The east side of Lake Como and the right bank down to Lecco, provides a calm relief from the bustling crowds, the palaces and villas of the rich and famous and the loud, brash American tour parties of the western side/leg. Surely, this will be the real Italy. The first indication that this is a different place can be found on the route south. There are two roads. Signage seems to always lead to the main, dual carriageway that runs alongside the railway line through, in many cases literally, the mountains and roughly following the shoreline. When it comes to some obstacle, a headland or a hard fold of rock, it simply drills down through in a dark, dimly lit, exhaust-hazed tunnel, the home of some ghoulish, worming creature that takes away any beauty the area has to offer. The longest distance you are cut off from the world is over 5 km.
However, be resourceful, use your instinct and you will be rewarded. Just outside Colico a narrow lane cuts through a scruffy site of caravans and old chalets and hits the lakeside. From here it runs quietly south to Lecco at the bottom, right beside the water, passing through delightful old fishing villages, some vaguely attractive holiday sprawl and runs of bars & restaurants. Traffic on this road is sensible, gently pacing itself around 40kph. Driving is a pleasure and stopping has it rewards.
The first temptation is a sign off to Abbazia di Piona, a cobbled lane leads for several bumpy kilometres down to the lakeside. The abbey is gloriously set in peaceful, isolated splendour on the water’s edge amongst tall mountain peaks. To go inside, appropriate clothing is requested.
Bellano on the ferry route from Como. Despite this it is able to maintain a calm atmosphere and is an attractive place to spend a few days.
Varenna is also on the ferry route. Being that much closer to Bellagio is takes on some of the characteristics of this tourist hotspot.
However the crowds are smaller and visitors are quick to return further south.
Mandello del Lario is our base for this leg. Imagine the horror when we discover that our arrival coincided with the penultimate day of a motorbike convention – faint echoes of literally thousands of bikes floated up from the village below, along with the bikers’ distant appreciation of an AC/DC cover band sounding a bit like Suzie Quatro. Venturing in, we spied columns of parked bikes and straggles of greyed, worker ants overcoming the roads & pavements. We left to observe from afar. When they were gone we discovered this wonderful, peaceful place – the real Lake Como!
Lecco is an ordinary, commercial town at the foot of the lake with an attractive promenade by the water’s edge. In an attempt to get away from our biker friends we took the road to Lecco, only to find many of them on their way home and parked up there. We left quickly, to enjoy the now empty streets of Mandello.