I make no excuses for featuring Torno so frequently in the various walks reported here. In fact, if I was to plan a walking holiday around Lake Como, Torno would be one of my favoured bases. Not only does the Strada Regia pass here on its way to Bellagio, but by taking a quick hop over to Moltrasio, you can also access all the footpaths up to and along the Via dei Monti Lariani. But this walk describes a circuit starting and ending in Torno and climbing from 250 up to about 600 metres above sea level to the mountain districts of Piazzaga and Monte Piatto. Allow two hours to complete the circuit.
From Como the most attractive route into Torno is by boat, disembarking directly into the small piazza surrounding its tranquil port. Torno has two churches of interest, Santa Tecla facing directly onto the port and San Giovanni, on the northern edge of the old town. Look out for the romanesque tower of San Giovanni and I do advise you to visit it if you have time. The external bas-relief sculptures, including the gruesome scene of Saint John’s beheading, were carved by the Rodari brothers in the 15th century. The internal decoration around the apse is baroque. Behind the altar there is an ancient chest secured by seven locks housing one of the four iron nails from the crucifixion – or so the story goes. Behind the church there is a park of remembrance above the town cemetery with a glorious view south over the lake.
Crossing back over the main road from San Giovanni on to Via Pergola, follow the signs pointing you to the ‘Mulattiera per Piazzaga’ and to the Massi Avelli. The ‘massi’ are ‘erratics’ or large boulders brought down during the ice age and deposited when the glaciers retreated. Maybe the original pre-historic inhabitants of the area believed these boulders must have fallen from the sky given they are made of granite while the mountains here are all limestone. Erratics are scattered in various locations around the mountains of Lake Como but here a number of them have been carved out by the original inhabitants of the area either to hold water as they do now or possibly for religious or funereal rites.
Mule paths in the Alps are made of stone steps designed to allow for a donkey or a mule to pull a sledge over. The jutting risers are spaced out more for the convenience of mule and sledge and not for human comfort. The mule path up to Piazzaga is more comfortable than most although relatively steep in parts and getting to feel somewhat relentless towards the end; yet it is often the descent rather than the ascent on these walks which is the more uncomfortable. There is however an immediate payback for climbing above the height of the town with the amazing view of the lake from your vantage point high above the Villa Pliniana looking north.
The views back over the lake are only one of the numerous positives about this particular route. The others are the delightfully romantic-looking ruined ancient gatehouse to the city, said to be Roman in origin, the extensive dry wall terracing, the now abandoned baitas (mountain huts) also made using the dry stone technique, the ancient bridge over the cascading stream – and then the deviation off to view the ‘Avelli’.
The local ‘pro-loco’ association have provided clear signposting along the path with directions to the Avelli, but if in doubt, take the turn to your left when you reach the chapel with the fresco shown in our photo below.
The fresco in this chapel depicts the Madonna and child with Torno in the background; the church of San Giovanni is on the left and Santa Tecla on the right.
If you follow the diversion to the Avelli, just keep to the path and it will return you back on to the main route up to Piazzaga after you have passed three of the strange coffin-shaped carved rocks. Each of the Avelli is accompanied by signage from the Torno Pro-loco detailing each one’s dimensions.
Piazzaga seems now mainly to consist of second homes for those really wanting to get away from it all over the summer months. There is a single track road above the town but I could see nowhere to park a car nearby – a sure guarantee of peace and quiet. Climbing up from Piazzaga, you soon join the stone single-track road. Turn right onto it towards Monte Piatto, the other of Torno’s mountain communities. The path keeps to the contour of the mountain offering a pleasant and flat walk soon taking you into Monte Piatto.
Not only does Monte Piatto boast a car park but also a church and a trattoria. Turn to the right for the church and on to the ‘Pietra Pendula’ – a large erratic that has been left balanced on a slim limestone column. Turn left as you enter the village for the trattoria called ‘Il Crotto’. Here the food is good and the prices are very reasonable but, if you are planning to stop here to eat, try to call them beforehand to check that they are open. Their number is +39 031 419446.
From Monte Piatto you start your descent to Torno on a mule path with a series of steps that do tend to put some pressure on the knees after a while. Thus ends the circular route from Torno however you can, at either Piazzaga or Monte Piatto, extend your excursion. At Piazzaga there is a path leading you to Molina where you can then pick up on the Strada Regia taking you through the string of three medieval mountain communities which make up three quarters of the Comune of Faggeto Lario, namely Molina itself, Lemna and Palanzo. That stretch of the Strada Regia is described in CC at Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana . Alternatively, if you wanted to walk back to Como rather than descend to Torno, take the path signposted to Brunate off to the left as soon as you start to descend out of Monte Piatto. The path stays mostly at the same level following the contours of the mountain and taking you about two hours to reach Brunate where you can walk down to Como passing by the Falchetto restaurant. This route is also described in CC but in reverse at Como to Torno Revisited . You could also choose to continue to climb uphill on the path that meets the Dorsale running from Brunate to Bellagio. If so, turn left on to the Dorsale to reach the Baita Bondella (open over the weekends throughout the year) or go a bit further for the Baita Boletto – 031 220235 (open more frequently).