Flying High Over Como


Lake Como is rightly renowned for its beauty but it is also well known internationally (albeit within a specialised community) for a service operating on the lake itself. For it hosts the only seaplane pilot training school in Europe at the Como Aero Club on the lakefront. This is the oldest flying club in the world and the only European location where you can train to get a seaplane PPL (Private Pilot’s License) or to extend a standard PPL also to cover seaplanes. In addition, it is the most southerly point in Europe offering a seaplane service with tours of the lakes as well as trips by arrangement to destinations in northern Italy.

Aero Club Front

Como Aero Club on the corner of Viale Puecher and Via Masia

Residents here are well used to the small seaplanes swooping over the old town to land on the lake beyond the football stadium and alongside the Yacht Club. Within the local English-speaking community there is also someone with intimate knowledge of the club since she herself trained there successfully to gain her PPL. She is Ciara O’Toole, originally from Dublin but now primarily based at Molina, a gem of a medieval village perched above the lake on the road from Como to Bellagio.


Ciara O’Toole – marketing consultant and author

Ciara has written a fascinating account of her experience in qualifying as a seaplane pilot from the moment she first walked into their hangar at the end of Via Masia thinking it was the offices of ACI (Italian Automobile Club) to when she finally perfected the art of landing safely on water. The book entitled ‘Going Solo on Lake Como’ is available on Amazon in all formats. I can wholeheartedly recommend it not just for Ciara’s account of how she earned her PPL (a sufficient achievement in itself) but also for her insights into the challenges of settling abroad. I particularly liked her many brief vignettes of local characters. (Let me just say that I have a pet hate of books like Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ with their contrived quaintness and their poorly-disguised money motivation – Ciara’s book is nothing like this – hers instead  is real life with real emotion!)

Aero Club Plane

So I was excited when Ciara agreed to answer some questions I wanted to put to her having read her book. The book does describe some difficult personal experiences once she had made the move to Como and Ciara, with her accustomed honesty, replied to my equally personal questioning! As I looked back over the interview I realised that we had started off discussing the Aero Club and the practicalities of learning to fly but inexorably the scope of the discussion moved to more fundamental matters of moving home and setting up in a foreign land.

CC: What advice would you give to anyone wishing to learn to fly at Como? Do you need to be able to speak Italian? Is it important to be able to speak Italian?

C O’T: I would say just pick up the phone or drop them an e mail and do a trial flight – it’s the best way to know if it’s for you. All the instructors in the club speak English so it’s not necessary to speak Italian. Each year dozens of certified pilots from throughout the world come to Como to do their seaplane rating and do so in English.

Aero Club Tractor

CC: Did you face much bureaucracy either in getting your PPL or when buying your house here or managing your career? If you did face issues, how did you deal with them?

C O’T: No. Some, of course, but not what I would have anticipated. The paperwork for a PPL is very precise. I think the key with anything related to bureaucracy in Italy is to do your homework and talk to people who’ve been through similar experiences, then if you largely know what to expect, it becomes a less frustrating experience. For instance in my experience it was trickier to buy a car than a house, but people had warned me, so it wasn’t a surprise.

Aero Club

CC: When your marriage broke down when you had recently moved to Molina, you must have been feeling at your most isolated (both physically and mentally). What caused you to stay on at Molina?

C O’T: Many things, and yet I never sat down and thought it through. But a part of it was the fact that I’d already been through upheaval to get to Italy, then when my relationship broke down I felt even more like staying because I thought ‘Why would I go back now?’ Also I had slowly started making friends and people reached out to me a little in small kind ways and that gave me more courage and confidence to stay. I didn’t feel like I would be alone for long, and I wasn’t.

sea plane over villa geno

Seaplane over Villa Geno

(Ciara is primarily a marketing expert and her main career activity is as a marketing consultant however she has managed to combine this with writing, flying, some inspirational speaking and charity work as well as other entrepreneurial activities. I had heard of these so-called ‘portfolio’ careers but had never really met anyone who had achieved one so I was intrigued to know more about how Ciara concurrently developed and sustained such a variety of interests.)

C O’T: I was asked to do an interview in Ireland once for a magazine and the title was ‘Renaissance Women’, specifically about the growth of people and women in particular who carved out ‘portfolio careers’. I don’t think I ever really set out to have a career like this, my curiosity just led me down paths that intrigued me and I followed. The one constant is my marketing – I always say that’s my bread and butter. I did Commerce in University and a Masters in Marketing and have always worked, whether as an employee, consultant or contractor, for companies like L’Oreal, Red Bull, Guinness, the National Lottery. Things like writing and flying, moving to Italy and setting up a furniture business were passions that bloomed along the way.

white bird

Taxiing back to base

CC: Have you still got any burning ambitions either for your career or personal life?

C O’T: I’ve just finished a second book which I hope to publish in the next couple of years. I would also like to train to be a flight instructor. Since I obtained my land and sea licence I haven’t flown as much as I’d like for various reasons and so I’ve set myself the challenge of being a certified flight instructor, more to sharpen my own skills for myself, than with the real goal of being an instructor. I’d also like to continue to travel; I’ve travelled extensively around the world and keep adding to my list. But more than anything, I think I’ve recently learned to enjoy simplicity and this feels like one of my biggest achievements so far.

CC: You seem to have created two epicentres to your life, Dublin and Como – what are the main similarities and contrasts between these two? Do you find it easy to focus on Italian-based activities when physically absent? How do you ensure that ‘out of sight’ is not ‘out of mind’?

C O’T: I have managed to move quite fluidly between the two over the past ten years and sometimes when I’ve just headed back to one or the other I have amazed myself at the ease with which I make the transition; different sides of the road, different language, different people, friends, everything. They are so different yet so similar. I think the big thing they have in common is the people, I think Italians are quite like the Irish at heart and I think we have a very similar sense of humour. Our food and weather not so much but the people yes. When I’m in Ireland I listen to Italian radio, frequently in Como I’ll listen to Irish radio. I have amazing friends and networks on both sides of the water so I’m lucky that I very much feel like I belong in both places and I call both places home. I continually invest time in my friendships in both places and so I never feel that out of sight is out of mind.

Yellow bird

paradisoCC: My favourite all-time film is ‘Cinema Paradiso’ where the Philippe Noiret character (the cinema’s projectionist) urges his young friend to spread his wings, uproot his ties to his much-loved town of birth, and seek his fortune in the big wide world. Yet by realising this dream the young protagonist loses his links to his roots, to his young love and to the world in which his character was formed – this conflict over which path to take must be within many (if not all) expats’ experience. What in your opinion makes for a successful expat? What made you want to integrate here? What helped you integrate? Did you manage to maintain bonds with your town and country of birth? Have you lost out in any way by not being grounded in one specific place and culture.

C O’T: I think you first of all need to be open. You need to have a bit of ‘go with the flow’ about it all; you can’t expect to shoehorn your old life into your new one. I wanted to integrate because I love Italy, I love everything about it; the people, the food, the landscape, the wine, the attitude to family. I love the simplicity in many ways of where I live in Como. It’s all about family, food and it’s all very simple and uncomplicated really. I of course helped myself by being open but also people were very welcoming to me and very accepting of me.

ciara portraitI feel like my 100% self in Como. I even joke sometimes that I have no filters when speaking Italian partly because it’s hard to over complicate things when you don’t have 100% mastery of the language!  I don’t think I’ve lost out in any way by not being grounded in one specific place although sometimes I do think that I would like to be more stable in one place or the other and have decided that it will be Como. Ten years is a long time to be flitting and now I think I’m going to make Como my full time base. That’s the plan anyway. I have one hundred percent bonds with Ireland. For example I’m back here at the moment working on a contract and it’s like I never left. I go to work, I meet friends, see my family.

Molina Piazza

Molina’s main piazza

(One aspect of Ciara’s book that I much admired was the way she includes brief vignettes of those whose story or circumstances matched her mood or theme yet without ever labouring the connection. One such vignette was of Lola, her neighbour in Molina, who harboured a dream to move down to Tuscany to set up her own business. Lola never acted upon her dream.)

CC: Should we always thrive to achieve our dreams? What did you advise Lola to do? What might she have lost by moving to Tuscany?

C O’T: I think we should always strive to achieve our dreams. Why wouldn’t we? It is absolutely better to have tried and failed than never to have tried. If I try something and it doesn’t work out, as long as I know for sure that I gave it my very best shot, then I sleep well at night. Lola let her dream sparkle and fade in the blink of an eye. Of course I told her to go for it, but people have to be comfortable with the risk they’re taking, you have to be okay knowing things may not work out. You have to want something yourself enough to take the risk.

Molina street

Molina – Ciara’s adopted home

CC:  Given the significant number of adventurous, highly capable, female graduates from Ireland whom I have met in Italy, I was wondering if there was anything special in Ireland’s higher education system that particularly encourages equal opportunities, openness to other cultures and entrepreneurship.

C O’T: I don’t know – for sure Ireland has its own gender limitations and inequities as all countries do but I do think that as a society it is a fairly equal one. I certainly never felt limited in any way as to what I could achieve, if I was prepared to go for it. From the age that I was sixteen and for the next twenty one years, we had a female president in Ireland. First Mary Robinson in 1990 – 1997 and then Mary McAleese from 1997 – 2011, so I took it for granted that females were the head of the country for a very long time! It just never occurred to me that there was anything I couldn’t do. In terms of entrepreneurship I always had it in my head that I wanted to work for myself; maybe that came from the fact that my Dad worked for himself. I guess I was lucky to be surrounded by people who believed in me, and I always believed in myself, so it was a good combination. Also Ireland has a very high level of entrepreneurship, not sure why!

Flying must be the most metaphorical activity one can imagine – so it came as no surprise to me that we journeyed from the hangar at the corner of Via Masia and Viale Puecher on Como’s lakefront to Molina, Dublin and beyond. However let’s bring our seaplane back down on water and now give you time to climb aboard and set off for a trip around the lake. Easily done if you contact the Como Aero Club. They offer a test flight for those thinking of taking up flying or they can organise a range of options for those wanting the excitement of being flown in a seaplane. Their website includes a short video of flying around the lake that gives an indication of the beauty of the scenery but can’t go near to capturing the sensation and emotion of an actual flight. And who knows, maybe in years to come your instructor or pilot may well be Ciara O’Toole.

Posted in Lake, People, Sport, Transport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Canottieri Lario – Making a Media Storm

If rowing was as popular as football then Como would be at the top of Seria A! Positioned third in national rankings last year, Como’s Canottieri Lario is on a roll making its own media storm. But let’s step back a bit……

canottieri 3

View from the restaurant terrace along the lines of the ‘rationalist’ diving board

Como was originally established not because Julius Caesar loved the landscape but for its strategic importance at the base of a waterway that gave easy access to the alpine passes and thus to the edge of his empire. So, along with the skills of the local carpenters, shipbuilders and sail makers, the prowess of its rowers grew and was highly appreciated. And to this day, there are rowing clubs based in all parts of the lake that have turned a previous physical necessity into a sport rooted in the traditions of the area.

canottieri 2

From the terrace looking east to the War Memorial and Brunate

One of the most successful of these clubs is our own Como-based Canottieri Lario which, with respect to the town’s Roman origins, uses the Latin name for the lake  in its title along with its Latin motto ‘Parant Fortia Pectora Remi’ which I believe means ‘Build strong chests to row’.

entranceBeyond the park and the Tempio Voltiano, marked at its start by the architect Terragni’s striking Monumento ai Caduti, is the area of Como given over to sport and athleticism. As you walk down Viale Puecher, the football stadium is on your left, with the Canottieri Lario on your right. Beyond the Canottieri Lario there is the more affluent-looking Yacht Club and then, finally at the end of the road with a hangar on the left and its seaplanes launched on the right, there is the internationally renowned Como Aero Club.

The club house with its bar and restaurant can boast of having one of the most enchanting views in Como encompassing parts of the town, the mountains that surround it on three sides, the first ‘basin’ of the lake and an infinity of sky. For ages, this gem of a location, with its more than century-old dedication to rowing athleticism and sporting excellence, has been happy for people to just take it or leave it as they may wish.


President of Canottieri Lario, Leonardo Bernasconi

But a definite wind of change is transforming this previously reticent association – for example, the bar now hosts a Thursday night cocktails special that is proving very popular. Yet the more significant development is the way the club is now actually publicising its considerable rowing achievements with its new president, Leonardo Bernasconi, putting communication at the forefront of the new administration. The Canottieri Lario is no longer content to keep quiet either about its sporting accomplishments or about all else it has to offer. A veritable media storm by Como’s standards now keeps us informed through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram of recent successes and near-future fixtures. As a member of the club and sensing this renewed energy, I was keen to take advantage of my membership to waylay Leonardo and put some questions to him about the club and its past, present and future.

leonardo e le principesse

From left: Arianna Noseda, Nicole Sala, Leonardo Bernasconi, Aisha Rocek, Georgia Pelacchi at Milan’s Idroscala

CC: Leonardo, what in your opinion is the fundamental purpose of the rowing club?

LB: It’s to bring young people together to instruct and inspire them to the maximum degree so they leave us with heads high and with the values that will enable them to engage in society at large with good sense – ready to enter the adult world, the world of work, with a positive sense of self and respect for others.  These are our values in addition obviously to seeking sporting excellence.

CC: Anyone visiting the club site here will see people of all ages using the facilities from young to old. This must be quite unique.

LB: True, here we have all groups represented from youngsters onwards. Perhaps we don’t have so many members in the 35-50 age range but we are seeing what we can do about that!

CC: What is there here for youngsters and teenagers?

LB: We cannot cater for those below 9 years except when accompanied by their parents at the swimming pool or beach ball since it is not allowed for the very young to participate in athletic sport. But children from 9 to 13 are very important to us since they can participate in our CAS course which runs from the start of the school year until the end of May.


Canottieri Lario is an accredited CAS ‘Centro di Avviamento allo Sport’ for rowing and Leonardo views the course that runs for pupils from the 4th year Elementary to 3rd Year Media as the lifeblood for finding and nurturing sporting talent.

LB: Our coaches on the CAS course watch carefully to see how the youngsters progress with us and when they see those who show some promise in the sport, they talk to the parents to suggest they may wish to stay on after the course ends as athletes and members of the club. Every year about 15 to 20 youngsters stay on as young rowers. This, for example, is the way that the World Champion Gerosa twins (Davide and Lorenzo) learnt with us. The CAS courses are a great source of talent.


CC: I have noted that there are a number of elderly members here.

LB: We have over 300 members within the 70 to 90 year age range. They provide the solid base to our club and we value them greatly. Many are actually ex-rowers including a 90-year old ex National Champion. These ex-rowers remain closely attached to the club.

CC: Given many recent successes both nationally and internationally, I was wondering where the club ranked in terms of success.

LB: We are ranked third in Italy based on last year’s results – and bear in mind that those in first and second place are linked to the armed services and so have considerably greater resources to call upon. Our ‘star’ was the double Olympian Sara Bertolasi. I have already mentioned the Gerosa twins who brought back three world titles to the club and I should also mention Riccardo Coan.

vintage boats

The club owns a collection of vintage boats

CC: Which nearby club does Canottieri Lario compete with the most?

LB: Definitely Moltrasio, even though I am from Moltrasio originally – Moltrasio is a great club. When we won Bronze in the European Cup, Moltrasio won the gold thanks to Filippo Mondelli who is their star, even though he did start out with us.

canottieri 1CC: Given that you have already had much success, do you have any particular objectives remaining for this year?

LB: Yes – it is to win the Festival dei Giovani, practically speaking the national championship for youngsters. This year it is being held on Lake Pusiano where our athletes train. The meeting is on 14th, 15th and 16th July. When I became president back in December I asked our coaches that, since we have won most other prizes, could they do their best to bring the Festival dei Giovani back to Lario.

The athletes from Canottieri Lario do not actually train on Lake Como – the water is often too turbulent. Instead they use Lake Pusiano, about 5 kilometres out of Como on the road to Lecco. Lake Pusiano is very calm and has excellent facilities for the athletes. The club does however use Lake Como for introducing youngsters to rowing or for the occasional rower like myself who enjoys nothing more than going out onto the lake and looking back on the town and its setting.


The club has an internal ‘vasca voga’ under the image of Giuseppe Sinigaglia

CC: I have noted that the club and for that matter, the football stadium are named after Giuseppe Sinigaglia. Who was he and why is he important to the club?

LB: A true athlete – over 2 metres tall who, along with many other prizes, won the Diamond Challenge Sculls World Championship at Henley in 1914. Last year we in the club honoured the 100th anniversary of his death by putting on an exhibition of his artifacts at the Brunello. He died in action during the Great War – we have got film of his funeral where over 2000 people followed the cortege down Via Borgo Vico – exceptional turnout for those times. He was a great athlete and a patriot.

My last question to Leonardo was to ask him why in his opinion someone should consider joining the club.

LB: I always reply when asked this question that there are many people from Como who pass in front of our building here without having any idea of what goes on beyond those front doors. So I tell friends and all I may meet to just come here and see for themselves what’s here. We are in an amazingly beautiful setting, with our swimming pool, gymnasium, and sauna. What better way to spend a Sunday than to eat on the terrace or just to play cards, meeting up with friends for a chat.

canottieri 4

The club’s swimming pool on the first floor terrace

From my point of view I have always found the rowing club unpretentious, welcoming and relaxing. I wish the new president well and above all, I hope the coaches and athletes between them manage to bring back those desired prizes from the upcoming Festival dei Giovani at Lake Pusiano in July.

Some Key Future Events:

Festival dei Giovani – Lake Pusiano, 14th – 16th July. More information is available on this link to their website.

Trofeo Villa D’Este – Como, 30th September. Rowing regatta with races of 3000 and 6000m from Como to Cernobbio hosted by Canottieri Lario. Information in English from

Contact Information

Address: Viale Puecher, 6, 22100 Como

Tel. 031 574720

Restaurant 031 3385283


Social Media:


Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:

P.S. Leonardo Bernasconi’s hope of coming first in the medal classifications at the Festival dei Giovani on Lake Pusiano came true. For the first time in the club’s history, Canottieri Lario came first in the medal tally having picked up 11 golds, 9 silver and 7 bronze. This was an amazing achievement both by the athletes themselves and their coaches. With so much young talent in the club, all looks good for the future.


Posted in Events, Lake, People, Sport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Dummy’s Guide to Voting in Como’s Local Election

Palazzo Cernezzi

Palazzo Cernezzi – Como’s Town Hall

The first round of voting in Como’s local administrative elections is on Sunday June 11th. The vote in Como and in a number of other provincial councils is for the mayor and for the team of councillors listed under the banner of each party or group. If no clear winner for mayor emerges on June 11th, a second round of voting will be held on Sunday June 25th. Recent polls suggest a close result and if so, this will be the case.

EU citizens resident in Como have the right to vote in these elections as explained in my recent article, but the deadline for registration is now well passed. Here is my attempt to offer a minimum explanation of the process and background to these elections – intended both for those wishing to vote and for anyone looking for some electoral demystification.

Palazzo Cernezzi 4

Palazzo Cernezzi

The actual vote is in two parts. The first is to select your preference for mayor. The second is to select which candidate in each party list you prefer. The two selections are linked in that each mayoral candidate has his or her personal list of councillor candidates. However two of the mayoral candidates are associated with more than one group or list in that they represent coalitions. In the case of coalitions, there are separate lists of councillor candidates for each group/party within the coalition.

The first part of voting for the mayoral candidate is simple in that you just put a cross through the party/group symbol of your preferred candidate. In the case of the two candidates representing coalitions, before you place your cross through the symbol of one of the parties in the coalition you must consider from which party list you wish to select your councillor candidate. So let’s take mayoral candidate Maurizio Traglio as an example. He is the mayoral candidate for the centre left coalition so his name is associated with each of the parties in that coalition,  namely Svolta Civica per Como, Ecologisti, Rete Civiche and finally the Partito Democratico. A cross through any of those parties’ symbols will be a vote for Traglio but if you want to select a councillor candidate from the list of Svolta, you must select the Svolta symbol and not one of the other three parties in the coalition.

vote example

The second part is less straightforward in that you need to go to the polling station knowing the name of your preferred councillor candidates. Next to each party/group symbol is space to write in the name (surname only) of your preferred candidate. Actually there are two spaces since you can also specify a second candidate if they are a different sex from your first selection.


I am afraid I have no idea how the votes are subsequently counted and apportioned but no votes are counted if they contain any other writing on the form beyond the cross to select the mayor and the names of two possible councillors. I assume the names must also be spelled correctly to count as a valid vote.

The two front runners in the elections polls are the two coalition candidates with Maurizio Traglio for the Centre Left and Mario Landriscina for the Centre Right (Lega Nord, Fratelli d’Italia and Forza Italia). The current administration is centre left, apparently the first centre left administration in Como since the war. There were fears that local scandals over the ‘paratie’ (see Liberating the Lakefront for info) and the defunct ‘Ticosa’ site might disadvantage the centre left but the competition seems evenly balanced at the moment.


The ‘Ticosa’ silk printing and dyeing factory closed in 1982

The other candidates for mayor include Francesco Scopelliti (Como Futura and Giovane Como), Alessandro Rapinese for Rapinese Sindaco, Fabio Aleotti for the Movimento 5 Stelle, Celeste Grossi for La Prossima Como, and Bruno Magatti for Civitas. The easiest way to access the manifestos for each of these candidates is via the Como Comune website .

shop front

Bruno Magatti’s shopfront publicity

Apart from the stalls set up under the plastic gazebos (or even the temporary offices set up for some mayoral candidates) the best source of information on the concerns of Como’s citizens and the attitudes of the candidates has been presented in the local press or through the discussions and debates set up in the Teatro Sociale. From this it appears that the greatest concerns are about the future of tourism, parking and bureaucracy!

It is interesting to note that, in spite of Como being a tourist destination since the eighteenth century, the city is still not totally convinced as to whether its future wealth lies primarily there or in industry.


The funicular to Brunate with Como’s lakefront in the background

What complicates the modern day mindset is perhaps the recent memory of Como’s glorious years as a centre for silk manufacture – a period that in reality only lasted about 100 years from the 1860s to 1960s. Silk dyeing, printing and finishing are still present but the sight of the rotting Ticosa factory is itself sufficient a symbol of Como’s change in fortunes. The same uncertainty about a future destiny marks the debate over parking with resistance from some quarters to the extension of parking restrictions and vehicle access in the centre. Again, traffic free streets favour tourism although some local shopkeepers don’t seem to appreciate the economic value that unrestricted pedestrian access brings to the city centre.

Bureaucracy in Italy has been a complaint for so many years – its roots may have lain in Napoleonic administrative habits evolving through further degenerative entrenchment during the prolonged fascist regime. In Como we look across the border to Ticino in the Swiss Federation and see how the contrasting administration there is much more business-friendly. Unfortunately bureaucratic habits stem from legal and political complexities, reinforced through lack of investment in and resistance to technological innovation which in turn may be the result of how the bureaucratic mindset has evolved. I am not sure that local administrations can  do much about this by themselves but at least they can and should orientate the city to where its future sustainable economic and social interests lie. That is worth voting for.

Posted in Events, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Elegance at Villa D’Este

bugatti 2


Today is the start of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. This is an annual gathering of vintage cars and motorbikes along with their owners and admirers. In most previous years this event has mainly taken place within the grounds of Cernobbio’s renowned luxurious hotel – the Villa D’Este, voted by Forbes in 2009 as the best hotel in Europe! This exclusive  – literally pertaining to exclusion – location on the lakefront offers an opportunity for wealthy owners and admirers to lavish mutual yet discrete appreciation on these elegant survivors from a former era.

villa deste

Villa D’Este, its park and floating swimming pool

Villa D’Este was built in the renaissance style by Pellegrino Tibaldi from 1565 to 1570 for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. Following a number of changes of owners and uses, it became in 1815 the home of Caroline of Brunswick, the separated wife of UK’s King George IV. It was converted into a hotel in 1873. Apart from the Concorso D’Eleganza, the hotel also hosts the annual Ambrosetti Forum – an international conference for politicians, financiers and business leaders.  Alfred Hitchcock was particularly fond of this hotel returning most years for a holiday here and on the lake where he proposed to his wife. More recent celebrity visitors include the ubiquitous George Clooney whose lakeside home was just along the water in Laglio.

vintage 1

BMW Coupe

villa erba

Villa Erba

In the past, the locals have been allowed a very partial participation by viewing a form of car catwalk as they are paraded on the last day of the weekend through Cernobbio from the hotel to Villa Erba – the neighbouring lakeside villa that was once the summer home of neo-realist film director Luchino Visconti . Not so this year since the public are now given access throughout all three days of the Concorso, not however to roam willy-nilly through Villa D’Este, but to participate in a series of activities at the nearby Villa Erba.

indianAn additional factor this year is the biennial auction of up to 70 vintage cars by Sothebys. These cars (and some vintage motorbikes) are all on view in the gardens of Villa Erba on Friday. Entry on this first day is free. The auction takes place on Saturday evening and so the cars are also on view throughout that day alongside an exhibition of vintage motorbikes and a special feature on vintage BMW coupes in the main pavilion. There is an entrance fee on Saturday (€10) and Sunday (€16) although tickets do cost less if purchased online.


BMW sponsors the Concorso d’Eleganza

This ‘democratisation’ of the Concorso may be due to its growing popularity or to the marketing policies of its primary sponsor – BMW – whose presence over the weekend is marked by an endless shuttle of large, black BMWs to and from Como and Cernobbio or to and from Villa D’Este and Villa Erba. It is odd that the vintage cars mainly come from an era when bodywork was in pastel or bright shades whilst the current masters of the universe prefer big and sombre black.

Sunday is the day when judges make a variety awards and then all cars and motorbikes take part in a pageant’s procession before the grandstand set up in the gardens of Villa Erba.



The Concorso D’Eleganza was first set up in 1928 at the Villa D’Este. It has not been held consistently since then due to interruptions during the second world war after which it was again suspended in 1948. This was due to the scandal of that year when the Countess Pia Bellentani shot her philandering lover, silk industrialist Carlo Sacchi, at the end of a fashion show held at the hotel. She had borrowed her husband’s revolver for the murder hoping also to kill herself immediately after. However there was only a single bullet in the chamber. She was subsequently committed to a mental asylum. The annual Concorso was not resumed until 1995 under the sponsorship of the men in big, black cars.

riva collage

The cars are undeniably beautiful with some immensely stylish examples from Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Porsche and even BMW! For me, the top prize in the cars listed for auction must go to the stunning Talbot taking pride of place at the end of the pavilion and near to the equally stunning Riva motorboat. It is also true to say that the Villa Erba forms a great backdrop for them with its park overlooking the lake.

Posted in Events, Gardens, History, Lake, Places of interest, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Liberating the Lakefront – Como Recovers Its Greatest Asset

lakefront view

View from the Como lakefront to Cernobbio and Torno

For residents and tourists alike, Como’s greatest asset must be its magnificent lakefront with its views north to Cernobbio, Moltrasio, Torno and to the summit of Mount Bisbino – so why has access to a large tract of it been out of bounds for the last eight years? The wooden barrier that blocks lakefront access went up in 2008 stretching from the roundabout by the railway station and then beyond the ticket office for the boats and up to the park.

lakefront 7

Bringing down the wooden wall – although this photo shows the storm damage which shortly preceded the renovation work

Now, finally the last section of this wall is coming down and the whole lakefront will be accessible to all. This marks a decisive and positive stage in the long-running local saga/scandal of the so-called ‘paratie’ (barriers).

lakefront 6


Let’s consider what could possibly have caused such a denial of access to our greatest asset for so long. The answer is unfortunately a sad tale which possibly could only have happened in Italy. Way back in 1990, when money was counted in millions of lire rather than euros, the idea of building up Como’s flood defenses was first mooted. The original plans were for a series of temporary barriers to be deployed when necessary.

lakefront 3

….After, but not yet complete

The costs were modest and the project was due for completion by 1995. What optimism! Soon after this in 1998, the first in a series of ‘variations’ to the original plans were submitted scrapping the temporary options in preference for a permanent structure.  Now there was serious money to be played for with all the ‘tangential’ temptations along the way.

To cut a long story short, the contract was finally awarded in 2007 to Sacaim, a company who had worked on the Venice flood defenses as well as many other large civil engineering projects. Work started in January 2008 with the dark green wooden barrier erected thus obscuring the work in progress and of course, our glorious panoramic view.

lakefront 4

Vistas unseen for eight years are beginning to open up

Unfortunately behind that wooden barrier, Sacaim were constructing a wall twenty-odd metres out from the lakefront that was taking a slither away from our lake. This wall was part of another ‘variation’ requested in 2009. Unfortunately doubts were immediately raised over its legality – after all it is one thing to bank up the existing wall and another entirely to alter the contours of the lakefront.  Progress from then until 2012 was slow and intermittent due to these legal and other complications. Slow progress turned into a total stall on the election of a new mayor in 2012 who demanded the end of the new wall and the re-opening of part of the lakefront.

lakefront 1

Undoing the damage – work is now underway on restoring this section of the  lakefront

Again, the contractual issues around variations went back to the courts where the hive of activity there contrasted with the complete shutdown on the lakefront.  Then in 2016, two local council officials were arrested following a legal inquiry and the regional authority, declaring the local council ineffective, assumed control of the project. That about summarises the negative part of this story – except to say it is far from over since legal responsibilities and payments will most likely be contested in the courts for years to come.

lakefront 8

The ‘La Provincia’ campaign ‘Rivogliamo il nostro lago’ asked people to attach symbolic plastic padlocks to the barriers denying lakeside access.

Now for the positive part – from the moment all work was blocked (2012), the long-suffering Como residents and local businesses started to push back. The association of local businesses known as ‘Amici di Como’ (friends of Como) financed and organised the temporary restoration and opening of the lakeside walk and gardens to the west of the Navigazione Laghi ticket office. These were opened in 2014. Subsequently the Amici di Como have financed the upkeep of these gardens so they have remained open to the public year-round ever since then.

Not content with that, the local newspaper ‘La Provincia’ ran an effective publicity campaign in 2016 called ‘Rivogliamo il nostro lago’ (We want our lake back). This brought the issue of the ‘paratie’ to the attention of the nation as a whole and central government. The campaign was structured in three phases providing prolonged and embarrassing exposure throughout the year. ‘La Provincia’ stoked the fires of revolt again at the start of this year with a further effective campaign getting residents and visitors alike to mark their continuing frustration by attaching  symbolic plastic padlocks to the fences that were depriving them of lakeside access.

lakefront 2

After eight long years, work began this May on reopening this section of the lakefront.

The media campaigns were successful prompting the regional government to provide the funds for cleaning up and reopening the lakefront. This work is now in progress – cobbles are being laid and vistas not seen for eight years are re-appearing. Full access is on target for completion by July, just after the municipal elections.

lakefront 5This story of the ‘paratie’ is indicative of some of the less favourable aspects of Italian civic life but I can identify at least two positive aspects. Firstly, it is at least reassuring to see the state showing some sensitivity to public opinion (and financial common sense) when under pressure from those who finally managed to overcome a marked propensity for patience and political inertia! Secondly, the prolonged denial of public access to the lakefront has emboldened a pair of local swans to make their annual nesting home there. One of the springtime pleasures for local residents has been to see the swan eggs hatch and see their cygnets grow. The swans will however have to move elsewhere now that  —


swan collage

Our lakeside swans now need a new home.

Posted in Gardens, Lake, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

URGENT: Expat Como residents need to register to vote by May 2nd

Citizens of other EU countries with residency in Italy can vote in municipal elections – the ‘elezioni amministrative’ – but they will need to register to vote.

Palazzo Cernezzi 4

Palazzo Cernezzi, Como’s Town Hall

On June 11th this year 1,021 local councils across Italy will be electing new council members and mayors. Citizens of EU countries with residency in Italy can vote in these elections. The three biggest councils in our area going to the polls are Erba, Cantu and Como. The vote in these cities may require a second ballot on June 25th if no clear winners emerge on June 11th.

Other local councils around Lake Como going to the urns are Porlezza, the Alta Valle Intelvi, San Bartolomeo Val Cavargna, Gera Lario, Brienno and Blessagno. The following councils are also voting elsewhere within Como Province: Appiano Gentile, Barni, Beregazzo con Figliaro, Campione d’Italia, Guanzate, Orsenigo, Rodero, Rovello Porro and San Fermo della Battaglia (which now includes Cavallasca).

Palazzo Cernezzi

You will need to be on the ‘Lista Elettorale’ maintained by your local council to ensure you can vote at these elections. The deadline for applying to join this list is 2nd May in Como (May 1st is a holiday so act now!). Procedures may differ from council to council and so it may be possible that you were placed on the electoral list when applying for residency although most of us will have to make a separate application.

Palazzo Cernezzi 1

Apply to the Servizi Elettorali in the old courtyard

In Como the procedure for applying is simple. Apply at the Ufficio Elettorale for a form to complete called ‘Domanda di iscrizione nelle liste elettorali aggiunte di cittadini di uno stato membro dell’Unione Europea‘. Or click on the link to download the form electronically. Once filled in, take it and a photocopy of your passport or identity card to the Ufficio Protocollo who will enter your data and issue you a receipt which, if required, will provide proof that the request was submitted before the deadline.

Palazzo Cernezzi 2

Ufficio Protocollo – also in the old courtyard

That’s it so now you just need to have faith that your council will issue you with a ‘Tessera Elettorale’ and subsequently, about two weeks before actual voting day with a ‘Certificato Elettorale’ which will include information on where you are to vote. On voting day itself, take the Certificato and proof of identity (passport or identity card) with you to the voting station.

Como Companion will follow up with more information on the different candidates for mayor of Como subsequently.

Palazzo Cernezzi 3


Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Liberation Day to May Day

April 25th was Liberation Day in Italy – a public holiday to honour the signing of the Armistice in Rome 72 years ago. This brought an end to the Nazifascist regime in Northern Italy. It is a day of commemoration strongly promoted by ANPI (the national association of Italian partisans) so as to maintain the memory of the sacrifices made by the partisans and by the even larger numbers of their civilian supporters.

Monument to European Resistance 1

Wreaths laid at the Memorial to European Resistance in Como as part of the civic ceremonies commemorating Liberation Day


Pedro – Commander of the ‘Puecher’ platoon of 52nd Garibaldi Brigade of Partisans who captured Mussolini at Musso

And for Como, the significance of this commemoration must always be particularly strong, given the way events turned out in the last few days of the fascist regime. After all, it was the partisan group known as the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi which operated on the western shores of Lake Como who captured Mussolini as he attempted an escape from Italy disguised within a column of retreating German soldiers. Mussolini, his wife Rachele and mistress Claretta Petacci along with many leaders of the fascist puppet-state known as the RSI (or the Republic of Salo) descended on Como on April 25th 1945. (Read the 25th April Liberation Day for more information on how Mussolini met his end and where.)

So clearly Como was not itself liberated on April 25th. Instead it turned out to be hosting the fascist Head of State prior to his attempted flight to safety having left Milan following the breakdown of surrender discussions mediated by Cardinal Schuster. He chose to spend the night at the Prefettura on Via Volta, the representative site of national government still in the hands of the fascists.

His wife Rachele stayed instead further up Via Volta at the Villa Mantero which had been requisitioned for her use. On the 26th Mussolini joined up with Claretta Petacci and her brother and left alongside his fascist leaders for Menaggio. Rachele instead tried to cross over into Switzerland but was turned back at the border crossing at Chiasso.

So, in spite of the fascist leaders being mostly on the run, it was not until April 28th that Como itself was liberated. The first indication of the dawning of a new era was the arrival early in the morning of an armoured car captured by the partisans and driven around Piazza Cavour in a celebratory lap of honour. This heralded the later arrival of the American allied army as it came up from Milan. Piazza Cavour thus became the impromptu setting for celebrations as the citizens and armed partisans began to gather in the open.

Christian Schiefer, a professional photographer from Lugano, had sensed that monumental events were unfolding and so travelled down from Chiasso and caught on film the historic shots reproduced here.

ThMetropole Suissee American allied army immediately took over the Hotel Metropole Suisse as their headquarters. It had only hours before been the local HQ for the German Wehrmacht but the remains of the German army had made their way that day to the border crossing at Chiasso where they were allowed to surrender to the Swiss authorities once all arms were given up.

The Fascist party had also abandoned their headquarters in the Palazzo Terragni, also known as the Casa del Fascio, leaving it free for the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano) to take it on as their HQ.

Casa del Fascio

Palazzo Terragni (Casa del Fascio)

These were just a couple of the monumental changes facing the territory at that time. The partisan brigades including the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi took over policing duties and were free to hunt down ex-fascist leaders and Nazi collaborators until June of that year when their powers were suspended. They and the workers, who had maintained the General Strike from 20th April, were the heroes of the hour.

Aramis and brother

Villa Passalacqua, Moltrasio 30th May 1945 – ‘Eros’ (Angelo Nardi) and ‘Aramis’ (Amos Santi), 2 partisan leaders in the Tomasic platoon of the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi.

During the fascist regime, the celebration of May Day as the day of international labour had been suspended. So 1st May 1945, just three days after the liberation of Como, provided the first major opportunity for a communal celebration of liberty and labour. Thus it was only fitting as to who should head the parade that year – the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi.

may day 1945 milan

May Day 1945 – Milan

Further sources of information about the partisans, the last days of the fascist regime and the liberation of Como are available from:

Posted in Events, History, People, Places of interest, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana

This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana


Posted in Architecture, Culture, History, Itineraries, Lake, Places of interest, Uncategorized, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Don’t Mention the Mafia!


Artwork from Liceo Artistico Melotti, Lomazzo

The title ‘Don’t mention the Mafia!’ takes inspiration from the episode in Fawlty Towers when Basil admonishes his staff to not mention the war to his German guests. For those not brought up on UK comedy from the 1970’s, my point is that this topic raises such a set of sensibilities such that foreigners touch upon it at their own risk – particularly the issue of mafia presence in the north! In any case, you might well ask why raise the subject at all since it’s unlikely any of this impinges on any of our lives (at least not directly) and certainly does not compromise the natural beauty of our area and the manifestly innocent enjoyment of it by visitors and residents alike. However I do hope to show that, at least once in a while, we should consider this awkward topic.

The main evidence of a mafia presence in Lombardy comes from three investigations initiated by the DDA (Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia) under the Procura of Milan and led by the indefatigable antimafia magistrate Ilda Boccassini.

Ilda Boccassini

Ilda Boccassini

Ilda Boccassini has perhaps the broadest experience within the Italian judicial system in investigating corruption and mafia activities. She worked in Milan on Mani Pulite in the 90s, transferred to Caltanisetta to investigate the Falcone-Borsellino assassinations, returned to Milan to quash the rebirth of the Red Brigades and concurrently to identify the presence of the mafia in Lombardy. More recently she has been leading the investigations into the alleged crimes of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The facts arising from the three DDA investigations (named Infinito, Metastasi and Insubria) do confirm the presence of the Mafia in the north involving primarily the Calabrian form of organised crime known as the ‘ndrangheta. The ‘Infinito’ inquiry was launched in 2003. It led to the arrest of 200 people in Milan and Calabria with both trials and investigations still ongoing. The ‘Metastasi’ investigation focused on the presence of the mafia in Lecco and the activities of old-style mafia boss Franco Covo Trovato.

franco trovato

Franco Covo Trovato

The ‘Insubria’ inquiry was initiated in 2012 and focused on ‘ndrangheta activity in three local councils, including two within the province of Como. These are Fino Mornasco and Cermenate, located halfway between Como and Milan. 35 arrests were made and prison sentences totalling 162 years have been handed out to ex-town councillors  and Calabrian or local business men. Fino Mornasco was described by magistrates in 2014 as ‘one of the most shining examples of a mafia controlled local council in Northern Italy’.



Two of the ‘ndrangheta members sentenced following the Insubria investigation

Should we be concerned by this? Or to be blunt, do we as foreign residents or visitors need to know about it? In one sense, no – because the activities of organised crime are almost invisible to the great majority living here and totally so to those visiting temporarily. Yet there are victims, with 400 incidents of intimidation in the Province of Como initiated by organised crime between 2008 and 2014 according to data gathered by the DDA. Additionally the long term effects of corruption debilitate the local economy with damage to both the environment and the fabric of towns and cities. This is why once in a while, and maybe particularly on the days set aside to remember and honour the victims of the Mafia, even we foreigners should be excused the use of the M word – always in the spirit of sympathy for the victims and to give moral support for those investigating and bringing mafia criminals to justice.


eyes and mouth

The tape hides the mouth because the mafia do not speak. It covers the eyes because the mafia get what they want without looking their victims in the face. Art by Rebecca from the Liceo Melotti.

21st March, the first day of spring, has now been designated an anniversary day for remembering the innocent victims of the Mafia. Here in Como, the pupils from the Liceo Artistico Melotti from Lomazzo  – a town close to both Fino Mornasco and Cermenate – staged an exhibition of art in the courtyard of Como’s Town Hall, Palazzo Cernezzi, as part of a school project entitled ‘Against the Mafia’. Their project was part of a series of activities organised by the ‘Movimento delle Agende Rosse’. The exhibition has done a tour of town councils in the Province of Como and will end up at the house of Paolo Borsellino’s son on the anniversary of his father’s  assassination in Palermo on the 19th July 1992. The artwork by the students illustrates many aspects of the character and impact of organised crime and stands as a visual testimony to why we should publicise and challenge its presence. Certainly the assassinations of magistrates Falcone and Borsellino in 1992 were met with mass revulsion and popular resistance to what were audacious challenges to state authority. Since then, the mafia has avoided such provocative violent acts and, for those seeking to operate in the north, have followed a low key strategy of  gaining control in certain industrial sectors through the corruption of small town officials, hence their presence in Fino Mornasco.


trovato gang

Franco Trovato and gang members facing arrest and sentencing

The subject of the Metastasi investigation was the old-style ‘ndrangheta boss, Franco Covo Trovato, Calabrian in origin but resident in Lecco, Como’s lakeside sister city. He was arrested in September 1992 hiding out in his town centre headquarters – the Wall Street Pizzeria in Via Belfiore. He owned and used the pizzeria as his centre of operations from where he organised his empire of drug trafficking and money laundering. He met here with his henchmen giving out orders for the physical intimidation and assassination of his victims. He is now serving three life sentences and his property, including the pizzeria, has been seized by the state. Now, after a prolonged legal battle, the state has finally arranged for the sale of the pizzeria which has just now re-opened as the Pizzeria Fiore with a formal ceremony on 21st March (the day set aside for remembering the innocent victims of the Mafia). The opening ceremony that featured Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni slicing the pizza, also included students reading out the names of the tens of local victims of Trovato’s criminal regime.

wall street seized

Sequestering of mafia property is proving successful in the fight against crime

Whilst organised crime is still very involved in drug trafficking, they try to invest its profits into legally established businesses operating primarily in construction and refuse management. They then seek commercial advantage by corrupting those local officials involved in the commissioning of projects or selection of suppliers. Although Milan’s recent Expo 2015 offered plenty of opportunities for this (a number of cases are now going through the courts), the focus has tended to switch to smaller local councils in and around the Milan hinterland – just like our own Fino Mornasco and Cermenate. It seems easier to forge corrupt relationships and more easily influence outcomes within these smaller public entities.

thousand eyes

‘Contaminati’ by Miriam, Liceo Melotti. The thousand mafia eyes, whilst appearing colourful and friendly are actually observing and controlling us.

So who are the modern day victims of the mafia, assuming that the Trovato style of ill-disguised bullying has become a thing of the past? The DDA figures of 400 cases of mafia-led intimidation in the Province of Como can be broken down as follows: 270 cases involved malicious fire damage to property, 43 were non-mortal gun attacks, 19 were cases of objects thrown against property, 17 cases of damage to cars, 16 were threats over the phone and one case involved a murdered pet. Most of the victims of these incidents were business owners. 37 were owners of earth-moving companies, 15 were bar or night club owners, 13 were building companies, 12 were owners of service businesses and 5 owned garbage collection businesses. However there were some professional victims as well.

One aspect of the northern-style mafia which cannot be ignored is that some small to medium-sized businesses actively seek out a connection with an ‘ndrangheta family. The reason is that a mafia connection could help when seeking to persuade an unwilling client to pay an outstanding bill. There are unfortunately too many brazen individuals who treat paying a bill as a voluntary activity in the knowledge that to seek redress through the courts could take years and will most likely cost you more than you manage to recover. Thus the attraction of an extra-legal persuasion, or as the Italian expression goes  – ‘to have your shoulders covered’. Then there is always the chance that your business may itself profit from whatever projects the mafia manage to win.

la piovra

‘The Monster’ by Samuele Liceo Melotti.


The subject of organised crime is a depressing one presenting a shameful side to some parts of the local business culture. However if we avoid the subject we then fail to recognise those who bravely seek to combat it. Truly the efforts of those ‘against the mafia’ shine out against the grey background of the morally compromised. Magistrates such as Ilda Boccassini demonstrate a courage and fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend. The students reading out the list of mafia victims at the rebirth of the Pizzeria Fiore are reclaiming an honest future for this enterprise that will obliterate a landmark of shame. The schoolchildren of the Liceo Artistico in Lomazzo are helping to keep the example of Falcone and Borsellino alive in all our minds, as well as giving us their interpretation of the true present-day nature of this criminal organisation.

mafia stato

From the ‘Against the Mafia’ exhibition by pupils from the Liceo Artistico Statale ‘F. Melotti’, Lomazzo

Posted in Art, Events, Food, History, People, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Como to Torno Revisited

This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, Como to Torno Revisited


Posted in Food, Itineraries, Lake, Uncategorized, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment