In March 2018 volunteers organised by the association Sentiero dei Sogni restored an old path linking the Sanctuary of San Donato with Camnago Volta where it then joins up with the disused tramway leading to the Chapel of San Francesco in Ravanera in the Cosia Valley. Thanks to their efforts, it is now possible to take a circular walk out of Como encompassing a variety of environments and places of interests while avoiding heavy traffic.
The San Donato Sanctuary is half way up the hill from Como to Brunate. I have previously described a route up to it as one of the short excursions out of the city. The Chapel of San Francesco in Ravanera instead is at the rural end of the Cosia Valley. The Cosia runs east-west through Como flowing out into the lake near to Terragni’s War Memorial.
In the past this stream provided the power and the means to develop textile printing, dyeing and finishing and some industrial plants remain along its lower reaches. I have also previously described a walk here in A Walk in the Cosia Valley and Camnago Volta. Its main attractions are the sites linked to the life and death of Alessandro Volta, Como’s most famous son. Now however, with the opening up of the old path from Garzola to Camnago, both these walks can be combined into one. It makes quite a substantial walk up to three hours long but with options to shorten it from Camnago onwards by cutting out all or parts of the section along the old tramway.
The way I would do this walk is as follows:
Leave the centre of Como for the San Donato Sanctuary by walking up Via Maurizio Monti, crossing Via Zezio and Via Crispi to take the footpath uphill.
As you come off the tarmacked road, the footpath starts with a brief climb before crossing a couple of streams and levelling out as it traverses the mountain side. Signposting along the path is good and will eventually lead you down to the top end of Camnago Volta close to the Flavia Bed and Breakfast which has a swimming pool on a terrace with a marvelous view over the valley. As you emerge from the mountain path, turn left onto the asphalt parking area and follow the cobbled road down until it joins the main road for Como.
Turn left as you join the main road – the old buildings and the Church of St. Cecilia are just 100 metres further on.
As you get to the Trattoria della Pila (named after Volta’s invention) you have a choice. You can either take the path that follows the disused tramway or turn right to follow the road down past Alessandro Volta’s tomb and on to his favourite summertime retreat. The latter option is the shortest since you can either take the bus back into Como at its terminus or continue right down the Cosia Valley. The tramway route is very attractive but will add an hour to your walk. If you decide on following the disused tramway, there are two or three paths that lead off it to the right which you can take to shorten your walk. They all lead down to the path and road that follows the Cosia Valley back into Como.
If you stick to the tramway you will be rewarded by crossing a deep gorge before joining the asphalt road.
Turn right and go downhill keeping to your right and following the road which eventually turns into a cobbled path that leads down to the Chapel of San Francesco.
Follow the road down to Volta’s summer residence outside of which is the bus terminal for route no. 4 that will take you back into Como, or continue on down the valley.
As you walk down the Cosia Valley, the environment gradually becomes less rural as you pass some surviving textile factories which at least give an idea of the level of past industrial activity in this semi-rural location. The river not only provided the power but was vital in the textile dyeing industry when the river would itself change colour depending on what colour batch was being produced at the time.
You pass two notable restaurants along this route, the first is the Trattoria della Pila back in Camnago. This seems to follow sound ‘slow food’ principles using fresh, local seasonal produce and seeking to do traditional dishes well. It certainly gets a lot of favourable reviews. The second is the Ristorante Navedano on Via Navedano as you go down the Cosia Valley. Here also the reviews are very positive but this is an expensive restaurant – not somewhere to stop by for some rapid refuelling!