Looking down into the clear waters of the lake on a warm summer’s day always invokes the desire in me to jump in and swim! There are few simple pleasures that beat bathing in cool, clean fresh water. Yet, no matter how it looks, can we be sure the water is safe for swimming? As in 2018, I am pleased to say that, for 99% of the public beaches on Lake Como, the answer is a very definite yes. And I can say that with full confidence since water quality is checked every month from April to the end of the swimming season at the start of October.
I have checked the latest data for the eighteen beaches monitored on the Como leg of the lake from Griante on the west bank and Bellagio on the east to Como itself. One of these, the Spiaggia Rivabella Crotto at Lezzeno, was closed last year due to unacceptably high levels of pollution. It starts this year with good figures well within acceptable limits. The beach at Laglio is not recorded since it remains technically closed due to construction work on the lakefront.
All the others are swimmable with most recording only trace evidence of bacteria. Those close to the more dense areas of population record higher figures, such as Como’s beach at Villa Olmo or Lenno’s at the Spiaggia San Giorgio. However they are both well within safety levels. Dense population does not necessarily mean higher figures since the Rivetto beach at Bellagio and the Argegno lido register some of the cleanest water on the lake. The one site which did record high figures at the start of Spring but which have since come down is the beach within the old galloping track of Villa Erba. This beach, used by the Cernobbio Sailing Club, is near to where the River Breggia enters the lake. Possibly a fault in Chiasso’s water treatment plant or meteorological conditions caused a temporary escape of pollutants. The figures have since come down but are still the highest for all the beaches reviewed.
There was talk last year of beginning to monitor the quality of the water at the lido on Viale Geno but no figures are yet available. This lido is very close to the Como Swimming Club who organise an annual swim for professionals across the lake to Cernobbio. I doubt they would be prepared to organise this if swimming from their site was deemed to be dangerous. The annual swim across the lake from Torno to Moltrasio for amateurs will also go ahead this year on Monday evening July 22nd.
Detailed figures for 2019 are included in the table below. For those of you wanting details of the beaches either at the top end of the lake or on the Lecco leg, please refer to the government website following this link, and enter in the name of the Comune, e.g. Abbadia Lariana. Ensure you enlarge the map sufficiently to make evident the individual beaches in each comune and then click on your preferred location. Since there are only two months’ data for this season, the classification of excellent, good or acceptable is based on last year. You need to check the actual results to evaluate the current state.
From Como to Griante
The hot weather does tempt some people to enter the water by the Tempio Voltiano in the lakeside park. Unfortunately this is also where the Cosia river enters the lake having passed by Como’s water treatment plant just up the road. This is also not an official beach and it is not a good idea to swim there. Instead there is the lido on Viale Geno although there is no data for this yet.
The other monitored site is the lido in the park of Villa Olmo where swimming is approved. Going north, the beach in the ex-galloping track of Villa Erba is not the cleanest but the strange thing is that this part of the lake is not actually accessible to the general public. Go out beyond Cernobbio to Moltrasio and you will find an excellently clean lido. Carate Urio has a popular beach on a lawn in front of the church but it is not monitored. Laglio’s beach remains closed due to ongoing construction work on the lakefront.
You then arrive at Brienno which is my favourite location for swimming on the west side of the lake. Brienno’s beach is within the small public park on the northern edge of the town. It consists of a couple of platforms built on the mountainside over the lake with a bar offering sun beds and umbrellas if required. The bar provides all necessary facilities alongside simple dishes like rice or pasta salad and sandwiches. The water quality is monitored and is good. Brienno itself is a delightful little town of old fishermen’s dwellings linked by a maze of narrow streets. It is not on the main tourist map so remains pleasantly relaxing throughout the summer.
On from Brienno, Argegno’s lido is excellent. Colonno’s beach is also very good. Lenno has three monitored beaches. All are well within acceptable standards but not as good as Argegno or Tremezzina to its north. Finally, the last beach reviewed is Griante which started off with a very low result and will hopefully regain it soon. It too though is well within safe limits.
From Como to Bellagio
The first beach to be monitored on the eastern side of the Como leg is at Faggeto Lario. Its results are good but not as good as Nesso, the next monitored beach on the road north. It has excellent results. Between Faggeto Lario and Nesso there is an unmonitored beach which happens to be my favourite spot for lake swimming on this side. It is Careno. The water here may not be monitored but I can assure you that it looks and feels good. Also there are no dense areas of population nearby least of all in Careno itself which is a very small town. This is a beautiful place to come and lounge in the shadow of the Romanesque bell tower of San Martino. The beach consists of a grassy area, and, if the level of the lake is low, a gravelly section. There are no public facilities here. However, if you have wisely booked lunch at the nearby Trattoria del Porto (call +39 031 910195 for reservations), you should be able to use their facilities. The restaurant specialises in lake fish and offers a fixed menu that usually includes two of Lake Como’s traditional local delicacies – missoltini and perch fillets with rice. There are not a large number of boats stopping at Careno but the schedule does allow you to arrive in good time to sunbathe and swim, eat, digest and then return home. Here you have all the ingredients for a perfect lazy excursion well off the normal tourist track – a spot that, like Brienno over the water, remains delightfully quiet and calm also in high summer during the week.
Lezzeno is the next town on the road to Bellagio. Here there are two monitored beaches with the Spiaggia Rivabella Crotto being the only one in our area closed last year due to unacceptable levels of pollution. This year, however, its results are very good. The neighbouring beaches in Lezzeno at Bagnana and Salice have always been excellent. Finally we arrive at Bellagio’s beach at Rivetto – and just like Griante at the end of our western stretch, this beach is one of the cleanest recorded in our area.
The EU’s Bathing Water Directive
All the countries within the European Union apply the standards defined in the 2006 Bathing Water Directive. These require member states to monitor rivers, lakes and beaches regularly, to report their results and immediately publicise closure whenever any specific location fails to achieve acceptable levels. There is a broad range of poisonous bacteria that can enter the water either from sewage, water treatment centres or as agricultural or industrial run-off. Beyond causing gastroenteritis, they may also lead to very serious conditions such as meningitis. Rather than test for the wide variety of possible bacteria, the tests focus on identifying the number of units of just two microorganisms, e-coli and intestinal enterococci. Levels of these provide a good indication of general levels for the other harmful bacteria. Units are measured per one hundred millitres with any number below 1000 acceptable for e-coli and below 500 for enterococci. Depending on results, the water from each site is then classified as being either excellent, good, sufficient or poor.
Here are the latest figures for those beaches close to Como.