Ancient terraces, woods, medieval villages with Romanesque churches and iconic lakeside locations – this tract of the Strada Regia has it all. It is different in feel but as spectacular as the previous section of the path that took us through the three beautiful mountain communities of Molina, Lemna and Palanzo.
The last section ended at Peppo’s Bar in Pognana Lario just below the town hall (municipio) and right by the bus stop for the C30 to and from Como or Bellagio. Walking north from here, turn off as soon as you see a turning on the right with a sign to the Romanesque church of San Miro. This twelfth century church was established on a previous site of pagan worship and boasts a marvellous view of the lake from its patio.
From here you can pick up the signposting for the Strada Regia. The signs are so good that there is no need to give detailed directions here except when facing the ‘dilemna’ posed by two contrasting signs which you will find as you walk through the medieval ‘frazione’ of Pognana called Quarzano.
The right hand fork leads you up into the Careno mountain range taking you up from around 300 metres above sea level to a maximum of 700 and on a path that is steep and challenging in parts. The option offered by the left-hand fork is to descend down to the small lakeside town of Careno prior to then ascending a mountain road prior to a further descent to the lakeside at Nesso. This second option is both more interesting as a walk and less onerous even though the uphill section is not for the faint-hearted. I took this second option and soon found myself walking on a pleasant level path through well-tended terraces reminiscent of how much of the area would have looked like as recently as the 1950s before most of the lakeside agriculture was abandoned. On this section of the walk, large dry-stone walls of Moltrasio stone still remain intact revealing just how much effort went into the creation and preservation of these small strips of agricultural production.
Having passed by a sanctuary and then descending down to a quarry on the main road, (presumably the source of the material used in the dry stone walls) after 100 metres I turned down Via del Pero to get down to the lakefront at Careno.
Careno is a true hidden gem with everything you might be looking for in a personal secret haven, including yet another glorious Romanesque church (San Martino), a beach for a cool swim in the lake, a small restaurant specialising in fish and a jetty for one of the boats from the Navigazione Laghi to take you back home after your prolonged taste of heaven.
A descent to the lakefront is a small but very worthwhile detour from the Strada Regia sufficient to prepare yourself for the almost relentless uphill climb past the modern (18th century) church which passes under the main road for Bellagio and then up the Via dei Monti . The path is orderly but the climb is steep so eventually you will undoubtedly meet the sign pointing you left and down towards Nesso with some relief.
This hardest section of the walk is however shaded by the woods so is manageable even in high summer. The downhill path leads you rapidly down through the woods, past an ancient water trough and past a further sanctuary until you come out of the woods with a view over the lake to Argegno with its cable car up to the village of Pigra.
As you come back down towards the level of the main road, you pass by the ruins of Nesso castle with a view to your right of the impressive waterfalls known as the Orrido di Nesso. As with Careno, it is well worth going down to the lakeside at Nesso to view its famous bridge and take a dip in the the lake.
There is no actual beach here or a bar or trattoria unlike at Careno but the boats from the Navigazione do stop here at the Imbarcadero. To eat I recommend walking back up to the main road and stopping at the Hotel Tre Rose which, apart from a full menu, also offers an excellent value Menu del Giorno.
From Lenno, you can either take the boat or a bus back to Como or Bellagio but I decided to walk back to Pognana to check out that section of the walk I had missed out on in preference to passing by Careno. I therefore retraced my path past the Castello di Nesso and up into the woods noting this time some examples of naïve religious art along the way.
In fact this walk seemed to be dotted with the occasional sanctuary or chapel in various states of order. As I rejoined the Via dei Monti I continued to climb upwards towards the mountain community just below the summit of Mount Cappon.
Here again to my relief, the sign for the Strada Regia led me off the uphill path to walk on the flat through untended ancient terraces until it started its descent to Pognana. The downhill section was steep in parts making me thankful that I had not chosen this route in preference to the Careno option back near the start of the day. In fact it was with some relief that the path finally opened up into the managed terraces on the edge of Pognana offering a breathtaking and welcome view southwards down the lake.
This section of the Strada Regia is definitely more onerous than the previous one’s amble through the mid-height medieval villages of Faggeto Lario. Here the uphill sections require a degree of patience and fortitude but these virtues do bring their own reward with the discovery of the secret heaven that is Careno and the better known and equally glorious lakefront at Nesso. In between these two lakefront gems, you are surrounded by art and a sense of the years past through the stark simplicity of the Romanesque architecture and the varying degrees of artistry in the religious frescoes. Then as you pass through either maintained or untended terraces, it is as if you are walking through history in step with the rhythm of a different age.