By Marjorie Eisenach
I journeyed back to Lake Como for about the 10th time and thought once again of my very first trip. For years I thought that it was my Bolognese landlady who convinced me and my friends to take our first trip to Lake Como. “Dovete vederla,” she said. In English, that means, “You must see it.” Or it might have been Professor Ricci, who one morning took a break from talking about the early life of Giacomo Leopardi to explain the importance of the opening passage of I Promessi Sposi, (The Betrothed), the famous Italian novel by Alessandro Manzoni. Every Italian schoolchild knows the opening line by heart: “Quel ramo del lago di Como,” which translates to “That arm of Lake Como.” Ricci went on to captivate us with a detailed explanation of the geographic setting of the two unbroken mountain chains which cut the lake into “a series of bays and inlets as the hills advance into the water and retreat again.”
I saw Lake Como for the first time in the pouring rain. It was “un colpo di cuore,” or “love at first sight.” One can imagine spending a lifetime viewing these incredible, high, rolling hills dropping quickly into an idyllic deep blue basin. Beautiful, and quite capable of inducing a feeling of tranquility and contentment. Rain could not dampen the magical feeling, and I was convinced that I was always meant to be here.
This April the weather was perfect and our boat trip with friends in the ferry (traghetto) on the lake was both sunny and tranquil. We headed up the lake to the town of Bellagio. I never tire of taking the traghetto; it is always a highlight. The boat ride displays the breathtaking natural beauty of the lake and the surrounding Alps.
The views of the lake are also picturesque from the promenade that encircles the city of Como at the southern tip, as well as from the small towns that dot the western shore of Lake Como. There are plenty of palatial villas to view and to covet, nestled amid hillside gardens. The area is world-renowned for its incredible gardens, including the Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, the Melzi Gardens in Bellagio and those at the exclusive resort, Villa D’Este.
Once again, we had a wonderful dinner, at Ristorante Sociale, Via Rodari 6; Tel 031 264042, closed Tuesdays, www.ristorantesociale.it. It is definitely the restaurant to visit in the heart of Como. It is located right behind the Duomo and quite close to the Ferrovia Nord train station. We started with an appetizer platter that had great cold cuts, local cheese, as well as smoked fish (persico) from the lake, and lardo (lard – yes, lard), an acquired taste. The first-course pasta and risotto dishes are outstanding. It is always good to go with your waiter’s suggestions regarding the daily specials.
We ate another night at Il Caicco, a restaurant on Piazza Volta, that offered both good pizzas as well as pasta dishes like freshly-made gnocchi con salvia and burro. Our third meal was at a place that specializes in Tuscan dishes, Rino di Lepri Riccardo. The hosts could not have been more pleasant, even offering suggestions for other places to eat when they were too busy to accept our initial reservation.
Some of the key places to visit in Como are the Duomo with its 16th century tapestries inside the main church and the façade that includes Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger in its stonework. Construction of the Duomo began in 1396 and ended in 1740 when the huge dome was completed. Next to it is the elegant 13th century Broletto, the old town hall.
If time permits see the Romanesque church of San Fedele, the Cistercian church of Sant’Agostino, the Romanesque Basilica of Sant’Abbondio, and the 11th century San Carpoforo. Also of note are the medieval city walls, including the Porta Praetoria that was once a majestic entrance to the Roman city and now hosts the weekend market.
Tour the small temple-like museum, which contains relics of the famous physicist who invented the battery, Alessandro Volta (born in Como), who gave his name to the unit of electricity, the “volt.” The building is impressive to see from a distance while you are enjoying a promenade of the lake, and the museum is well worth a visit. It contains equipment from Volta experiments as well as information about his correspondence with contemporaries like Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire and Napoleon.
If you have time, take the cable car (funicolare) up to Brunate, about 2,000 feet above the lake. You are rewarded on a clear day with postcard-perfect views of the lake, enchanting villas and superb gardens.
About the Author
Marjorie Eisenach has traveled Italy extensively via numerous trips over the past 40 years, and resided in the country for nearly two years. She currently lives in Minneapolis where she teaches Italian language courses and helps American and British travelers prepare for visiting Italy. For more information, visit www.ItalyandItalian.com.