Como to Montorfano for Wild Swimming

My motive for visiting Lake Montorfano was to swim in its beautiful, clean, super-tranquil water since nothing feels better than swimming in the wild! And it’s even better if the swim is at your destination after an  hour’s walk  through shady woods. The only challenging aspect to this walk is the eccentric signposting – but I have sought to compensate for that through a series of photos to show the main stages on the route to the lake. I have left it to your own ingenuity to make your own way back!

Lake 1

Lake Montorfano

Lake Montorfano was created as part of the glacial retreat which formed the mountains surrounding Como and the moraine deposits such as Monte Goj just to the west of the lake. It is the first and smallest of a string of smaller lakes that stretch out between Como and Lecco through the north of Brianza. No major roads pass it and there is little development along its shores. It is so very much smaller than Lake Como which makes it entirely different in nature – a much more intimate space, unbelievably tranquil where the only sounds normally heard are the cries of the waterfowl as they traverse the water.

To get there, take the No.7 bus from Como centre in the direction of Lora to the end of the line. From there you have an hour’s walk through woods to get to the lakeside. (You could also take the No. 6 bus in the direction of Brebbia alighting at Albate to pick up the path through the Valbrasca). Start by crossing from the bar by the bus stop and walking to your right past the ‘Casa di Gino’. Immediately after the Casa di Gino you see the turning shown in the photo below on your left. The yellow arrow shows the entry to the footpath that runs between the two tarmacked roads.


Step 1: As in all these images, follow the yellow arrow.

After a short while, there is a turning off to the left that you should follow. If you were to go straight on, the path will lead you up to Monte Goj and to a baita there that has a good reputation for its cooking.

Step 1

Step 2: left at the graffiti-riddled sign

This path leads you down into the green flood plain of the Valbasca where you turn left (step 3) in the direction of the cemetery. In fact the path you are on is part of Via Cimiterio. If you were to turn right you will link up with the path that takes you along the delightful Valbasca to come out eventually at Albate.

As you approach the walls of the cemetery, turn to your right (Step 4) and continue until the dirt road you are on crosses the small river.


Just after the river crossing, the main path leads round to the right in the direction of the dog kennels that cannot be seen but can certainly be heard from here.

Step 4

Step 5: Take the narrow uphill path marked by the arrow.


Step 5

Step 6: The narrow path turns to the left and then has a chalk chip surface.

Keep to the stone chip path as it climbs uphill with woods on your right.

Step 6

You might now begin to see yellow circle signposting along your route. Some of the circles are done with white paint and some of the circles are done with both! On other occasions you might just see a yellow or white ‘splodge’ of paint. In spite of the signposting not being too standard, they do direct you accurately.

The path continues along the northern edge of the woods with views to your left over towards Tavernerio and to the crest of the mountains by Brunate. It then enters the wood on all sides as you come up to the uprooted tree stump at a multiple path junction.

Step 7

Step 7: At the uprooted tree stump, turn right and look for the yellow or white circle sign to confirm your route.

Step 8

Step 8: The path comes to a crossroads with a more dominant dirt-track running left to right. Turn right.

Step 9

Step 9: Follow the twists and turns of this road as it climbs gently uphill. Take a right turn when you reach this junction.

Step 10

Step 10: You will begin to see a low concrete wall running along the lefthand edge of the road. Ignore the first turning to the left after which the concrete path is on your right. Instead take the second turning on the left ensuring that the concrete wall is now running on your left-hand side.

Step 11.png

Step 11: Continue straight on along this well defined path as it runs on the level through the woods.

Step 12

Step 13: You will come up to this fork in the path with border fencing on your left side and the woods on your right. Turn right here. There is a yellow paint sign to confirm your route.

If you overlook the turning at Step 13, all is not lost. You will go down a slope to join a larger path that leads on to a tarmacked section if you go to the left. Turn right and follow that path which will lead you directly on to Step 14. If you have followed Step 13, your path will get narrower and less succinct as it drops down a slope. As soon as you see a more defined path going left to right, turn to your right.

Step 14

Step 14: Your path becomes more of a dirt-track road with garden walls and fencing on your lefthand side whilst the woods are still on your right. Continue along this stretch until you see an entrance way on your right as shown in Step 15.

Step 15

Step 15: Turn off the dirt track and then immediately take the path to your left. This path then goes uphill briefly followed by an immediate descent to the lakefront. 

Lake path

Step 16: You have now joined the footpath that goes around the lake. Turn left and you will come to a grassy area used by locals for swimming and sunbathing. Turn right and you come across small areas of beach good for swimming if not already occupied by fishermen.

If you follow the lake path to your right, you will eventually come across the Montorfano Lido which unfortunately has some rather negative reviews on Trip Advisor notwithstanding the beauty of the environment.

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Myth and Reality: Lake Monsters and Political Scandal

A piece of real ‘fake news’ turned up the other day in the local newspapers – a sighting of a prehistoric monster in the grounds of the long defunct textile factory, Ticosa, on the edge of Como’s historical centre. Regular readers of this blog will quickly be able to place the authorship of this fakery at the doors of our friend, Pierpaolo Perretta aka Mr. Savethewall, in his role as social activist.

False sighting

©Pierpaolo Perretta

Whilst it is of course disappointing that neither CNN nor the BBC actually troubled themselves to report on the presumed re-emergence of a mythical prehistoric creature, we can hardly blame their incredulity – is there really a monster in Como to rival that in Loch Ness? Could it really survive in the asbestos-contaminated grounds of this blighted ex-industrial site where all proposals put forward to develop it since the plant’s closure in the 1980s have come to nothing? Is this another Como mystery to rival that of Mussolini’s treasure lost at Dongo? Let’s look a little closer.

Leaving aside the Ticosa scandal for now (it has in any case still got many years to run), what about Como’s lake monster? Mr. Savethewall envisaged the re-emergence of ‘Lariosaurus’, and there is a local myth of a lake monster of that name. Whilst Lariosaurus, or ‘Larrie’ for short cannot match the notoriety of his/her more famous Scottish relative, ‘Nessie’, he or she can claim a series of sightings since the end of the last war.


Nessie can trace her source back to the sixth century AD but interest in the modern era started in the 1930s.  First sightings for ‘Larrie’ were reported in the 19th century but modern-day interest started in 1946 when the local newspaper at the time, the ‘Corriere Comasco’, reported a sighting in the waters off the Pian di Spagna at the top end of the lake. In 1954 the myth was reinforced by the apparent sighting by fishermen of an 80cm long creature with rounded beak, tail and flippers off the coast of Argegno. 1957 saw a creature of similar size resurface between Dongo and Musso and the sighting was apparently confirmed by scientists who explored the area as a follow-up in a submersible. They described ‘Larrie’ as being a large (up to a metre long) crocodile-like creature. The last sighting was in 2003 when fishermen off the coast of Lecco reported seeing a 10 metre long tapered creature resembling a massive eel.

Palazzo Belgoioso

Lecco’s Museo di Storia Naturale in the Palazzo Belgioioso where fossilised remains of Lariosaurus Balsamo are exhibited.

Whilst Nessie is much better known than Larrie, there is a greater reality behind the latter’s myth since a creature called Lariosaurus did exist in the Lake Como area but over 200 million years ago in the mid-Triassic age, older therefore than the dinosaurs. The first fossil was unearthed at Perledo, just inland from Varenna, by zoologist Giuseppe Balsamo Crivelli in 1830. He named the creature Lariosaurus Balsamo incorporating his second name and the Latin name for Lake Como, Lario. Further fossilised Lariosaurus Balsami were discovered in Lierna in the 1930s (on the eastern shore of the Lecco leg opposite Limonta).

These remains are now exhibited in the Museo di Storia Naturale di Lecco in the Palazzo Belgioioso in a room dedicated to them. Lariosaurus was a carnivore growing up to about 120cm in length with paddle-like front feet. It lived on the marshy fringes of the ocean adapted to both land and water.

Lierna and Varenna

Looking out on the Lecco leg of Lake Como from Limonta towards Varenna and Lierna

So, is there the possibility that, as plate tectonics shaped the world’s continents, Lariosaurus became trapped inland and evolved to live in Lake Como’s deep fresh water? Lake Como is certainly deep enough to hide a reticent lake monster throughout the millenia.

lake profile 2

It is 410 metres deep, one of the deepest in Europe and twice the depth of Loch Ness. However the city of Como itself is about 200 metres above sea level which means that the bottom of the lake is more than 200 metres below sea level which requires some explanation particularly when the profile of the lake reveals a V formation meaning that its valley was created originally by flowing water (a river) rather than through later glaciation. And rivers do not flow below sea level. The answer to this lies 50 million years back in time well after Lariosaurus when the Mediterranean sea was closed off from the Atlantic as land masses closed the current Straits of Gibraltar. Most of the sea then evaporated revealing a land mass well below the level of the oceans allowing the rivers flowing from the Alps to cut valleys down below current sea levels.

mediterranean 50 mill years

The precursor of the River Po runs down from white capped Alps into a long valley extending the length of the Adriatic Sea (The Mediterranean 50 million years ago)

So how realistic are the chances that Lariosaurus managed to adapt from its Triassic saltmarsh environment to live on the banks of a fast flowing river, and then through a prolonged period of ice cap and glaciation before finally evolving into a deep fresh water monster or even an inhabitant of a brownfield ex-industrial park?

Let’s take final stock of myth and reality behind this story.

Myth: ‘Larrie’ did not reappear recently in the grounds of the ex-Ticosa factory.

Reality: The ‘Larrie’ apparently seen off the Pian di Spagna, Argegno and Dongo did fit the description of the ancient Lariosaurus Balsamo but its evolutionary survival from the Triassic age is totally improbable.

Myth: The ’Larrie’ of 10 metres long seen in 2003 by fishermen off the coast at Lecco is most likely  the result of alcohol-fuelled group hysteria.

Reality: Lariosaurus Balsamo existed up to 200 million years ago on the continental shelf of the massive single land mass known as Pangea and the fossil remains from that time, found at Varenna and Lierna, are on display at Lecco’s Museo di Storia Naturale. The proof of its existence is on our doorstep. (Other fossilised exemplars are to be found in museums in the USA and Munich, Germany).

Myth: Any further possible sitings of ‘Larrie’.

Reality: The ex-Ticosa scandal.

Lariosaurus drawings

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Intrepid Exploration: Brienno to Laglio on the Via Regina

This walk is a further step out on the ancient Via Regina on the west side of Lake Como. Readers may wish to combine this walk with the stretch from Laglio to Moltrasio described elsewhere on the blog. But beware, this stretch is very different in nature. It is a lot more challenging not because the terrain is any steeper but simply because the path is less well maintained, quite narrow in parts and rather poorly signposted at critical moments. This walk is definitely an adventure but one with many rewards!

From Germanello

Pognana Lario from Germanello, a fraction of Laglio

As with the Laglio to Moltrasio stretch, I decided to head out from Como by bus (C10 or C20) and walk back south. Brienno is a delightful small town whose size is limited by the steep terrain on either side of the gullies cut by the three mountain streams that come together here. This part of the Via Regina starts from the middle of the old town rising quickly up on a stepped path. You soon leave the built-up old town of Brienno and are immersed in unspoilt countryside. You soon begin to appreciate how different this stretch is from the extension to Moltrasio. The steepness of the lower slopes of Mount Comana don’t allow for any suburban development. Instead you are more likely to come across abandoned ancient crofts or small agricultural nuclei such as Torriggia which you will go through later on.


The path out of Brienno

The steepness of the slopes also has created a number of gullies cut by the mountain streams descending sharply to the lake. On many of these you see steel hawser netting placed to hold back the rock and wood detritus cut by rampaging flood water presumably to protect motorists travelling along the superstrada below.

Whilst from Laglio to Moltrasio you pass through suburban or well-maintained terraced countryside, here you are more likely just to find the remnants of old terracing, with the greenery impinging on the walkway. It is true to say that in some parts, the old Via Regina appears totally lost as you are constrained to take narrow paths around the base of ancient terraces until you regain the cobbled and walled evidence of the ancient way.

You should be following the signs for ‘I Cammini della Regina’ as found from Laglio to Moltrasio.

cammini della regina

Follow these signs

Unfortunately though here they are less common and are not duplicated by other forms of signage such as the Via Verde. There are other signs but they will not lead you to Laglio. The blue or red painted flashes depict the paths leading you up to the mountain communities of Torriggia (Monti di Torriggia) or Germanello.
However the signage issues just add to challenge and, if you are prepared for an adventure (good walking shoes, alpine sticks, socks to deter any ticks and protection against brambles), even your mistakes will be rewarded by pleasant discoveries.

The path is maintained so even if it gets narrow in parts, it will persist. If instead you find yourself truly at a dead end, retrace your footsteps because the path will not reappear and you do not know what dangers you might face when going forward to refind it.

Brienno 4

Looking back to Brienno

At about just under half way from Brienno, the path comes out on to a tarmacked road. Follow it down to the next curve where you will see the path signposted again on the right hand side indicating Monti di Torriggia and the Buco d’Orso. Continue in the direction of Torriggia. When you get to the small hamlet of Torriggia, note and follow the sign for ‘I Cammini della Regina’ on the path to the left of the frescoed painting in the photo. If you follow the red or blue paint flashes, it will lead you up to the mountain community of Torriggia although an alternative route to Laglio does exist if you take the very first path on your left having climbed up and around the corner shown in the photo.

the critical turn

As you enter Torriggia take the path to the left of the fresco. The path to the right leads to the Monti di Torriggia.


ambiguous moment

Follow this sign to get through this poorly signposted section

The route here seems well defined but all of a sudden you come across some terracing that throws all into disarray. There are painted flashes (see photo) that lead you in the right direction but the path does deteriorate even further just in front of a mountain hut that is being redeveloped. The actual path follows the back of this hut on the narrow upper ledge of the terracing. It appears to end in a bush but pull the branches apart and you will see the path continues clearly on the other side. Ignore the temptation to attempt a tricky crossing of a small gully in order to take the clearly defined path running to the front of the renovated house.

The narrow path that you are now on (which looks unlikely to ever have formed part of the critical transalpine route of the Via Regina) will eventually appear to be running parallel and slightly above what looks very like an ancient mule path. And in due course, you join this mule path to continue south into the delightful old hamlet on the edges of Laglio known as Germanello.

Chapel at Germanello

Fresco at Germanello

As you come into Germanello, a path to your right will take you up to the mountain community of Germanello (Monti di Germanello) whilst the route straight on passes this fascinating fresco (see photo). Your route now descends on the Via di Germanello, going under the main ‘superstrada’ following a series of chapels depicting the stages of the cross until you join the lakeside road right by a chapel dedicated to the saint of plague, San Rocco.
You can at this point congratulate yourself on successfully completing your adventure and will be in need of some form of ‘restoration’. Laglio offers a variety of options for eating and drinking or, if time is on your side, why not walk down the lakeside road going south until you reach the harbour and pick up the Via Verde to Moltrasio as described elsewhere. Otherwise take the road in a northerly direction for a swim off Laglio’s delightful beach.

Allow two hours for the stretch from Brienno to Laglio and a further 90 minutes if you intend to carry on to Moltrasio. If going all the way, reward yourself with a glorious risotto, pizza or lake fish at the highly recommended Cooperativa Moltresino just behind Moltrasio’s church.

Laglio Beach

The beach at Laglio

Follow this link for more information on the Via Regina.

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Como Silk – Memoirs of a Textile Designer

Como has been a tourist destination from the days of the Grand Tour but it maintains equal significance as a centre for silk production. Current visitors to Como might think that the silk industry is a thing of the past given the number of its industrial archaeological sites.
villa bernasconi

Villa Bernasconi, Cernobbio – Liberty masterpiece built for Davide Bernasconi, founder of the largest textile plant in Italy.

Grand brick chimneys still stand proud from Cernobbio to Sant’Abbondio although no longer linked to the steam engines driving the mechanical looms. Even the presence of the silk museum suggests an activity assigned to the past. Apart from a couple of silk retailers, Como’s centre does not accurately reflect the current state of its industrial heritage. The industry is still here but now housed in factories freed up from the need to be close to the rivers and torrents running down from the mountains to provide power. They prefer to be located with easy links via motorway and airport to suppliers and customers that span the world. They occupy locations like Grandate or Guanzate where few tourists are likely to venture unless of course they are astute enough to be seeking out the factories’ cheap retail outlets.

For sure, the heyday of the industry has passed. All industries face the challenge of change whether technical, social or economic and none more so than Como’s silk industry which has over the years lost some of its scale and importance. Yet it has also secured a niche in the global market for printing and finishing high quality products for many of the leading fashion houses. Today the silk industry is either as economically important or arguably more so than the tourism inherited from the Grand Tour.

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The silk worm and the all-important mulberry tree were first introduced to Lombardy by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in the sixteenth century. All phases in silk production grew during the eighteenth century but the true phase of industrialisation was in the mid nineteenth century and was characterised in Como by a high degree of specialist separation of the different phases of production. Spinning of the yarn from the silk worm cocoons was, for example, more prevalent in the neighbouring province of Lecco and in Brianza. However that meant that Como gained prevalence in all the other phases of production such as colour dyeing, weaving, screen printing and all forms of finishing. Most of the company names from the first wave of industrialisation have gone but some of those set up in the twentieth century are still going strong such as Ratti, Mantero, Clerici, Verga and Bianchi.
Ratti factory Guanzate

Ratti factory, Guanzate

These are the companies that actually produce many of the products from the famous fashion houses such as Chanel or Dior. Key in establishing this predominant lead in the industry was the far-sighted vision of the early industrialists when in 1866 they set up a technical school for developing industry-specific expertise  – the so-called ‘Istituto Tecnico Industriale di Setificio di Como’ The school now exists both as a scientific ‘liceo’ and as a technical institute meaning that Como continues to maintain a high level of local expertise and specialist knowledge with three quarters of its students going on to  work in the silk industry either locally or world-wide.

Made in Como

The glory days for the industry were after the Second World War leading up to the 1990’s, now recognised as the heyday of production and known locally as the ‘anni d’oro’ when Como named itself the ‘città della seta’. Since then the pace of those three key aspects of change has transformed the industry. Globalisation has now seen the transfer of almost all spinning and much weaving activity away from Lombardy to India and China where costs are lower. Fashion continues to change the demand for certain products – how many of us men now regularly wear a tie? And technology, in particular computerisation, has changed all aspects of production with particular impact on fabric printing. Yet in spite of that, Como’s silk producers like Ratti, Mantero and Clerici have survived and thrive thanks to a focus on quality, creativity and skill.
mantero hq

Mantero’s headquaters on Via Volta, Como

It was also in the 1990s that local artist Irma Kennaway moved from Paris to Florence and then to Como to take up a post as a textile designer for Mantero S.p.A. She was here during those ‘anni d’oro’ when she also experienced the massive changes and challenges brought about by digitalisation. Having our own English-speaking expat as an active witness to those critical years was too good an opportunity for me to miss. I had to return to her home in Brunate where I had first interviewed her about her art (see Ice Cream and Vespas) to record her testimony of that crucial period.
IK: We worked in a huge design room at Mantero’s offices under the benign gaze of the Basilica of Sant’Abbondio- a big airy room for 10 designers each with our own table and with a massive library of books we could consult. All that has now changed.
sant abbondio

‘Under the benign gaze of Sant’Abbondio…’

Top world designers came to Mantero. Some of the French houses included Yves Saint Laurent, Lacroix, Ungaro and Chanel – Chanel was quite a story; we were hand painting our designs, scanning them on the photocopier then cutting out photocopies to make variants on each single design. For just one scarf we might well have had to produce up to twenty different variants. We might spend up to 2 or 3 days with piles of photocopies. We could well end up sticking 20 or 30 photocopies of separate design elements together to save cutting time but we still got callouses! The amount of paper going through our photocopier was vast and all 10 of us designers were queuing up to use it.
When we hand painted a design we often had to get out the hairdryer to dry off the designs in time for the courier to collect them for overnight delivery to Paris. We had huge Fedex bills and God forbid if a design got lost. All of that has completely changed – now designs are just sent over as an email attachment in seconds.
Pashmina Hand Painted

Hand-painted pashmina, Irma Kennaway

CC: Which Fashion Houses came to Mantero?
From the UK some fashion houses included Liberty, Aquascutum and Harrods. Then from the USA there was Judith Leiber, Ralph Lauren, and Diane Von Furstenberg. Which of us designers designed a scarf depended on the type of design required. For example, if the brief was for intricate detailed designs for Dior, then they would choose Fulvio who was incredibly precise. When YSL wanted big, bold and colourful, they asked for me. It was great working there – we had a marvelous sense of comradeship and there was no stepping on each other’s toes as we pulled together as a team.

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But by the end of the 90s we were moved into a small dark room – the big design room was almost empty and now we were sat in front of screens designing on the computer. It was quite depressing. Today you have people working on computers but not necessarily in a darkened room! There are still a few people just hand painting their designs, these then get scanned and processed on the computer using Photoshop.
mulberry tree

Como’s Museo della Seta, on Via Castelnuovo, with its mulberry trees

The really big change, where a lot of people lost their jobs, is in the area of screen printing which worked through colour separation. The engravers or ‘incisori’ had to make separate transparent sheets for each colour which then were layered on each other. That skill has now almost entirely gone. The ‘incisori’ had to know how to draw and to draw precisely but now it’s all done on the computer. Screen printing is becoming increasingly replaced by ink jet printing. Ink jet is like a huge plotter where the design is fed in via a CD or directly from a computer alongside the kilometres of fabric to be printed.

screen printing ticosa

Screen printing, Ticosa factory 1920s

So what do you do with all the screens? It was a huge problem for Mantero. They took up a lot of warehouse space and the nylon meshes would deteriorate over the years. They had to be kept in the dark. Companies like Liberty had evergreen designs, meaning they would be reprinted every year. But after ten to fifteen years they would have to remake the screens. That would be quite costly.  In the factory one could see the computer controlled mixing up of colours which were then poured manually onto the screens. There is an art in judging how much ink to pour onto the screen.’
The spinning of silk yarn is no longer done in Como. There is an excellent on-line ‘virtual’ museum in English or with sub-titled video extracts recounting  the experiences of those working in the spinning factories of Lecco at this link. Much of the information there is also on show at the Abegg Silk Museum in Garlate, just outside of Lecco.
Abegg silk museum

The Abegg Silk Museum in Garlate, near to Lecco.

The Museo di Seta at Como does however have three mulberry trees in its front yard as testimony to the past! Silk and other fabric weaving is however still important, as is printing and finishing although I am not sure of the contemporary significance of colour dyeing. Irma mentioned how some fabrics weaved in India, or more predominantly in China these days, may come back to Como for print and finish. Como has maintained its reputation for the printing and finishing of high-end quality textiles. It is the fashion houses that own the brands who have concerns over printing in the Far East due to the risk of copyright violations.

Ink-jet Printing
IK: Most companies have now invested in ink-jet technology. Fortunately I was able to persuade Mantero to get on the bandwagon because Paul Smith, who was always very avant-garde, was using ink jet. Mantero bosses were convinced to invest in inkjet machines starting off with one, then two and so on.  Now I have no idea how many they have. There are a number of other companies apart from Mantero that have important printing operations here, including Achille Pinto who prints for high-end British fashion houses and a lot of French designers. (Achille Pinto later acquired Franco Ferrari, another quality silk producer.) A lot of the big design houses don’t like to commit to a single producer and so they might get Mantero to do one type of design and some other company to produce designs on other fabrics.
Irma Colourways

Colourways – Silk scarf colour variants. Irma Kennaway

What are still done today are the different colourways. You wouldn’t normally have a design in a single colour combination. You have a ‘variantista’ or colourist take the design and adapt its mood by presenting it in different colour versions. Changes are made twice a year to coincide with the releases of the Spring/Summer and the Autumn/Winter collections. So a design created for the winter collection on wool may get reproduced again with some colour changes in the Spring/Summer collection but on chiffon, for example.
Some design houses sent in their finished designs ready to be printed whilst others came and looked into the archives to choose a design asking if they could label it as theirs. When I had some spare time I would work up some ideas, present them to some of the fashion houses and they were often accepted. Or sometimes, as happened with me,  a fashion house like Yves Saint Laurent would come and present a theme they wanted and ask us to come up with some ideas. Chanel  did the same thing. For them, we had to present 30 different ideas just for a single scarf design. However a design house like Paul Smith had very clear ideas about what they wanted. You couldn’t add your own ideas. It all depended on the customer.’
Having discussed screen and ink-jet printing and recording the days when the local river, the Cosia, would change colour according to what colour dyes were being produced, Irma was keen to mention her particular specialism – hand painting.
jes scarf

Personalised hand-painted scarf created for the artist’s niece. Irma Kennaway

IK: What brought me to Como originally was my experience of hand painting on silk in Paris for different fashion houses and hand painting my own scarves. Now that everything is so industrialised, you really need to go back to hand painting if you want something individual. But there again, some modern technologies can help with this. Now I can draw directly on the iPad, send the design straight to the printers and get a one-off scarf made up. With the technology available, it is actually very much easier for an individual to produce something. The beauty of inkjet is you can do a one-off whereas you could never have assumed the cost of possibly 20 different colour separations by screen printing.
jes scarf on lake

The artist and scarf on the lakefront

Nowadays there’s a market for small-scale freelancers to offer individualised products. For example, I suggest personalised scarves or other types of digitally-printed materials as wedding gifts or for wedding guests.’
It was those painterly skills Irma developed in Paris and at the Central St.Martin’s College of Art that qualified her for the post of textile designer at Mantero back in 1990s in an era when hand painting skills were crucially important. Now computerisation has changed that and much else to do with weaving, designing, printing and finishing silk. However, as Irma suggests, technology also opens up opportunities for personalisation or for one-off or limited production runs – and the creativity and talent plus the production facilities and materials for doing so are all present here in modern-day Como.
To learn more about Como’s silk industry, do visit the Museo della Seta on Via Castelnuovo. Follow this link for information on opening hours.
To see more of Irma Kennaway’s work on iPad follow this link.
comocrea trade show
The importance of Como’s silk industry is underlined by the two trade shows per year dedicated to textiles; details are available by following these links to Comocrea and Proposte Expo. Both are held in the Villa Erba Conference Centre in Cernobbio.
Both Ratti  and Mantero have factory outlet stores for those seeking a bargain. The addresses are:
Mantero: Via Riccardo Mantero 4, Grandate.
Ratti: Via Madonna 32, Guanzate
villa erba

Villa Erba, Cernobbio – childhood home of neo-realist film director, Luchino Visconti and modern-day exhibition centre

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Mr. Savethewall – Como’s Spray-Can Artistic Campaigner


‘Kiss Me’ with Mr. Frogman

If walking the streets of Como for any time, you will become aware of a local artist known as Mr. Savethewall. His two shopfronts, the immediate appeal of some of his iconic images such as Mr. Frogman  and his intriguing name had all made me want to learn more. The beguiling ‘Pinnochio’ sculpture in Piazza Cavour as part of last year’s Streetscape exhibition with its hint of controversy around it, all led me eventually to cross the threshold of his studio and exhibition space on Via Giovio just along from the Museo Archeologico. I was made immediately welcome, put to sit in a chair made out of the back-end of a supermarket trolley, and treated to a discourse that I later realised had enlightened me on the potential and possible purpose of street/pop/urban art. I had always been attracted to the immediacy of Warhol’s iconography and to the direct emotional impact of Roy Lichtenstein but I had also harboured reservations about Warhol’s commercialism.


Mr. Savethewall’s Pinocchio in Piazza Cavour, Streetscape 2016

However Mr. Savethewall convinced me through his eloquence and enthusiasm that his art is anything but superficial – once granted that, a certain degree of commercialism is more than acceptable! If I also fail to convince you of this, then please take a visit to Via Giovio and to Mr. Savethewall. As he says, anyone is free to enter his studio, to talk and leave without any obligation other than showing respect for that fact that you are in ‘casa mia’.


His Philosophy

pierpaolo perretta

Pierpaolo Perretta aka Mr. Savethewall

Mr. Savethewall is the alter ego of Pierpaolo Perretta, 40-ish ex-accountant and ex-paratrooper, Como born and bred, married and father to two young girls who are both very glad to see more of their dad since he dropped out of the corporate world four years ago to sustain himself and family successfully ever since through his art.  Pierpaolo is semiotics personified and so in the name is the message. He is an anti-street artist, one who wants to communicate on the wall but also to respect it (and the wishes of its proprietors) by not damaging or altering it in any permanent fashion. So his art started by being attached to walls, using the syntax of street art such as stencil and spray paint but on card or canvas that could come away from the wall, either through normal ageing, through vandalism or also by someone detaching the art and re-purposing it indoors within a frame as a form of ‘reverse vandalism’. So the roots of his art are clandestine, demotic, on the street, ‘a civic exhibition space’, accessible to all as an embellishment of everyday life – art for the masses that also respects individual property and can be domesticated into a work of art!


Mr. Savethewall: ‘Writing (graffiti) Evolution

His preferred label is ‘post-street artist’ as shown in the last phase in his representation of graffiti evolution. The purpose of his ‘post street art? ‘It’s a form of communication between me and the public through the synthesis of simple images that convey complex messages and profound concepts’.  In the way of  further explanation, Mr. Savethewall points to his image of a tramp on a bench with feet prominent in the foreground. This image is intended to invoke the ‘Lamentation of Christ’ by Andrea Mantegna with its similar dramatic foreshortening of the body.


Mr. Savethewall ‘ My Dreams are different from your dreams’

So how does it work. ‘If an image strikes you, it makes you stop and reflect if only for a moment.’ Some of the result of that reflection may also be subconscious since, for example,  the viewer may not be aware of the image’s associations with Mantegna’s dead Jesus. The caption also asks us to imagine ourselves in the place of the tramp. and thus by suggestion, in the place of a dead Jesus.  That is how a  simple image can convey complex or profound messages. ‘The images emerge from personal reflection applied to or provoked by  magnifying aspects of society and human relations. They are then captured using some of the techniques of street art.’

Mantegna - Lamentation of Christ

Andrea Mantegna. ‘The Lamentation of Christ.’

The Customers

How is this communication between you and the public going? ‘I am lucky in that many people seem to identify with my work and so want to take home some form of reminder of it – that is good for me. My customers cross all ages and classes ranging from art collectors to those with no specific knowledge of art. All said, my prices are not excessive although the values have increased as the art world pays ever growing attention. My output however remains constant.  For my original pieces, take Mr. Frogman for example, he will now go for about €800 for an image 50x70cm or up to €1,800 for the lifesized version. But a youngster can get a Mr. Frogman poster for €15 from my shop.’


Mr. Savethewall’s merchandising shop on Via Odescalchi

‘I set up my shop when I saw young people coming here to my studio, falling in love with my pieces like Mr. Frogman, but knowing there was no way they would be able to afford any of these original works. So I set up the merchandising outlet where a poster goes for about €15, a framed version for €30 and a print on canvas for about €110. In this way, I can keep everyone happy. You can come here to the studio and see the originals as if at an exhibition and then go to the shop and buy a memento just like in the Exhibition Halls’ bookshops.’

Personal Background

‘I am 44 years ‘Made in Como’. I originally studied law and accounting, did my national service with the paratroopers, and then developed my career in the corporate world. I soon found I was working all hours, weekends too. Then, thanks to the girl with the Ipad who asks it ‘Please give me back my Dad’ I decided to take a year’s sabbatical. It went well so I took another and then another. Now my girls have their Dad back and I am into my fourth year of managing to survive on my art. Some recent customers from America, on hearing my story, explained how they have a saying which goes , ‘he threw himself out the window and found he could fly.’ That’s me.


Mr. Savethewall; ‘Please Holy Ipad…’


‘I adore my city – we are surrounded by beauty. Above all else, my city has given me beauty; the lake, the valleys, the mountains, the artisan tradition, the culture – it has given all this. And all this in a small province has attracted interest from the rest of the world. Tourists and foreigners from all over come here. Wealthy actors who could choose to live wherever they wish, choose to come here when they wish to relax.  So Como has given me beauty and an international range of customers. We are beautiful and international.’


Part of Mr. Savethewall’s desire to communicate stems from a civic pride that leads him to campaign, and what really gets him going is the too frequent failure of the local city administration to manage its civic spaces effectively, either through lack of funds, inertia, inefficiency, or in some instances, petty corruption. As he states, there is more than one way for an artist to express him or herself.

unliberated lakefront

The lakefront barred by steel grid fencing as part of the flood defense scandal.

‘I like to create urban initiatives. For example, there was a time when the holes in the road in the old town were so bad, it had become risky but the council were doing nothing saying they had no money. However people were hurting themselves and the holes were dangerous. So I had the idea of placing flowers around each of these holes. The very next day the council contacted me asking me to take away the flowers and they would immediately mend the holes which they duly did. I became a sort of local hero.  Then I turned my attention to the massive problem we have had over the flood barrier contract that for eight years has deprived us of direct access to the lakeside with our view blocked off by fences and railings.

liberated lakefront

Liberated lakefront

One day I went out and took a series of photos of these fences and the steel grid railings and made them into a series of post cards entitled ‘ Landscape of Lake Como’. The local paper ‘La Provincia’ saw them and invited me to their offices for them to publish an article about it. Instead I persuaded them to collaborate on a campaign to mobilise  the general public into sending these post cards to the government in Rome. They agreed and the campaign was launched under the title ‘Rivogliamo nostro lago’ (We want our lake back). They printed 100,000 cards of which after one month more than  60,000 had been sent to the central government in Rome.  This gained us national and international coverage – and I became a local hero for the second time.

pinocchio 2After this success but before the Region finally started to dismantle the fencing, Mr. Savethewall  was invited to participate in last year’s Streetscape (follow this link for CC’s article on Streetscape). He at first declined maybe because he was not entirely comfortable with the street art tag but was eventually persuaded. He put forward the proposal for a bronze sculpture of a girl to be attached to the steel grid railings trying to peer through at the lake. ‘Bear in mind that my daughters had never seen the lakefront as I have seen it. For all their lives, their view has been blocked by these fences.’ However the council rejected the idea immediately. He was happy to walk away from the whole thing but was still being asked to participate in the exhibition. He had been working on a wood carving of Pinocchio formed from the top part of a large wooden tree trunk. ‘The concept was about lies and broken promises because, as Pinocchio is born out of the wood, his nose immediately grows to reveal a lie. In my version of the fable, Geppetto turns to Pinocchio and says, ‘How can you be lying? You don’t know anything about the world. You have just been born and anyway, you are a puppet!’  However he checks his work again and notes that down below on the trunk, two lovers have carved a love heart with the one word inscription ‘Forever’. This was the lie that had caused Pinocchio’s nose to grow. Yet when I presented this idea to the council, I didn’t mention anything to do with the broken promises of politicians  or anything else that might allude to the last eight years of lakeside scandal. My idea was accepted . However as soon as Pinocchio went up in Piazza Cavour, with his long nose pointing up and over the fences blocking the lake, local journalists immediately stated it was my message of lies and broken promises from the council.’


Since 1984 the Ticosa factory (one of the largest of Como’s silk weaving, printing and finishing plants) has been closed and the industrial site has remained undeveloped in spite of numerous proposals for its development.


The Ticosa industrial site

‘Fortunately, the lake is now being freed up but I am beginning to get involved in the second big civic issue we have here, the ex-Ticosa industrial site. I created a series of photo montages of a mass-media hoax about discovering the mythical lake monster ‘Lariosauro’ in the gardens of the defunct factory. (The Lariosauro myth deserves its own article at sometime in the future.)

Fame, immortality and becoming iconic


Mr. Savethewall: ‘A man will die…’

When I used to go out for a walk at night I would cover my face with a Groucho mask to hide my identity from the CCTV cameras. This worked so well that, even though I am gaining some success with the public, I was never recognised. I reflected on what might it take to be recognised. I realised that those people with real talent become over time icons and in this way they are forever recognisable even if their faces are covered. I then set out to put this idea to the test. So, if I put Groucho glasses and moustache on Audrey Hepburn’s profile, is she still recognisable? If I do the same for the Beatles, do you recognise them? So we can say the moment in which someone becomes iconic is when their image is recognisable just from a silhouette or profile. To become iconic, you need to have talent. If you have talent you and it will eventually be recognised.


Current art

From the start it seems Mr. Savethewall has been interested in how art can transform itself as when a work on canvas or paper gets detached from its public space on a wall to be brought inside a gallery or a private home. His latest exhibition explores another form of metamorphosis entitled ‘Hidden Paintings’. These works consist of black and seemingly blank panels that only reveal their images through the application of UV light. The artificial light source can then be manipulated to cause the images to appear and disappear at will. With this development, Mr. Savethewall has gone beyond the syntax of street art applying light and print technologies in an innovative way. As he himself states, he has moved consciously beyond any previous comfort zone.

text box

These ‘Hidden Paintings’ were recently exhibited at the Galleria Buenos Aires in Milan . Further details of upcoming exhibitions and general information about Mr. Savethewall can be found on his web site or Facebook page. If in Como, do go and visit his studio in Via Giovio, 5. He is very welcoming, loves to discuss art and ideas and will put you to sit comfortably in the supermarket trolley. And if you do hear him out, I feel sure you will agree with me that Mr. Savethewall is more interesting, engaging, logical, comprehensible, and ethical than Andy Warhol – and he’s here in Como!


Posted in Art, Culture, Lake, People, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From Laglio to Moltrasio

view from Santa Marta

View south towards Como from the Chiesa Santa Marta at Carate Urio

This is an easy, relaxing walk traversing those communities which grew alongside the ancient Roman way called the Via Regina. We are on the west side of Lake Como south of Argegno in the area marked by luxury villas on the lakefront and long-established villages on the steep lower slopes of the surrounding mountains. The path itself is labelled as part of the ‘Cammini della Regina’ and their signposting is clear and accurate. Additionally what appears to be one of the ‘pro loco’ groups have named this stretch the Via Verde and have provided green painted spots on the ground to show the way.

cammini-della-regina.pngBoth the ‘Cammini della Regina’ or the ‘Via Verde’ green spots follow exactly the same route.

Being based in Como, I did this walk by taking the C10 bus from Como to Laglio and then walking back in the direction of Como to Moltrasio. From there it’s possible to extend the walk to Cernobbio by following the ‘Sentee di Sort’ (see images at this link) which takes you past the old Moltrasio stone quarries to Rovenna, the village that sits above the gardens of the Villa D’Este. Walk down the hill to take the urban bus back into the centre of Como or one of the lake boats.

Laglio Harbour

Laglio Harbour

Get off the bus at Laglio’s town hall (the municipio) and walk back to the small harbour that runs alongside the northern wall of a famous film actor’s property. Immediately across the road from the harbour entrance is the start of the ‘Via Verde’ with a climb up a stepped path into the old part of the town.

From this point on, the path is predominantly flat with perhaps a gentle climb up a further 100 metres by the time you reach the Trattoria del Fagiano at Moltrasio. The total distance is about 9km and so can be comfortably covered in 1.5 hours.

Start of Via Verde Laglio

Start of the walk at Laglio

The main attraction along the way is a constant view of the lake over to the communities of Faggeto Lario, Torno and finally Blevio along the road from Como to Bellagio. Equally appealing though are the glances down over the rooftops into the gardens of the old communities of Laglio, Carate Urio and then finally Moltrasio.

The land alongside the path has been terraced from way back when agriculture was the main village occupation. Olive trees still occupy some of these terraces although the majority no longer provide space for cultivation unless they form part of domestic gardens.

terraces 1

Terracing for olive trees

When you have left Laglio, the path follows a series of chapels which continue once you have used the underpass to cross over the main road known as the Via Nuova Regina. The chapels end up at a cemetery and the romanesque church of Santa Marta. This is just one of the many panoramic spots along your route.

Chiesa Santa Marta

Chiesa Santa Marta

The ‘Via Verde’ route ends at the modern piazza which houses the Trattoria del Fagiano at its northern end. Depending on how you have timed your walk, you may wish to eat here. In preference I would descend into the old town of Moltrasio and eat at the Cooperativa Moltrasino – a genuine trattoria which offers good quality at reasonable prices.

If you wish to continue walking, just continue along the road (very limited traffic) that runs past the Trattoria del Fagiano going south. After about 1 kilometre the road takes a sharp bend around a mountain stream. Take the path on the right side of the road to see a marvellous water fall behind the vegetation. Continue up the road to join the path known as ‘Sentee di Sort’ to get to Rovenna. Sentee di Sort is local dialect for the ‘Terraces Path’.

There is a detailed website showing the route and the features of the Cammini della Regina. Follow this link. If you start the walk in the other direction, it is possible to avoid the main road apart for a very brief moment in Laglio as far as the delightful town of Brienno. Laglio to Brienno may well form a follow-up to this article.

Posted in Gardens, Itineraries, Lake, Places of interest, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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