Going Slow on Lake Como

Mobilità Dolce

Mobilita Dolce Iubilantes initiative ex-ferrovia Como Varese

Mobilita Dolce Initiative – walking the old railway from Como to Varese encouraging its modification into a cycle path

I am not sure how to translate ‘Mobilità dolce’ other than by ‘soft movement’ in which case, we are living through a spring of soft movement – or, to use a possibly  better-known phrase, a spring of slow tourism. The AMoDo (Alleanza della Mobilità Dolce) has unilaterally declared that the period from 21st March to 21st June be known in Italy as a season of ‘slow’ initiatives. Como Companion is all for ‘slow’ as in ‘slow food’, ‘slow driving’, and whatever else we can imagine should be taken slow but above all ‘slow tourism’.

What Is Slow Tourism?

Certainly it shares some connotations with the original ‘slow’ movement for food and a common purpose in questioning the pressures of the marketplace and the negative effects of commercialisation. Slow tourism is the antithesis of fast or mass tourism in its bid to get us to spend more time to get to know the areas we visit when on holiday. Slow is more than a delightful adjective, it is an attitude!

‘Slow down, you move too fast

You got to make the morning last

Just kicking down the cobble stones

Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.’

Simon and Garfunkel, 59th Street Bridge Song

Go slow and you gather moss, you absorb, you reflect, you empathise, you connect. A slow tourist has the means and time to engage with the environment and the community he or she is visiting and so you leave with more than a few photographic records of an exotic location. Slow tourism can give you an appreciation of the economic, social, historical, cultural or  environmental elements of where you are – its the form of travel that truly does extend your experience and creates memories that will last for ever.

Super slow

On a recent walk we met an Italo-Swedish couple travelling to and from La Spezia to Sweden with donkeys. An example of super slow travel.

Why Slow Tourism?

But why the need to proselytise it? Partly to counteract the potential harm of mass tourism, and to get people to think beyond the standard tourist destinations. As fellow-expat blogger, Celia Abernethy has reported in the Huffington Post, Italy is having to deal with ‘overtourism’ with nearly 100 million people arriving by air from between January and July last year.

Inlombardia

Inlombardia advertising holidays in Lombardy on the sides of a tour bus in front of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London

If these visitors all keep to the best known sites or towns, (Venice, Rome, Milan etc.) it becomes totally unsustainable. Hence Inlombardia ( the Lombardy Region’s Tourist Agency) are campaigning across Europe to encourage visitors to go beyond Milan to Como, Lecco, Varese, Bergamo, Mantova or Pavia.   Also for economic reasons, towns like Como want to see visitors spend more time here and thus spend more money in the shops, hotels and restaurants rather than having half a day in town, the other half in Bellagio with spending limited to a boat ticket and a slice of pizza for lunch.

Queueing for the boat to Bellagio

Queue for the fast boat to Bellagio, Ferragosto Public Holiday, August 2017

But slow tourism also seeks to counteract the ‘productising’ tendencies of the mass tourist market. This is the tourism equivalent of the trans-fat horrors of fast food. Fast tourism deals in cliché, stereotype, stock images and easily digested non-memories – it takes these shortcuts because there is no time for true engagement or genuine human contact. And it short changes visitors, sometimes in seemingly small ways such as the restaurant on the lakefront here in Como which cannot be bothered to describe its pasta dishes accurately since ‘the visitors don’t know the difference’! But this thankfully rare disrespectful attitude betrays the sterility of fast tourism since it’s a ‘product’ based on a location whose soul or true essence is of no relevance.

Lakeside restaurant

Al fresco dining on the lakefront is massively appealing and the overall quality is more than acceptable but the temptation for the less scrupulously managed establishments is to ignore the need to be genuine or authentic.

Slow tourism instead IS about offering insights into that true essence or the soul of a location – and that is best achieved by going slow – not slow stuck behind a cavalcade of tour buses that get caught up in summer on the narrow lakeside roads around Ossuccio, but slow walking  up Ossuccio’s UNESCO-listed Sacro Monte or traversing the lakefront above the blocked roads on the Greenway or the Strada Regina following mule tracks used for centuries by our antecedents.

Sacro Monte, Ossuccio

The UNESCO-listed Sanctuary at Sacro Monte, Ossuccio behind which is a delightful trattoria.

That is why AMODO and the other associations such as Iubilantes campaign so forcefully to extend the network of cycle paths and to reopen the ancient walkways that characterise our territory, particularly  since we live on a key north-south axis used since Roman times as one of the principal pan-European routes from Mediolanum (Milan) through the Alps over the Splugen Pass and  following the valley of the Rhine.

Slow down 3

Moments of peace and reflection

Fortunately it is very easy to go slow on Lake Como. Associations like Iubilantes provide web sites and apps like CamminaCitta outlining and illustrating short city walks and longer excursions.  Their site states it is:

 A portal in which one seeks to rediscover and celebrate the cultural heritage of our cities combining, as so seldom happens, easy mobility, sustainable tourism and accessibility.

The ultimate goal is to encourage the principle of “good for everyone” and “tourism for all”, in the belief that traveling, especially in the form of slow and sustainable mobility, is a life resource that must be accessible to all, without discrimination, beginning from our territories.

 

slow lake comoThere is even a tour company called Slow Lake Como that incorporates all ‘slow’ principles into the tours they organise. For example, they promote visits to some of the smaller less frequented but genuinely interesting villages on the lake like Brienno with its amazing labyrinth of alleys and fishermen’s houses. This Spring they have also organised a visit to Dongo to explore the sites and stories surrounding the capture of Mussolini as he tried to make his escape up the west side of our lake in April 1945 (see our article on this). They go off the standard tourist routes to explore aspects that give a genuine insight into the area, its history and people.

In their words:

In a world where distances are erased, a true adventure is going deeply into the discovery of the true essence and distinct features of a land, experiencing with all senses extraordinary activities while being accompanied by tour guides who are first place story tellers.

This is Slow Como Lake. The initiative born thanks to the passion and enthusiasm of people united by the fusion of a “slow” way of life and the love for Lake Como and aims at the valorisation of its historical, cultural, gastronomic and environmental heritage.

Rezzonico

Looking out on to Lake Como from the portico below the fishermen’s houses in Rezzonico – one of the many delightful locations to discover when you stray from the popular path.

Maybe the best way to engage with a community is through meeting with its inhabitants. This is the principle behind Vincenzo Pandico’s Lake Como Explore – a tour business that allows you to ‘explore Lake Como through people’s experiences – a wonderful journey made by tales and pictures’. Slow Lake Como also organises cookery classes with locals – what better way to get to understand an area than through its cuisine. Specialist tours like Lake Como Food Tours  allow small groups to get an intimate insight into the culinary traditions of the lake. Any form of physical activity breaks down barriers and introduces you to the inhabitants of the area – all walkers greet each other up on the mountain paths. Many Italians are keen cyclists and all have respect for anyone prepared to take on any of the challenging hill climbs in the Lario Triangle such as the Muro di Sormano.

 

Maybe above all else, the ‘slow’ tourist needs information which fortunately the Internet now offers in abundance. Como Companion tries to pass on information of interest to both residents and visitors alike and provide some useful links. Lake Como has the infrastructure to support slow tourism – accommodation options that range from mountain-top huts for hikers, hostels, standard hotels or those specialised for walkers or cyclists, luxury villas etc. Use our site to view the different transport options as well as to kickstart your Internet research.

Slow down

Time to relax

Slow tourism also aims to be sustainable in the sense that it seeks to support and maintain those factors that attract visitors and delight residents for the pleasure of all both now and in the future. In this respect it’s great to note that Lake Como is now perhaps one of the first overall tourist locations with a network of recharging posts established for electric cars. Awe Magazine in an article from June 2017 describes the initiative thus:

 Italy’s breathtaking Lake Como has become the first “electric” destination in Europe thanks to a pioneering new initiative designed to reduce pollution and facilitate the easy use of electric cars, bikes and boats for the first time. Como-The Electric Lake is the brainchild of British business woman Judith Wade.

Launched this summer (2017) by Italy’s largest historic gardens and destinations network, Grandi Giardini Italiani (GGI), the initiative covers 170kms around Lake Como and is the first in Europe to create a widespread infrastructure of 19 charging points for electric cars, boats and bikes in one location. Lake Como is the birthplace of Alessandro Volta, a physicist and nobleman who invented the first electric battery over 200 years ago – making it the ideal location for this eco-enterprise.’

So come to Lake Como where, as you can see,  there is no excuse for not going slow!

Taking time to stop and stare

Taking time to stop and stare

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About comocompanion

I am an Englishman in Como, Northern Italy - definitely both a Euro and Italophile with an interest in modern history, walks in the hills and mountains, and food and wine. I favour 'slow' tourism alongside of 'slow' food.
This entry was posted in Culture, Food, History, Itineraries, Lake, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Walks and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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