ season of operas and its chamber music sessions on Sunday mornings, both of which are of course of interest to residents and visitors alike. But events like the celebration of the local patron saint, the Fiera di Sant’Abbondio, or the associated inter-commune competition and folklore festival, the Palio del Baradello, are certainly of interest to all but have a distinctly local element to them.

Villa Erba

Villa Erba Conference Centre with Rovenna (above Cernobbio) in the background

Villa Erba in Cernobbio hosts the very popular horticultural show, Orticolario, at the start of October – directed at committed local gardeners. This exhibition space focuses more on international business later in the year.

Villa D'Este

Villa D’Este, site of the Ambrosetti Forum at the start of September

Also in Cernobbio, the luxury hotel, Villa D’Este (see our article on its famous crime of passion after the last war) turns its focus from wealthy tourists to local and international politicians and business men by hosting the annual Ambrosetti Forum. It in turn will later go into hibernation closing its doors on all except maintenance staff. Back in Como instead, parents can encourage their children and young adults to attend Gioventù 2018 to learn more about the various after school activities available to them over the coming scholastic year. Sporting organisations such as Canottieri Lario go out to recruit young people onto their CAS (Centro di Avviamento allo Sport) courses.

Sagra Gioventu 2018

Sagra Gioventu 2018 – Organisations seek to attract young people to sign up for sporting and cultural activities

Institutes and individuals are actively looking to recruit adults and youngsters onto cookery or dance classes, fitness sessions, or the full range of artistic courses ranging from photography to art renovation. As an example, Ester Negretti, one of our featured artists, offers personal art classes whilst the Teatro Sociale in addition to their acting and dance classes will also run a series of courses on theatrical administration this year.

Lucia Race

The Palio del Baradello consists of a series of competitions between the different quarters of the town or nearby communities on the lake – here two competing teams in the race of the ‘lucie’ (traditional lake boats) battle it out for first place.

The hotels are of course all still open and visitors remain most welcome. With the changing demographics now in the developed world, there is now a discernible trend for more elderly visitors to travel after the end of August. The prices are cheaper, the weather is still good and the streets, bars and restaurants are less crowded. The foursome of beautiful lake villas and gardens (Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo, Villa Melzo at Bellagio ,Villa Monastero at Varenna and the iconic Villa del Balbianello at Lenno) are all still open to the public. The hotels will later decide whether to hibernate or put their faith in initiatives like the Noir Festival to maintain sufficient clients during the cold damp days of winter.

View from Baradello Castle

Ruins below the tower of Baradello Castle. It was reinforced by Federico Barbarossa as part of his defenses for Como.

The rientro used to be when some of the best Italian grapes were available but now they are on offer throughout the summer.  Como’s vineyards are long gone but just over the border there are still many merlot vines and Mendrisio (a short train ride away)  marks the harvest every year with the so-called Sagra del Borgo – a celebration of wine, food and music in the medieval streets of the town’s centre. However the main seasonal bonuses are wild mushrooms delightfully displayed in the covered market although nowadays they are as likely to be stocked from Romania as from the Valtellina. The ‘baita’ or ‘rifugi’ up in the mountains have been offering polenta dishes throughout the summer but now at least, the cooler weather makes them more palatable – but be aware that many of these mountain restaurants may only open at the weekends now that the high season has passed.


Animals on show at the Fiera di Sant’Abbondio

So how can we summarise this distinct but paradoxically nebulous change of season? The climate at the start of September doesn’t change as dramatically as do social behaviours. Its slight moderation may even increase outdoor activities. However, in the same way as climate change is prolonging summer and shortening autumn, economic pressures are reducing the clear distinction between leisure and work that characterised the rientro in the recent past. But there is still a distinctive communal atmosphere at this time of year marked perhaps by the return to ‘home’ and the accompanying renewal of domestic rituals and responsibilities. This contrast may be that bit more acute in Como due to the presence of both tourism and manufacturing industry here. Manufacturing tends naturally to be relegated during the summer months whilst tourism in turn goes into hibernation over the winter – more of that after All Saints’ Day which marks for me the end of the Rientro.

Fresco - SS Cosma and Damiano

Fresco on the apse of the Romanesque chapel dedicated to Saints Cosmo and Damiano within the grounds of the Sant’Abbondio complex.

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Murder on the Dance Floor- Italy’s Crime of the 20th Century on Lake Como

Villa D'Este 1

Hotel Villa D’Este, Cernobbio

On 15th September 1948, the Milanese fashion designer, Biki, was presenting her winter collection to the rich and the famous at the Hotel Villa D’Este in Cernobbio. The hotel  was, and still is, one of the most luxurious in the world and many of the wealthiest milanese socialites were gathered there that night along with Biki’s guests of honour, Baron Rothschild and King Farouk of Egypt’s uncle.  One of the tables hosted the guests of Carlo Sacchi, a local owner of a silk factory and Count Bellentani, an aristocratic landowner with a meat processing factory in Emilia. The party also included Count Bellentani’s wife, Pia, who happened to be Carlo Sacchi’s ex-lover, Carlo Sacchi’s wife – the Austrian ex-ballerina Liliana Willinger, and Carlo’s most recent lover, Mimi was sat nearby.

Young Pia

Countess Pia Bellentani when young

In the early hours of the next morning, at around 2.00am, whilst some of the remaining guests were enjoying the last dance to the Hawaiian tunes of the hotel’s orchestra, others were preparing to depart. As a strong wind caused the drapes over the french doors to billow out, the calm was also shattered by a brief argument between a couple standing towards the door. There followed a single gunshot. Carlo Sacchi fell to the floor killed instantly by a 9mm bullet to the heart. Countess Pia then placed the pistol to her own temple but she failed to fire again, shouting ‘It won’t fire! It won’t fire!’. It appears that the pistol jammed when the shell casing from the first shot failed to eject.

Villa D'Este

Hotel Villa D’Este

So ended the dance and fashion show. And so started one of the more exhaustive criminal proceedings in Italian legal history; every step of which was assiduously covered by intense media coverage.

Tempo Bellentani

Il Tempo – Countess Pia Bellantani

The war had only ended three years previously and Italy was making a very slow recovery from bankruptcy. The vast majority of the country was penniless or in dire financial difficulty. The result of twenty years of fascism and the more recent Nazi occupation had led to the growth of the largest Communist party in Western Europe and the real possibility of a socialist revolution if there had not been the constraint of the allied armies still on Italian soil and Moscow’s lack of support. The murder at the Villa D’Este opened a window on a world that most had forgotten existed – a society of massive wealth inequality and extraordinary privilege, one in which some rich individuals like Count Bellentani carried a weapon to defend against robbery or kidnap.

The family background of Countess Pia Bellentani reveals a high level of social mobility as was experienced by some friends of the regime during the fascist era. She was the youngest of six children, three of whom died in childhood. Her father, from the Emilia region, started off poor but made a fortune in the building trade. Her mother had been a farm and factory worker up until the time she could afford to stay home to raise her children. Pia met her future husband, the Count Lamberto Bellentani on the social circuit for Italy’s wealthy – a round of locations that has hardly changed since those days. The count was smitten by her beauty and, on learning that the family were also from Emilia, pursued her on his return home.

Cernobbio Water fountain

Water fountain on Cernobbio’s lakefront

Although initially sharing and continuing a hedonistic lifestyle with her husband, she was more than content to renounce it following the birth of her two daughters. She did meet her future lover, Carlo Sacchi once in 1940 in Venice but nothing came of the encounter at that stage.

Carlo Sacchi’s background also reveals the sort of social mobility open to friends of the fascist regime. He was an orphan who left school to enter the world of work when thirteen years old. On his return to Italy, having worked for a long period in Germany, he settled in the Como area and established a silk factory which made him his fortune. He had married Liliana in 1934 with whom he had three daughters, with the eldest subsequently dying young.

In 1941 the Bellentani family acquired a villa in Carate Urio, just up the road from the Villa D’Este in Cernobbio and about 10 kilometres from Como on the western shores of the lake.  As a result, Countess Pia got to know Carlo’s sister, Ada, very well. She offered a sympathetic ear to Carlo as he was grieving the loss of his eldest daughter. They also seemed to share interests such as a love of literature and a propensity for writing poetry. Their mutual attraction developed, and the end of the war allowed them more time to spend together. They eventually became lovers although their shared interests were perhaps more superficial and of less significance than their temperamental differences. For example, her poetry output consisted of brief and lyrical romantic verses whilst he specialised in pornographic epic sagas!

Carlo and Pia at Cortina 1943

Carlo Sacchi and Pia Bellentani (left) at Cortina in 1943

In reality Carlo was a sex-obsessed playboy and he soon began to tire of Pia’s romantic sensibility and increasingly demanding company. Pia’s behaviour towards him, in the face of his serial infidelities, became more unstable. She even made a suicide attempt by riding her moped into the path of his car. He dismissed such behaviour as typical womanly hysterics, as he was also said to have done on the night of his death as Pia declared she would shoot him. In fact his reply to this on the lines that ‘you are nothing more than an aggravating bitch’ may well have been the catalyst prompting her to act.

Count Bellentani pistol

Count Bellentani’s pistol, the eweapon used by Pia to shoot her ex-lover.

Clearly on September 15th 1948, Pia had come to the end of the line in her humiliating history with Carlo. Earlier in the evening, the party at Carlo’s table seemed content enough but the words shared between Carlo and Pia during their last slow dance together must have prompted her to her desperate act. She prepared to leave the ballroom passing by the concierge to collect her ermine stole and her husband’s jacket in which he kept his 9mm revolver. Hiding the revolver under her stole, she went up to address Carlo for the last time. She went on to report their last conversation to the police as follows:

Carlo: Well, what do you still want? What’s got into you?

Pia: Nothing — but this time it really is all over, you better believe me.

Carlo: What are you trying to say?

Pia: I can kill you – I have got the gun.

Carlo: Not your same old women’s romantic nonsense! Same old drama queens!

At this point she shot the single round with the gun still hidden under her stole. He died instantly and she was arrested and carried away to spend her first night in Como’s San Donnino prison.

San Donnino

Ex-San Donnino Prison in Como’s centre, now on the market as a desirable site for residential development.

And then the media circus started – for the communists, the crime and the circumstances leading up to it illustrated the corruption within the ruling class after twenty years of fascism. The church blamed the modern collapse in moral values and lack of respect for the family. For the weekly magazines like Epoca, it was a story of doomed romance. Others including legal commentators saw literary parallels with Gustave Flaubert’s  Madame Bovary with Pia in the part of the eponymous heroine, Carlo as the bounder aristocrat Rodolphe Boulanger and the location at Yonville as the provincial society of Cernobbio and Carate Urio. For Pia’s defense lawyer Angelo Luzzani, it was about arguing a crime of passion and diminished responsibility due to insanity.

Everything about this case was rather larger than life including the record-breaking eight day summing up by Luzzani for the defence!  Even the work of the defence lawyer became controversial with Gianni Clerici, Como’s tennis star and journalist, commenting, “It seemed to many that this great lawyer was not just defending a murderess but a whole social class.” Luzzani’s efforts paid off since Pia was condemned to a mere eight years’ incarceration in a mental hospital for criminals at Aversa in Campania. She was freed in December 1955 shortly after which her husband, Count Bellentani, died. She went on to live until 1980 by which time the media interest had died down and the ‘fashion show with murder’ had been mainly forgotten.

Palace of Justice

Palace of Justice, Largo Spallino, built in 1968 well after Pia Bellentani’s trial.

The Villa D’Este continued attracting its rich clientele and was even the scene of another crime of passion when in 1967, the hotel barber, Nicola Pangrazio, killed his lover, Adrianna Mandelli.

Cernobbio War Memorial

War memorial on Cernobbio’s lakefront

The window this crime opened up on the lives of the wealthy in that year of dire austerity surprised many. Affluence levels have grown since then and the clientele of the Villa D’Este has become more international. Lake Como has something to offer all levels of tourist budget but it is interesting to note that facilities for the super wealthy have multiplied in recent years.

Il sereno

Il Sereno – the latest addition to the 5 star luxury hotels in the ‘primo bacino’ of Lake Como.

Il Sereno which opened last year and its partner establishment, Villa Pliniana at Torno, Villa D’Este at Cernobbio and the Casta Diva at Blevio will all cost you  ‘an arm and a leg’. Two new midrange hotels opened up in Como itself this year, the Hilton in Via Borgo Vico and the Vista Lago in Piazza Cavour. At least one new and jovial-sounding budget hotel also opened, the Ostello Bello in Viale Rosselli. This local barometer of global wealth perhaps supports the French economist Thomas Piketty’s assertion that levels of wealth and its distribution are now reaching Edwardian proportions – those halcyon days before the Great War when the bourgeoisie across Europe seemed supremely confident.

Primo bacino

Winter chill on the primo bacino of Lake Como with Cernobbio and Moltrasio on the left hand shore and Torno on the right.

Lake Como’s reputation for discretion is one factor most appreciated by the super wealthy. George Clooney can go to dine at Harry’s Bar in Cernobbio or the Gatto Nero above in Rovenna, because journalists will not hear about it until after the event. Russian

Gardens of Villa Olmo

The gardens of Villa Olmo ‘requisitioned’ by Dolce and Gabbana this spring for a fashion show extravaganza.

Oligarchs can hold extravagant parties or weddings in the knowledge that no supplier will reveal any advance information. Or, more controversially from my point of view, Dolce and Gabbana can requisition exclusive use of public locations such as Villa Olmo for private commercial events denying access to the general public. Film companies can incorporate streets in the city centre as film sets closing them off for days on end. The general public, looking on from the barriers in the hope of sighting a star, are admonished ‘No photographs’ as soon as security staff see a camera being raised. But the rich have to play their part allowing a certain access for local media, and most importantly, behaving with discretion. Shooting your lover in public on the dance floor was not discrete and the Villa D’Este suffered financially as a result of the ensuing scandal.

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Walking the Greenway and the Antica Via Regina

From Griante to Colonno

2. Sanctuary of San Martino

2. Sanctuary of San Martino

The lake and its western shores have formed part of an vital Pan-European line of communication since Roman days. The summer jams on the main road, as it struggles through the constrictions from Colonno through Sala Comacina and on to Ossuccio, may cause you to doubt its former efficacy. Yet just above the main road there are the traces of the Antica Via Regina – the road that linked Milan to the Alpine passes and on to the valleys of the Rhine and Danube. Our walk takes us on a particularly picturesque section of this route whose former importance for commerce and religious pilgrimage to Rome is being researched by an Italian-Swiss project called the ‘Cammini della Regina’.

Via Regina Map 1

Antica Via Regina from Griante to Colonno courtesy of Cammini della Regina

Away from the frustrated traffic at lake level, the section of the route between Griante (Cadenabbia) and Colonno is particularly interesting and evocative. Additionally, in an imaginative initiative aimed at getting tourists to explore the hinterland behind the lakefront, the local councils have defined a walking route known as the Greenway. This takes in some parts of the Via Regina and so the signposting for both the Greenway and Cammini della Regina are relevant to us. The two routes do diverge in parts with the Greenway always offering a less strenuous (but possibly less rewarding) option.

Section 1

Section 1: Griante to Tremezzo

I have divided the walk into three  distinct sections using maps extracted from the geoportal of the Cammina della Regina website (

Section 1: Griante to Tremezzo

1. Beach at Griante

1. The beach at Griante. The walk starts by taking the road up hill from the bus stop at the beach.

Our walk starts off beyond the end of the Greenway at Griante. I got here taking the C10 bus out of Como and alighting at the third stop in Griante alongside the beach and at the base of the road leading up to the San Martino Sanctuary.

3. Olive trees at Griante

3. Olive trees in Griante – evidence of the mild microclimate created by lake and mountain.

The route here runs behind one of the most affluent tourist areas on the lake dominated by large villas and luxury hotels on the lakefront. However, step back a bit from the water and you soon find a much calmer, relaxed and timeless atmosphere much appreciated for its tranquility in times past by the ex-Chancellor of the German Federal Republic, Dr. Konrad Adenauer, who bought a holiday villa up in Griante in 1957 – the Villa La Collina–  which now operates as an Italo-German cultural centre and hotel.

4. Donkeys at Griante

4. Griante donkeys

Since the route at this stage is relatively straight forward, it offers a good opportunity for acclimatising to the ‘Cammini dell Regina’ signage. The light blue plastic stickers are quite small and beginning to fade with age.

insert 2However the eye soon becomes accustomed to picking them out. It is useful that usually after a potentially ambiguous turn, a sticker is strategically placed twenty or so metres further on confirming you are still on the right track. Whilst some parts of the walk are on asphalt, it mostly follows the ancient mule tracks made of cobble.

The zone here above the lake and below Monte Nava is primarily agricultural. The particularly mild microclimate also allows for the most northerly production of olive oil in Europe with the number of olive groves increasing as we go south towards Nesso.  Nesso olive oil is one of the typical agricultural products from Lake Como and much valued.

5. Lunch at La Fagorida

5. Lunch with a view – on the terrace of La Fagurida

There are two or three restaurants to chose from as the road begins to dip down towards Tremezzo. I stopped at La Fagunda and sat on their small but panoramically positioned terrace overlooking the lake below. These are not ‘menu del giorno’ establishments though so wait until you reach Mezzegra (next section) if on a budget.

Section 2: Tremezzo to Ossuccio

Section 2

Section 2: Tremezzo to Ossuccio

6. Walking to Tremezzo

6. Walking down towards Tremezzo

This section of our walk is dominated by the view down towards Lenno and its bay formed by the peninsula known as the Dosso di Lavedo. This is better known for the villa at its promontory, the Villa del Balbianello.

The walk takes us down to the valley and then heads back up hill through the mediaeval community of Intignano to arrive at Bonzanigo, a ‘frazione’of Mezzegra. At this point, the Cammina della Regina joins the more stately Greenway for a couple of kilometres. The Greenway is very clearly signposted with the distinctive yellow arrow on a blue background in addition to steel plaques laid into the paving from time to time.  However the Greenway turns back down to our left half way along Via Pola Vecchia. The Cammini della Regina continues along the asphalt road until it turns back into a cobbled mule track to descend and cross another ancient stone bridge.

7. View to Lenno and the Dosso di Lavedo

7. View to Lenno and the Dosso di Lavedo

8. Bonzanigo

8. Bonzanigo – where the Via Regina joins the Greenway

9. Church of Sant Abbondio

9. Church of Saint Abbondio, Bonzanigo

10. Lenno Olive Trees

10. Olive trees above Lenno

A visitor sharing part of the walk with me enthused over  the ‘real Italy’ he was experiencing which of course implied a lack of reality elsewhere. Rationally this comment does not compute since there is an infinite number of realities including those offered by the luxury hotels on the lakeside. However the Greenway and the Antica Via Regina take you through history along tracks used previously for hundreds of years, even past the house where, comparatively recently, Mussolini and his mistress spent their last night alive – and for me, it’s that strong historical perspective that supercharges the sense if not the actual ‘reality’ of the walk.

11. Masnate towards the Acquafredda Abbey

11. Masnate towards the Aquafredda Abbey

12. Via per Ossuccio with Sanctuary

12. Towards Ossuccio’s Sacro Monte and Sanctuary

This section comes to an end as we pass by the road up to the Aquafredda Abbey and not long after reaching the first chapel in the series of chapels forming the Sacro Monte di Ossuccio. It is of course well worth taking the detour up the Sacro Monte passing the chapels along the Via Crucis to arrive at the sanctuary.

Section 3: Ossuccio to Colonno

Section 3

Section 3: Ossuccio to Colonno

13. Bell tower of the Church of Saint Agata

13. Bell tower of Saint Agatha

The landmark in front of us now as we descend from the base of Sacro Monte is Isola Comacina, the only island in Lake Como. It had a massive strategic value during the Middle Ages since whoever had possession of the island could also control all lake traffic north and south to and from Como.  As a result Isola Comacina has had a turbulent history with the most dramatic event being its bombardment and destruction by Como and the allies of the Holy Roman Emperor, Federico Barbarossa. The destruction of the Milanese garrison in 1169 is recreated in a stupendous firework display every year at the end of June as part of the Sagra di San Giovanni.


14. Lakefront at Spurano

14. Lakefront at Spurano – a ‘frazione’ of Sala Comacina facing onto Isola Comacina

Just before reaching the level of the main road, the Cammini della Regina joins up again with the Greenway and their two routes remain unseparated up to our final destination in Colonno.

15. San Giacomo Church at Spurano

15. Church of San Giacomo on the lakefront at Spurano

One has to admit that the towns of Colonno, Sala Comacina and Ossuccio betray little of their true beauty from the main road. Rather they give an impression of blight created by vehicles far too big for their narrow streets. However this is an entirely false impression and a much more accurate idea is conveyed by the approach to Sala Comacina on our walk which immediately crosses the main road to descend down to the lakefront through a labyrinth of narrow passageways.

The path passes by another Romanesque gem, the Church of San Giacomo. The series of Romanesque religious structures along on our route does more than anything else to convey the sense of those early small lacustrial communities – an impression of a long-past ‘reality’.

17. Isola Comacina

17. Isola Comacina from above Sala

The final stretch of the combined walkways starts once we again cross over the main road and make a gentle climb above the level of the lake. Our final descent towards Colonno reveals the true beauty of its location looking south towards Argegno.

The total distance of this walk is about thirteen or fourteen kilometres. Time taken depends to what extent you are distracted by so many possible diversions. The route marked out by the Cammini della Regina includes three stretches of prolonged climb which are all avoided by the Greenway. However the increased altitude does ensure more spectacular views out over the lake – and a greater degree of tranquillity. Whichever option you go for, rest assured you will be walking in the steps of so many ancestors and the shadows of their former presence will undoubtedly impact your sense of ‘reality’. After all, you will have traversed part of one of Europe’s earliest super highways – the so-called Romweg, or Road to Rome!


Extract from the Romweg or ‘Road to Rome’ published in Germany in 1498 showing the route from Edinburgh to Rome with the map oriented from South to North.

Posted in Architecture, History, Itineraries, Lake, Places of interest, Uncategorized, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment