Those ancient ancestors who inhabited the hills around Lake Como could offer no logical explanation as to why massive rock boulders, formed entirely from rock unknown in the area, should have been placed so randomly around the countryside. With their intimate knowledge of their own environment but almost total ignorance of all that lay beyond it, they could only offer up magical notions for the presence of what we now call glacial erratics – also known locally as ‘trovanti’.
The area around Blevio and Torno is particularly rich in glacial erratics and three of the larger and better known examples can be visited on or nearby the mountain path from Brunate to Monte Piatto, above Torno. A description of that walk can be found at Como to Torno Revisited. However the description below is of a circular walk that sets out to view at close quarters each of these erratics, namely the Pietra Nairola (The Devil of Blevio), the Sasso del Lupo and the Pietra Pendula.
Glacial Erratic Legends
Until geologists had established that these anomalous boulders had been brought down and deposited by glaciers in retreat, the local population sought more fanciful explanations for their presence. Many of the boulders became the sites of pagan cults associating them with the presence of either malign or benign spirits believing that the rocks had enveloped these spirits who continued to exercise their influence over the surrounding territory. As pagan beliefs became fused with early Christianity the stones would often be considered the playground or alters to the Devil as with the Pietra Nairola, the first erratic on our route below. Here the old belief was that the Devil played a form of diabolic football with the spirit of a neighbouring boulder now no longer present. As time passed the local population sought to fully Christianise these sites as in the case of Pietra Nairola which became associated with a sighting of the Virgin Mary prompting the nearby construction of the Cappellina Monte.
Around Torno some of the glacial erratics were adapted to become human sepulchres, known as ‘massi avelli’. Our circular walk from Torno described in Torno Circuit: Piazzaga and Monte Piatto passes by at least three of these prehistoric sepulchres.
Of the erratics on this route, the Pietra Nairola is nothing less than a national monument while the Pietra Pendula at Monte Piatto is well known for looking like a giant mushroom. Between the two is the Sasso del Lupo which, in folklore, was the cave of a vicious wolf who would jump out of his lair to ensnare any passing child who was known to be naughty or disobedient. A number of other erratics can be seen along the path taken from Blevio to Monte Piatto.
Starting our Walk
Since this is a circular walk, it could be joined at any point along the route with easy access from either Blevio or Torno. I chose to start it right by the Cappellina del Tue in the area of Torno known as Perlasca, setting off along the road south towards Como now bypassed by one of the series of tunnels on the state highway. After about 300m along the main road, once in the Comune of Blevio and before the gatehouse of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the right, take the path climbing off to the left marked by a signpost for the Strada Regia.
Once you have climbed above the level of the main road below, the path levels out to pass through the various old mediaeval clusters of Blevio starting with Colombaio and then passing through Lera, Cazzanore until you arrive at Castello. From here we commence a reasonably arduous climb on the so-called Scalotura – a series of steps climbing up the Valle di Sorto.
With some relief the long climb up the Scalotula ends at the Cappellina Monte with its shrine dedicated to the Madonna and Child. Here you are invited to rest awhile taking in the spectacular views south down the lake towards Como. There is also a water fountain and some thoughtful person has even left a bowl for dogs. The chapel is at a crossroads with the main path from Brunate to Monte Piatto intersecting the path up towards the Pietra Nairola.
The Pietra Nairola is a further 400 metres from the chapel continuing the ascent from Blevio but on a less defined path than before. It is therefore a significant diversion from the main path but worth the effort when you eventually reach this extraordinary massive boulder seemingly cantilevered in suspension over the hillside. It is a national monument but I have no idea what goes to qualify the status of this erratic rather than any of the others in this area. It might possibly be due to the legends associated with it and thus its importance to the local inhabitants. It was undoubtedly a significant site for pagan ritual as evidenced by the efforts of later generations to Christianise the area through the sightings of the Virgin Mary.
The origins of the boulder have been traced to the granite mountains in the Val Masino on the northern slopes of the lower Valtellina, brought down to rest above Blevio by glaciation.
Sasso del Lupo
Descending down from the Pietra Nairola back to the Cappellina Monte, we pick up the path towards Monte Piatto. This path follows the contours around the mountainside and so comes as a pleasant change from the steep climb up the Scatotula. Not long after leaving the chapel, the path crosses a terrace with a single stone monolith at its centre and many other erratics lying like sleeping giants in the woods nearby.
The massive erratic soon appears overhanging the path offering no escape to any poor child judged sufficiently naughty or disobedient to entice the wolf from out his lair. The erratic’s dimensions are impressive – 20 metres long by 10 metres wide and 8 high. This rock is, like the Pietra Nairola and the yet to be seen Pietra Pendula, also originally from the Val Masino.
Monte Piatto and the Pietra Pendula
With the wolf’s lair behind us, there is no further obstacle to arriving safely at Monte Piatto. This is a sizeable mountain community, where, depending on the time of year, there are two options available for eating and drinking – the Crotto Piazzaga Restaurant and the Agriturismo ‘La Casa di Alba’. I followed a circular route to take in the Pietra Pendula which passed by the gardens of the Agriturismo and on to the terrace around the church. From this terrace there is a great view of the lake looking north.
The Pietra Pendula is impressive, appearing as if a giant mushroom. The massive granite boulder rests on a pedestal of local limestone rock which has apparently been carved out to accentuate the rock’s fungal profile. Its vital statistics are 2 metres wide, 4 metres long and 3 high.
The circular route returns us to the stepped path that leads down to Torno. Rather than follow this path down to the lakefront, our route follows the Via per Someana before turning left on the Via per Rasina – both of these are not roads (or ‘via’ as we may know them) but paths accessible only by foot or mountain bike.
The Via per Rasina climbs gently up above the main centre of Torno with a good view down over the town centre and the lake until reaching our original point of departure by the Cappellina del Tue.
Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Distance: 8.74 km
Climb: 540 metres
Descent: 550 metres